During the design of The Kendeda Building, Georgia Tech joined Portico, a working group to develop a materials vetting platform. Portico was conceived by Google and further developed by the Healthy Building Network, in partnership with Perkins + Will, MSR Design, Harvard University and, of course, Georgia Tech. Portico’s mission was to promote transparency in the chemical composition of building materials and raise awareness of their known risks to human health. Even though Portico evolved into a background system that supports other databases instead of a stand-alone product, we adopted many of the guidelines and recommendations for healthy materials, and most specifically transparency, that Portico was advocating for in its mission.
The latest edition of the Georgia Tech campus design guidelines, known as the Yellow Book, codifies the experience we gained via designing The Kendeda Building. We hired Perkins + Will, who was part of the Portico effort, to define material selection criteria that we have incorporated into our guidelines. The Yellow Book now lists chemicals of concern for the most commonly used product types. For each product type, the Yellow Book provides one of two methods for selection. For product types where products are limited and there is little information in the industry, the Yellow Book provides a “basis of design” to which other products can be compared for appropriateness. For product types where transparency is more common, the Yellow Books contains a matrix defining good / better / best criteria for that type and provides examples of products that meet each one of those classifications.
Our experience with The Kendeda Building also taught us that there could be tension between a product that is free of Red List materials and carbon pollution. In other words, the Red List product could be a more carbon polluting option whereas the lesser carbon pollution product may have trace amounts of Red List chemicals. We have learned that the design stage of a project is the opportune moment to account for a material’s embodied carbon. Therefore, the updated Yellow Book also calls attention to the embodied carbon cost of different product types and lays out a schedule to guide design teams in the consideration and calculation of the carbon costs of proposed projects.
If there is one thing we all learned from The Kendeda Building, it is that materials selection is a difficult process, and that many in the industry do not appreciate the benefits of healthier materials. Therefore, on March 5, 2021, we held a training on the new Yellow Book guidelines so our in-house project managers and designers understand why these new guidelines exist and how best to utilize the tools we have created. All Design and Construction personnel, part of the Capital Planning and Space Management team, the entire Facilities Sustainability Committee, the design team for the in-design Edge/Rice building, and the Director of The Kendeda Building were invited to attend the training.
Our hope is that this training will help in-house designers as well as our project and construction managers, and by extension our design consultants, make healthier material selections. These Kendeda Building-inspired Yellow Book guidelines directly affect how we select materials for new developments and renovations. The Yellow Book and other healthier materials will live in our public standards website, visible to all consultants and contractors performing or pursuing work at Georgia Tech. We hope that our selection of healthier materials will have a positive impact, a ripple, on the broader market’s access to such materials.