fsc plywood

“Who would want to live in a world which is just not quite fatal?” —Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

The Living Building Challenge, put forth by the International Living Future Institute (ILFI), is one of the most important green building strategies yet proposed.

The ILFI’s ambitious, global challenge encompasses seven performance areas, or “petals”:

  • Place
  • Water
  • Energy
  • Health and Happiness
  • Materials
  • Equity
  • Beauty

Viridian Future’s primary focus remains the “Materials” petal of the LBC, which requires the proper vetting of each piece of material being used in our projects. This includes small-scale items such as adhesives, to larger building elements such as timber, furniture and more.

To this effect, our team has come together in order to garner product data from manufacturers and check it against the Living Building Challenge Red List. Our main goals are for finding LBC-products are to use Red-List compliant materials while remaining conscious of our embodied carbon footprint (the integrity of our sourcing).

The Red List’s intent is to eliminate the use of worst-in-class elements with the most pernicious impact upon human and ecosystemic health. The challenge (but also, benefit) of projects that are Red-List compliant is that they may not contain the following, for example:

  • PVCs, PVDCs, PCBs, PFCs, CFCs, HCFCs, CPVCs or BPA
  • Alkylphenols, Asbestos, Cadmium, Chromium IV
  • Lead (added), Mercury, Phthalates, Formaldehyde (Added)

These, among others chemicals singled out by Red List, present some of the worst threats to ecological and human health, embodying far more than, in Carson’s famous words, “a diet of weak poisons.” The most immediate difficulty in overcoming such threats in, as Carson went on, “the insipid surroundings” in which we often find ourselves forced to live, is clear and simple: Representative and manufacturers often are uncertain of what is in their products, and where they are sourced from.

Additionally, Red List-compliant products present further challenges because they are harder to locate and can come at a significantly higher price.

For example, one of our biggest push-backs has been sourcing FSC-certified, urea formaldehyde-free plywood within Zone 1 of the LBC requirements.

Formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, causes respiratory problems and allergic reactions in even low airborne concentrations, among other immediate maladies. It was, however, challenging to find FSC-certified wood within the first and second zones of this project (an aggregate radius of 622 miles), in which 20-30% of the material had to be sourced.


Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 2.27.01 PM

(Photo provided by Living Building Challenge, Manual)

Plywood was located at a farther distance, in a sustainable forest in Michigan, but at quadruple the cost, and it needed to be trucked to the site: meaning a greater carbon footprint. In the end, the plywood finally used came from a sustainable forest in Brazil, shipped by boat, which we feel is a better option in terms of our carbon footprint goal. Such issues may present a challenge in the future, wishing to achieve the standards of the Living Building Challenge.

The future goal is, however, to move beyond homes that are “just not quite fatal” to healthful living spaces. For the present, considering the sourcing challenges Viridian Future faces, we may not reach the LBC materials petal—but we are diligent in our search to find Red List-compliant products. We also plan on incorporating fully vetted materials in all of our future building projects. And then, each building will be a petal flowering into a refreshing, healthy indoor environment for all live and work within.

– Alessia Pilloni