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Foundational Action to Achieve Materials’ Holy Grail

Closing in on the end of year one, mindful MATERIALS provides an update on the Forums’ progress.

Imagine a world where you can access highly organized, holistic sustainability data in the tools you already use for design and procurement. Where you can quantify the embodied impacts of social health equity, human health, carbon, biodiversity, and circularity of a building and actively report impact reductions and ESG metrics to clients and investors. Where you can actually track how product-level decisions reduced the embodied impacts of a project.

“Material sustainability is often considered the most complicated and time-consuming part of any green building certifications — and these projects are often the only time that materials strategy is taken seriously,” says Annie Bevan, CEO of mindful MATERIALS. “Material embodied impacts remain too easy to ignore and too complicated to make decisions confidently.”

According to Bevan, those complications have widened the gap between those with the resources and knowledge to navigate the complexity and those without. The result of that gap? More confusion, more money, less adoption, and less impact.

Enter: mindful MATERIALS. 

“We are uniquely positioned to do this work,” says Bevan. “Think of mindful MATERIALS as the UN of Sustainable Materials, bringing together people, certifications, standards, pledges, organizations, and workflows to build common ground and alignment. All so we can accelerate the creation, specification, and use of holistically sustainable materials.”

Earlier this year, the non-profit launched three Catalyst Forum Groups (Owners, AEC, and Manufacturers), assembling proven materials leaders to find common ground, identify alignment opportunities, build shared resources and knowledge, and accelerate impact by sending a clear market signal.

“The potential that this alignment and unification represents to the market in terms of demand and supply cannot be overstated,” says Bevan. “We don’t need to wonder what it would be like if Google, Brookfield Properties, Avalon Bay Communities, Harvard, Perkins&Will, Perkins Eastman, DLR Group, HKS, and Gensler, were all on the same page with what they’re asking of the market. This is possible now. It’s been incredible to work with these organizations and individuals as they recognize the power they have together to truly drive market shift.”

With such a transformational goal, the Forum groups broke their work into milestones to be achieved within three years (2023—2025).

“We broke up our larger three-year goal into key milestones — year one alignment, year two implementation, year three actualization, to help us stay realistic and keep us on track,” says Bevan. And as the groups close out their first year together, she says they are well on their way to achieving that goal.

After months of meetings (and one in-person gathering at Greenbuild) to build alignment within the individual Forum groups, mindful MATERIALS hosted the inaugural Cross-Forum Summit in Minneapolis in early November, where all three Forums convened for two full days of collaborative, heads-down work.

The Summit was an opportunity to unpack and overcome any remaining hurdles to alignment, celebrate early wins, and agree upon action plans to move into greater alignment across industries on the “Aligned Ask,” Common Materials Framework, and 50 Data Hotspots.

“The Forum’s ultimate work is to move us past the science and into the story,” says Tim Conway, Vice President of Sustainability for Shaw Industries, a member of the Manufacturers’ Forum, “and right now, we’re in the science weeds, so to speak.

“But this deeply technical work we’re doing will result in an ‘easy button’ to evaluate product specifications across all five impact categories, AND see how these impacts may change based on different product choices and design when this system, and more quality data, is readily available in tech systems and workflow tools,” he says.

The 50 Data Hotspots

So, how do we eat an elephant such as the Common Materials Framework’s thousands of identified data points across five major impact categories? 50 Data Hotspots at a time.

Data hotspots are key data points already accounted for within many of the major product standards and certifications referenced today. For example, things like threshold levels for reporting (i.e., are chemical contents disclosed at 100 ppm, 1,000 ppm, or 10,000 ppm?), whether or not a product is third-party verified, or the percentage of recycled, biodegradable, or compostable content it contains.

“If we need metrics to support sustainable business operations, required disclosures and holistic ESG reporting, then connected, reliable data and industry consistency is foundational,” says Jack Dinning, mindful MATERIALS’ Co-Director of Materials. “To get to that future, we need first to prioritize and focus.”

mindful MATERIALS started with the Common Materials Framework — structuring measurable product impacts across five buckets, including 600+ factors and over 150 standards — but when it comes to building this framework into workflow tools and getting data connected, there became a need to prioritize which factors were most important to start with.

