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A Common Language for Impact

The Common Materials Framework is a shared language for product sustainability, designed to be adopted across the building industry — and eventually far beyond. The framework is certification-agnostic — simply establishing a hierarchical data structure within which any certification or standard can demonstrate its alignment to impact. In doing so, the framework goes far beyond an exercise in organization — uniting and aligning disparate initiatives, communities, standards, and data flow within a shared understanding. 


By adopting the Common Materials Framework as an industry, we align for greater momentum. Our individual decisions to make better and choose better can become a collective influence, accelerating the sustainability of products and buildings. 


Without the CMF we see a splintered industry, where our best intentions often conflict to dissipate momentum. With the CMF, we can turn the noise of a desire for better into a clear signal.


From an aerial view, the framework is deceptively simple, identifying standards/ecolabels and data that support human health, climate health, ecosystem health, social health and equity, and circularity.

How We Got Here

Most certifications and standards have been created independently by different organizations in a desire to verify specific claims, drive change and recognize leaders. 


What the standards cover and promise can vary wildly. Some are purely transparency mechanisms, placing no judgment on the content but requiring public disclosure, while others require key benchmarks of achievement; many cover one or a couple sustainability attributes, and others may attempt to be comprehensive, or holistic; some are self-disclosed by the manufacturer, others are third-party verified to varying degrees; each sets its bar for achievement at a different level for different areas of the product. 


So as you can see, as a consumer or specifier, interpreting a single product standard, let alone hundreds of products certified across a project — and feeling confident that they align with either a personal ethos or better yet an organizational sustainability commitment — can feel a bit overwhelming, to say the least.


And as a manufacturer, it’s very likely that each customer has made a well-intentioned, but slightly or wildly different commitment to sustainability, using its own definitions and interpretations of standards. Imagine the array of requests a manufacturer would get when every organization let alone every individual would define “what is a sustainable material” in a different way.

The Foundation, Not the Penthouse

It’s important to know that the Common Materials Framework does not set the bar for sustainability itself. It’s a tool that allows for interpretation and the setting of meaningful and comparative benchmarks.


The framework is designed to highlight and support the work of the certifications and standards that drive sustainability, making them easier to interpret and increasing their availability. 


It also helps to highlight gaps. Does a standard really have the impact it intends, or is it missing key data points? Can a standard really help you meet your organizational goals? Are we missing key areas we need to impact the building industry? Can we close the gap between advanced and entry-level certifications? 


These questions have already begun to be asked. Take, for example, commitments by the leading building certifications and organizations in North America — the AIA, USGBC, ILFI, IWBI, etc— to identify the difference between their materials programs and either be able to justify them or align them. The great aligning begins.

AIA Materials Pledge

Stop Redoing Work

Supplemental Resources + Reading

However, the framework actually gives context to over 150 of the most used product sustainability standards and certifications and organizes thousands of data points.

The undertaking of a cross-disciplinary group convened by mindful MATERIALS in 2021, and maintained over time by its Content Working Group and informed by industry engagement, the CMF represents the most comprehensive undertaking of product sustainable materials alignment and adoption to-date. It is designed to be adopted, evolved, improved — but not duplicated. Its central management is key to building broad agreement and streamlining materials sustainability work.

AIA Materials Pledge

In 2019, a letter establishing a ‘north star’ of holistic material sustainability was established in a desire to get away from the whack-a-mole- approach of the past (“show us your carbon number!” “now we want you to address health!”). The AIA Materials Pledge was formally established thereafter and now boasts hundreds of signatures by architecture and design firms of all sizes across the US. 


Other stakeholders followed suit with their own pledges, committing to adhere to this vision of holistically optimized materials that support Human Health, Climate health, Ecosystem Health, Social health and Equity, in a Circular economy.


This was all very exciting, but suddenly, the industry had a lot of commitments to this lofty goal of sustainability—without a shared definition or a map to meet them. mindful MATERIALS saw that there was a timely need for a framework to unify these pledges and ultimately unify the industry around a shared language for sustainable building products.


The organization convened two groups to build and oversee the creation of the Common Materials Framework, to establish finally a way of structuring, organizing and interpreting sustainability data. The framework was completed in 2021 and will be revised periodically to recognize new data points and certifications.


Today, the Common Materials Framework is formally recognized by the AIA as the foundation for its pledge — upon which it will build metrics for success. In 2022, building certification leaders like ILFI, USGBC, IWBI also committed to adopting the CMF as their foundation of materials requirements for future standards. Crisis averted!


