In the 1980s, the adhesives industry dramatically reduced or eliminated volatile organic compounds (VOCs) by moving away from solvent-based to water-based adhesives. The construction industry soon began to see the importance of sustainable practices within the industry itself. This led to the inception of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) in 1993, the Living Building Challenge (LBC) in 2006, and the WELL Building Standard in 2015. These last two programs place a greater emphasis on the “health and well-being” of the building’s occupants – not just on sustainable design of the building. A chief tenant of determining health impacts is the idea of chemical transparency — the voluntary disclosure of ‘chemicals of concern’ by manufacturers.

One of the high visibility lists of ‘chemicals of concern’ is often referred to simply as the “Red List” and is compiled and updated by the Living Building Challenge. The LBC is a global initiative of the International Living Future Institute (ILFI), which instituted the LBC in order to create sustainable buildings that reconnect occupants with nature. The LBC includes seven performance categories, called “petals,” in keeping with the program’s environmentally friendly theme. The Materials petal includes the Red List, which contains building materials and chemicals that are responsible for “many adverse environmental issues, including personal illness, habitat and species loss, pollution, and resource depletion” according to the ILFI website. An LBC building project may not contain any of the Red Listed materials, chemicals, or chemical groups at a threshold level of 100 parts per million (ppm) or greater. The current Red List contains 800+ chemicals that have been declared by ILFI as harmful for human health and the environment.

Participation in the LBC is voluntary and non-regulatory-based. In order to help specifiers, contractors and consumers identify these hazardous chemicals that should be avoided in building materials, and to help specify products used on LBC construction projects, LBC has created a labeling program. Known as Declare Labels, this transparency program creates a product database that identifies the following:

  • What is it made of?
  • Where does a product come from?
  • Where does it go at the end of its life?

One of the key factors that the label identifies is “What is it made of?” This question identifies main ingredients, listing those that are potentially hazardous and those that could be or are found on the LBC Red List. This voluntary list is updated as new science becomes available, identifying new hazardous materials of concern. The Red List provides the chemical name and the corresponding CAS Registry Numbers. The CAS Registry is maintained by the American Chemical Society (ACS) and provides unique, unmistakable identifiers for chemical substances that correspond with each Red Listed item.

Perhaps the best way to visualize the intent of the Red List is to think about it in terms of grocery shopping: What is one of the first things we do when we pick up a packaged product? We turn it over and look at the back to see the listed ingredients, so that we can make an informed decision about whether to purchase the product. Since 1973, FDA regulations have mandated that food packaging include ingredients as well as the number of calories, the amount of protein, carbohydrates, fat, sodium and so forth to better educate the consumers. LBC is working toward a similar goal with chemicals and construction products, so building owners, designers and specifiers can select products based not only on performance, but also on reduced or zero hazardous ingredients.

MAPEI’s Environmental Commitment

MAPEI understands the need to continually innovate its product formulations. When a product is in the developmental stage, all factors influencing its impact to the environment and human health are evaluated from a sustainable perspective. This includes reducing and replacing “chemicals of concern” and LBC Red Listed chemicals (e.g., formaldehyde, phthalates and isocyanates) with chemicals that have lower risk factors but do not compromise product performance and workability. MAPEI products meeting this criterion will be identified as LBC “Red List Free” on their Technical Data Sheets. MAPEI’s participation in this program provides valuable information to specifiers (the products may contribute to LEED points), installers (the products are nontoxic), and the building’s occupants (there will be no off-gassing of harmful chemicals or substances in their homes during the life cycle of the product).

MAPEI Ultracolor Plus FAIn addition to highlight Red List Free products, MAPEI has a number of other sustainability initiatives to address market demands:

  • Safety Data Sheets clearly communicate products’ regulatory compliance with federal and state requirements, including requirements for labeling and transportation.
  • MAPEI provides Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) for many of our products. EPDs are concise environmental product performance reports that are based on life-cycle analysis and demonstrate a product’s impacts from extraction of raw materials and processing to distribution, to use, to end of life. EPDs answer the Declare program’s questions “Where does a product come from?” and “Where does it go at the end of its life?”
  • Green Squared Certification, based on the ANSI A138.1 consensus standard (third-party certified), which covers tile product characteristics, manufacturing, end-of-product- life management, progressive corporate governance and innovation to establish sustainability criteria for products throughout their entire life cycle from substrate to the finished tile surface.
  • Our Technical Data Sheets (TDS) indicate our compliance with VOC content levels as specified by South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD), Rule #1168 for adhesives and sealants or Rule #1113 for architectural coatings. VOC content is a product’s “potential” to release VOCs into the occupied space given the right environmental conditions. This potential is mitigated through the use of low- or no-VOC chemicals.
  • We also test for compliance with VOC emissions levels as specified by the California Department of Public Health’s Section 01350. The testing method utilizes a chamber that simulates the “real world” conditions in an occupied building and quantifies the VOCs and chemicals emitted into the air. By using this testing method, the amount of VOCs emitted can be determined and regulated.

Red List Free products have a triple benefit. Specifiers can write these products into project specifications with the knowledge that they are high-performance while possibly also qualifying for LEED and LBC points. Builders can apply Red List Free products with the knowledge that they are not being exposed to toxic chemicals or harmful substances. And building occupants can enjoy a healthy living environment with the added benefit of a home constructed with high-quality building materials.