The AIA 2030 Commitment: Inspiration

Inspiration. We all need it. Where do you get yours?

Most architects get jazzed by photos of beautiful new projects – by other architects. It’s a strange mix of jealousy and admiration that we feel when drooling over someone else’s published work. But hey, we figure it’s all about promoting design excellence, right? Although the glossy trade publications still command our attention, now it’s the RSS feed from Dezeen or Architizer that typically fills us with awe and admiration.

And for me, personally, a snappy little gospel-infused tune like “Sweet Inspiration” from the Derek Trucks Band works all day.

But when was the last time you were inspired by your lunch?

Since we signed the AIA 2030 Commitment, lunches at Bergmeyer have never been the same. Fascinating webinars have replaced many of those vendor-supplied lunch-and-learns. Although we still get the occasional vapor-retardant membrane snooze-o-rama, the content has definitely improved.

The other day, I pulled my organic mesclun greens and goat cheese salad (sigh) out of its 100% recycled content brown paper bag, popped open the #6 PS recyclable plastic container, and settled-in for “Mastering Healthy Building Materials”, a webinar for which I assuredly would earn 1.5 LEED Specific GBCI hours. My iPhone was at the ready in case distraction was needed.

The iPhone was not required. The webinar was about a bunch of people who are working to rid the construction industry of all toxic materials. Yes, all. Architects have managed to squeeze the VOCs out of our paints and the CFCs out of our refrigeration systems, but there is more bad stuff out there. Eden Brukman from the International Living Buildings Institute presented the Red List “Petal” from the Living Building Challenge, the intent of which is to eliminate materials that have any adverse environmental impact. The Red List (if you haven’t seen it) includes some familiar names like asbestos and lead, but also a whole lot of plastics like the ever-present polyvinyl chloride or PVC.

She also spoke about the Pharos Project. BuildingGreen (Environmental Building News) and the Healthy Building Network collaborated to develop Pharos: an on-line evaluation tool for environmentally-sound building materials. The Pharos directory catalogs all the ingredients in building materials and flags the presence of 20,000 known persistent bioaccumulative toxins and carcinogens that can be found in commonly-specified products. How much tris(2-carboxyethyl)phosphine would you like with your flame-retardants?  

And what about the recyclable salad container for my very healthy lunch? Did it contain  bioaccumulative toxins? What is #6 PS, anyway? I whipped out my phone. Gulp. The “PS” stood for polystyrene. But was it Chlorinated Polystyrene (on the Red List!) or HDPE, High-Density Polystyrene (excluded from Red List)? I didn’t know, but this lunch (except for the salad) had certainly taught me something.

Here we have been all laser-focused on reducing building energy use to mitigate carbon emissions and forestall the crippling effects of climate change. Meanwhile, our plumbing and flame-retardants and cable jackets are made out of substances that get loose in the ecosystem and degrade human health. Damn.

Although I can fake my way through climate science, organic chemistry is admittedly WAY over my head. But I left that webinar convinced that architects should do more to get that toxic stuff out of our buildings.

Now that was a project worth being inspired about.


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