For more on how the CMF was created →

What is the CMF

The framework identifies over 650 relevant sustainability factors that are contained within over 100 commonly referenced product standards and certifications. 


Those factors are structured and organized within the 5 broad impact areas referenced across multiple building industry materials pledges, most notably the AIA A&D Materials Pledge. 


By mapping data that already exists within these commonly referenced eco-labels and certifications to these impact areas, the CMF allows pledge signatories to consistently measure and demonstrate achievement on their public commitments. Perhaps even more importantly, the framework allows individuals who are making decisions about materials to be more informed about the impact of their decisions - without needing to have extensive knowledge of the multitude of certifications and eco-labels that exist. 


By unpacking and mapping product data to a common structure that can be used as the foundation for decision-making metrics, by any professional across the built environment, across multiple tools and databases, the framework drives consistency and allows for benchmarking progress and success towards improving the holistic health of our built environment and reducing the embodied impacts of buildings.


The basics of the CMF:

  • Promotes a holistic approach, rather than a single impact area

  • Establishes a hierarchical structure of data that one can drill down within, to define the 5 impact areas of the AIA Materials Pledge

  • Provides context to better understand the relevance of certifications to sustainability goals

  • Certification-agnostic framework designed to promote understanding and clarity, able to evolve over time to incorporate industry feedback and new standards and learnings

A Holistic Approach

We don’t often see the invisible connections between different areas of sustainability, but they are often very much interconnected. The type of material, its production, or transportation — is likely to impact its climate impacts, health impacts and ecosystem impacts all at once. Many programs or databases show impacts as individual and disconnected, but our goal with the CMF is to always show how a product performs against all 5 impact areas at once.

"Companies are free to choose and prioritize how they want to drive change-- perhaps social equity is where they want to push the hardest, for others it may be human health or carbon, and yet others it may be a combination of many. It is ok to have different priorities in your material standards, but it is important to be using the same language so that it's more streamlined to connect product information to project level requirements. This is what the CMF enables."

– Laurel Chądzyński

VP of Engagement, mindful MATERIALS

A Hierarchical Structure

The CMF helps us to unpack impacts — by creating a flexible, hierarchical structure where we can understand the role of any given data point. This is also useful for its functionality in tech systems nad databases where it will eventually allow for filtering at any depth or combination of data points.

  • The broadest category of impact, i.e. Human Health

    Each of the five areas of health called out in the AIA’s Materials Pledge have been referred to as ‘buckets’ within the CMF. Why? Because they’re broad categories containing a lot of data points to organize and unpack within each.

  • Organizing the ‘buckets’ by function, i.e. Substances within in Human Health

    The data points within particular bucket can vary wildly (Human health looks at volatile organic chemicals, as wel as manufacturing practices). So going 1 step deeper, we identify functional categories of impact. Across the 5 buckets, there are 18 sub-buckets, and these take into account not only the considerations of product-specific impacts, but in some cases company-wide impacts as well.

  • This level starts to get at whether you’re simply disclosing, or taking action

    The next level of the CMF is perhaps the most important when it comes to understanding where a product or company is in its journey toward fostering a regenerative environment. This level is referred to as a spectrum, because it represents a range of achievements, from the most basic level of disclosure to the much more difficult level of optimization. 


    • Transparency: [Public or third party] disclosure of the data.

    • Assessment: Deeper investigation of those impacts.

    • Commitments: Company has stated publicly, via a third party, intent and plan to improve health profile of product.

    • Optimization: Product has demonstrated or exceeded a particular level of achievement or improvement vs. baseline, as designated by a standard.

  • The Factor is the question that ultimately leads to the data point/metric. Metrics are what is quantifiable and measurable based on the Factor.

    Below each step on the TACO spectrum are factors that are used to determine the specific nature of a product’s reporting/metric availability. 


    For example, for human health transparency — a factor within this category is  “percent disclosed” in which the metrics “ would be the answers of 100% disclosure, or another percentage of disclosure.

Provides Context for Certifications

Right now, the reality of comparing certifications and standards is incredibly cumbersome and requires deep knowledge of the standards, or what are often very inconsistent interpretations by product databases. The Common Materials Framework organizes all of the potential data points, and then maps the product certifications and their requirements to Impact. Suddenly, you can click a button to see every data point the Living Product Challenge supports, or see every certification and standard that contains a data point you’re looking for. Suddenly you don’t need to be an expert on every standard, and it is easier to streamline your ask of manufacturers because they can supply the data, regardless of what the PDF of their certificate looks like.