“Of those 600+ factors and 150+ standards, which ones do we need the most now and can make the biggest impact because they can be achieved at scale,” asked Dinning.

mindful MATERIALS’ and the Forums’ priorities in establishing these 50 Hotspots were fourfold:

What is relevant?

What is available?

What is actionable?

What do we know how to interpret and make decisions on? 

“The 50 Hotspots address these priorities and can cover so much of what everyone needs right now,” says Dinning. “This is the lowest hanging fruit. It’s the info we all need the most, that manufacturers have the answers to, and in many cases, it’s already publicly available — we just need it to be connected.”

The Aligned Ask

“When we say the goal of the Forums is aligning the ask, we mean two things,” says Laurel Chadzynski, mindful MATERIALS’ Director of Engagement. “First, creating a clear, cohesive demand for a set of data that is focused in scope, achievable using trusted third-party programs, and scalable. Second, there is an ask to share data within an interconnected centralized system, ultimately enabling that data to flow into project workflow and design tools. That demand is no single stakeholder’s responsibility. It must be collectively expressed by owners, manufacturers, architects, designers, contractors, and others. Together, this ‘ask’ has the power to catalyze and incentivize every part of this data ecosystem to start getting good data and getting it connected.”

Outright, all Forum members agreed that holistic embodied impacts, as organized by the Common Materials Framework, and in alignment with the American Institute of Architects’ Materials Pledge, were important, though there is prioritization that can be done internally within any organization.

“Forum members also agreed that holistic impacts (not just carbon or health) matter, which led to the organization and amplification of this aligned ask to accelerate data of quality and quantity across the industry, honing in on these 50 Data Hotspots across five impact categories,” says Chadzynski.

A major outcome of the Summit was clarity on the articulation of this ‘ask’ between stakeholder groups.

From Owners and AEC to Manufacturers —

  • These 50 Data Hotspots are the priority data points we are collectively looking for information on, and here is a consistent format for how they should be structured.

  • Please manage product data in platforms that will share CMF-aligned data with affordable project workflow tools.

From Manufacturers to Certification Bodies and Data Management Platforms —

  • We need our product sustainability data consistently digitized and connected in order to meet industry demand of the ‘50 Data Hotspots’ and appear in key tools and end-use platforms.

From Owners to AEC —

  • Reference the CMF, familiarize yourself with materials vetting using this framework, and utilize tools to access this shared data as a part of your materials selection process.

  • Join us on the aligned ask of the Manufacturing community as partners in this work.

From AEC to Owners —

  • Join us on the aligned ask of the Manufacturing community as partners in this work.

  • Align your materials criteria and definitions with the Common Materials Framework (CMF) structure.

  • Utilize shared workflow tools to access this shared data as a part of your materials selection process.

From Manufacturers to AEC and Owners:

  • Align your materials criteria and definitions with the CMF structure and priority data points

  • Utilize shared workflow tools to access this shared data as a part of your materials selection process.

Not Resting On Our Laurel[S]

As the Forums move into 2024, their work shifts to getting industry-wide buy-in of the Aligned Ask and the 50 Data Hotspots.

“The first and most critical step is alignment, the second step is the implementation and actioning of this demand, and the third step - the one the industry is the most eager to get to - the realization of this consistent, connected data ecosystem, will allow for measurement and case studies,” says Chadzynski. “Finally, the industry will be able to actually quantify product decisions in projects across all impact areas of the CMF, with the 50 Data Hotspots as the foundation.”

More details on the 50 Data Hotspots will be released for public consumption in early 2024, along with the Forum Playbooks, which will act as manuals for other organizations across the building ecosystem to join this effort. The more voices all asking for the same thing in the same way will accelerate and scale this effort, says Bevan.

“We’re not only doing this alignment and ask to save time, money, and energy for everyone, we’re also doing this to drive clear demand across holistic impacts,” says Bevan. “We want more data of quality and quantity across all impacts to exist so we can measure the holistic embodied impacts of products in projects. Our work is to close the gap and make better, more mindful decisions, making more accessible to a wider majority of professionals working to design and build the spaces in which we spend much of our lives. This is the building industry’s materials holy grail.”


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