Why It Matters

It’s not just about understanding each other when we talk about sustainability and the day-to-day confusion. Taken as a whole, the lack of a common sustainability language is causing a major rift in the industry.

  • Disparate requests and no common definition for sustainable materials

  • Market confusion 

  • So many standards and certifications and very little time to conceptually understand what they all mean

  • Disconnected data

  • Preventing benchmarking of progress within and across organizations

  • Making holistic impact analysis of products in projects impossible and inconsistent


You can see that the use of the Common Materials Framework goes far beyond how we talk about sustainability. The potential is a connective tissue that underlies our conversations, specifications, and systems, allowing them to all talk and work together to grow the demand for sustainability and accelerate industry response.


Right now, how we define or see sustainability depends on the certification we see, the company promoting their engagement, marketing materials, and certainly the database you use to find products. You may only see carbon numbers in one location; just human health indicators in another; perhaps multiple impacts, but defined differently.


The data is the data. So shouldn’t what you see be consistent from database to database, standard to standard? This does not mean we need to require the same level of sustainability, but the data points and their organization can be consistent.


With a common sustainability language and its integration into systems and standards, here is what is possible:

  • A clear market signal and manufacturer confidence in the market for sustainability

  • Connected data thanks to cross-system ability to communicate and organize data (no more “Where did my EPD go!?”)

  • Reduced need for redundant work and creation of spreadsheets

  • Ability to clearly interpret any certification or standard within the CMF or see how a data point applies to that standard.

  • A more holistic approach to sustainability for all products

  • Ultimately, time, energy, and money saved up and down the built environment value chain

  • And much more …

The First Factors

While the full Common Materials Framework includes 600+ distinct factors and 1,000’s of metrics, it became obvious very quickly that we needed a starting point. Instead of zero to 600+, zero to 50 seemed manageable. Especially if the first 50 were prioritized as the most important.


These First Factors are the answer to the question, "What data would be the most helpful to focus the industry on at the project level, that is found in product level ecolabel and standards widely used today?”


Through an extensive review of the criteria defined in requirements of our Owner and AEC Forum members, as well as in the credits, features, and imperatives of LEED, WELL, and Living Building Challenge, these factors rose to the top, encompassing nearly all of the requirements needed to fulfill a majority of these project-level standards.


These First Factors are already available, are the most needed information, are the questions manufacturers already have some answers to, and, in most cases, are data that is already publicly available. It just needs to be standardized and connected.


Are we asking owners, AEC, and manufacturers to have addressed all 50 at this time? No. But this effort is allowing us all a clearer, more streamlined place to start. Whether owners and AEC are incorporating one factor into every project or manufacturers are reporting ten, we're asking that you use the consistent structure of the First Factors when communicating them. And, that you align your materials criteria, definitions, and communications with the Common Materials Framework’s structure.


As of 2024, the ‘first factors’ can be seen here and exist within 10 of the 18 sub-impacts/buckets of the CMF.

To learn more about this aligned ask and how you can endorse it, please visit our Act page.

How to Use the CMF

The Common Materials Framework provides the building industry with a consistent, structured language that allows for holistic impacts to be understood. Access to quality data that is consistently structured or categorized is a crucial component of the CMF's success. Why? Without quality data, we have no way to measure our holistic impact. If that data is not consistently structured or is categorized differently by each stakeholder, it is meaningless. And if that data is disconnected, it is unusable.


mindful MATERIALS intends for the Common Materials Framework to be available in project management and workflow tools where materials and project-level decisions are made. Future integration of the CMF across more tools will unlock additional functionalities and usage of product data, enabling more informed decision-making and our ability to quantify holistic product-level impacts in projects.


By aligning the building industry around this common language and a clear market signal for connected, quality data we are that much closer to achieving the materials easy button.

Impact Category + Sub-Impact Category Definitions

Impact Category: Human Health

Human Health impacts are the ways that products and materials (or chemicals and processes used to create products and materials) affect the human body. Many chemicals used in material production today are unregulated*, and exposure to these chemicals can have health implications - not only the occupants of a space where a material is used, but on all those who come into contact with that material throughout its life cycle. These effects can range from acute irritations and sensitivities to long-term, chronic conditions that can be passed down through generations.

According to the CDC, genetics account for only about 10% of diseases, and the remaining 90% can be attributed to environmental exposures and influences - so it’s imperative that we begin to understand the chemicals used in the materials that make up our built environment and work to remove those that have negative impacts on Human Health.

  • Substances are defined by the EPA as any organic or inorganic substance of a particular molecular identity, including any combination of such substances occurring in whole or in part as a result of a chemical reaction or occurring in nature. The CMF includes factors in this section like:  the percentage of disclosure, the granularity of disclosure (typically in parts per million or ppm), as well as by whether a product contains substances or chemicals of concern (as identified by commonly referenced restricted substance lists), or if the product has avoided use of specific class based chemicals, among other factors.

  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) refers to chemicals frequently used in interior products and finishes (particularly wet-applied products like paint and sealants), which off gas at room temperature, thus making them more likely to become airborne and enter into the lungs of occupants (or installers) through respiration. The health effects of VOCs vary widely, from respiratory irritants to human carcinogens (such as formaldehyde), which is a concern since they are ingredients in many products in the built environment. [Parsons Healthy Materials Lab]. The CMF includes factors in this section like:  VOC content and emissions testing and optimization, among other factors.

  • Company Human Health impacts consider a company’s overall chemical footprint across all their product lines, not just the specific product being evaluated. The CMF includes factors in this section like:  chemical policies and footprints, supply chain disclosures and footprints, chemical impact reduction plans and policies, among other factors.

Impact Category: Climate Health

Climate Health impacts are the ways that products and materials (and the energy used during their production and operation) contribute to our changing climate. The building and construction sector is by far the largest emitter of greenhouse gasses, accounting for a staggering 37% of global emissions (UNEP). As advances in design, technology, and building systems allow buildings to become more operationally efficient, the built environment industry must turn its focus toward reducing embodied carbon, and work to reduce negative climate impacts by preferring products that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and sequester more carbon than they emit (Building Green).

  • Embodied carbon refers to the greenhouse gas emissions arising from the manufacturing, transportation, installation, maintenance, and disposal of building materials. Embodied carbon is a significant percentage of global emissions and requires urgent action to address it. [CLF] The CMF includes factors in this section like: LCA and/or  EPD types, the functional unit based on the product PCR, system boundaries, third party verification, whether a product demonstrates a reduction from the CLF baseline, and whether data is digitally available, among other factors.

  • Company Carbon refers to company-wide (not product-specific) emissions. The CMF includes factors in this section like: organizational boundaries, calculation methodology, public disclosures, carbon reduction targets and action plans, energy conservation measures, among other factors.

Impact Category: Circular Economy

Circular Economy Impacts are the ways that a material or product’s design takes into consideration a product’s material inputs, and end of life streams, to eliminate waste and pollution, circulate products and materials at their highest value, and regenerate nature (EMF). The US generated 600 million tons of  Construction and Demolition (C&D) waste in 2018 - more than double the amount of municipal solid waste generated in the same time period (EPA). Instead of utilizing building products and materials for a short time before sending them to landfills, we must find ways to keep them in circulation, and prioritize products designed with circular principles in mind.

  • Sourcing refers to where products are manufactured and with what type of inputs. The CMF includes factors in this section like:  salvaged, regenerative, renewable, or recyclable inputs, whether the materials used have social co-benefits (like carbon sequestration, pollution removal ie. ocean plastics, etc.), among other factors.

  • End of Life refers to where a product or material goes when it is no longer being used. The CMF includes factors in this section like: pathways for recycling, composting, or reintegration, designed for repair, upgrade, or disassembly, extended producer responsibility programs, material passports, among other factors.

  • Packaging refers to how products are packaged for distribution and sale. The CMF includes factors in this section like: the type of material is used for packaging, the end of life for the packaging, whether the packaging has been optimized to eliminate unsustainable/harmful materials, and efficient water and energy use in its production, among other factors.

  • Company Circularity refers to company-wide (not product specific) circularity considerations. The CMF includes factors in this section like:  sample take-back programs, ongoing assessments and follow-through on recovery and cycling of products that are taken back, company-wide circularity goals, environmentally preferred purchasing policies, among other factors.

  • Waste is unwanted or unusable material, substances, or byproducts produced during manufacture of a product or material. The CMF includes factors in this section like:  solid waste inventory (and associated standard and boundaries), total waste diversion rates, auditing and reporting, zero-waste goals, plans, and/or commitments,, upstream waste optimization, and third party verification, among other factors.


This framework allows one to map certifications and standards to impact — from the most basic disclosures, to more aspirational standards; recognizing products with simple transparency through those with advanced achievements.


The Working Groups who completed the original CMF in 2021 researched over 150 of the most common certifications and standards in the building products industry. Over time, standards can be added or removed, or updated to reflect new requirements or data points.

  • The supply chain is the interconnected journey that raw materials, components, and goods take before their assembly and sale to customers. [McKinsey] It includes building material producers, vendors, manufacturers, transporters, retailers, and consumers - essentially all the people and businesses that are involved in extracting, refining, processing, manufacturing, distributing, storing, selling, and installing a material or product into a building.The CMF includes factors in this section like:  supply chain mapping, supplier human rights policies (which can include forced labor), compliance documentation, high-risk materials, monitoring and auditing, supplier commitments, equitable purchasing, among other factors.

  • Company Workplace considers how an organization cares for its employees and addresses their safety, benefits, and health and well-being. The CMF includes factors in this section like: CSR reporting, Diversity & Inclusion policies, and Diverse Business Enterprise status, among other factors.

  • Community refers to the local community situated in a given geographical area near an organization's manufacturing location. The CMF includes factors in this section like: community outreach and engagement, indigenous peoples’ rights, community volunteering, public reporting, community impact assessment, community development plans & policies, charitable giving, among other factors.

Impact Category: Social Health + Equity

Social Health and Equity Impacts are the ways that individuals involved in the production or living near production or disposal locations of products and materials are affected by these operations. Globally, almost 28 million people are held in servitude for forced labor and 160 million children from the ages of five to 17 are subjected to child labor (UNICEF), and construction and manufacturing are the largest industrialized sectors at the highest risk of forced labor (ILO). We must prefer products from manufacturers that secure human rights in operations and in supply chains, positively impacting workers and the communities where they operate (Building Green).

Impact Category: Ecosystem Health

Ecosystem Health Impacts are the ways the production of materials affect elements of our natural ecosystems, such as water, air, biodiversity, and wildlife. While climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions leads to destruction of natural ecosystems, other byproducts of material production do as well, like overharvesting, habitat destruction, and air and water pollution. “Restoring ecosystem health requires the use of products that renew [these systems], encouraging more thoughtful supply chain management and restorative company practices (Building Green).”

  • Pollution is the introduction of harmful materials (pollutants) into the environment. Pollutants can be natural, such as volcanic ash. They can also be created by human activity, such as trash or runoff produced by factories. Pollutants damage the quality of air, water, and land. [National Geographic]  The CMF includes factors in this section like:   air and water emissions, whether hazardous waste is present, environmental policies, plans, and strategies for environmental protection, and implementation progress of these strategies, among other factors.

  • Product Water Footprint refers to the water required to produce a specific product. For plumbing fixtures and products that use water during operation, Product Water Footprint also refers to the water use efficiency of that product during operation. The CMF includes factors in this section like: water inventory and assessment, water efficiency measures, and water footprint reduction, among other factors.

  • Company Water Footprint refers to the total water usage of the company throughout its business operations. The CMF includes factors in this section like:  the scope of the company’s direct and indirect water footprint (whether just for manufacture or also for employee operations), the supply chain water footprint, the downstream impacts of a company’s water use, among other factors.

  • Biodiversity and Conservation refer to how the manufacture of a product impacts animal and plant species and habitats, and protects and improves natural resources according to principles that will ensure their highest economic or social benefits. [EPA] The CMF includes factors in this section like:   material extraction and harvesting, endangered or vulnerable species protection, land use and habitat protection, organic systems management, habitat restoration, among other factors.

  • Life Cycle Environmental Impacts are determined by conducting a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) - a standardized process for quantifying the inputs, outputs, and potential environmental impacts of a product from cradle to grave [USGBC] The CMF includes factors in this section like:   the LCA/EPD type and standard, system boundaries, verification, PCR, TRACI and CML Methodology Impact Categories, among other factors.

mM CMF Portal

As of May 2024, a portion of the CMF has been digitized in the mindful MATERIALS Product Portal, developed by ecomedes. The portal is free to use, and users can search for products by holistic impacts across the five buckets of the CMF and relevant certifications. Data flows into the portal from certifications and standards providers, manufacturers, and other data management platforms (such as 3E Exchange (formerly Toxnot), HPDC, and EC3).


In the Portal, the CMF is digitized to the “sub-bucket” level across all impact areas. This means that once you have searched by bucket (i.e. “Human Health”), you can also search by sub-buckets under Human Health, like “VOCs,” “Substances,” or “Company Human Health Impacts.” Some sub-buckets have been digitized to the TACO level, but not all. Wondering what we mean by sub-buckets and TACO?

The Portal is and will remain in beta. It serves as a proof of concept for a digitized CMF but is also just a stepping stone in mM’s greater vision of connectivity.

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