Materials and human heath

What happens when you gather 76 passionate and informed professionals in a room to discuss challenges and opportunities at the intersection of health, materials and the built environment? Progress.

That’s how I felt at the end of the day on Thursday, February 20, when USGBC, the Berkeley Center for Green Chemistry and the USGBC Northern California Chapter jointly hosted a full day event on that topic. Speakers and panelists representing the fields of design, construction, product manufacturing, policy, health, law, and academia came together to share ideas, have productive dialogue, and probe more deeply into the topic of materials and health.

Throughout the meeting we collected feedback from participants on their observations and useful resources they’ve encountered. At the end of the day we asked them to share one particularly meaningful observation, remark, resource, or approach they took away from the event. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Only 5 out of over 84,000 chemicals in the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) database have been banned or restricted by the EPA in the 38 years since TSCA was passed in 1976.(Read the article by USGBC senior research fellow Megan Schwarzman for more background on TSCA.
  • Chemicals are treated as “innocent until proven guilty” with regards to their health effects due to flawed national policy. Why is the burden of proof on the public rather than industry?
  • There is a lack of information about materials ingredients and their health effects, and there are barriers to accessing what we do have. Let’s get beyond talking about data gaps and focus instead on how emerging professionals can think and act differently to address these issues and work around data gaps.
  • We need to include social equity in the discussion. All people, regardless of socioeconomic status, should benefit from healthy buildings.
  • Focus first on schools and daycares and take precautions to protect our most vulnerable populations.
  • Being able to use a financial argument or incentive can really work. Consider purchasing power as a way to demand change.

Listening to all the speakers and comments, I quickly realized how nuanced and faceted this topic is. Chemists, toxicologists, public health and policy experts, materials scientists, product manufacturers, designers, and construction professionals often use different terms when discussing materials and health. But the simple truth is that, while we don’t always speak the same language, we do have similar goals. Can LEED provide a common language and framework to bring our communities together and facilitate progress?

My biggest takeaway from the day was that market influence is the most powerful tool we have, no matter what your role is in the supply chain or how you relate to materials and health. One third of the observations we collected during the Berkeley event had to do with market influence and the idea that we, the consumers, drive demand.

What can you do? Keep asking questions, dig deeper, bring this topic up with co-workers and clients, and request more information on the products we put in our buildings and the chemicals we put in our products. We drive demand. We have the purchasing power. Let’s use it!

Realizing industry-wide change on this topic will be a marathon, not a sprint, I am invigorated to be at the starting line surrounded by others who also see a long but attainable path to a finish. Come join us. This was the first of several events that USGBC and our partners will be hosting throughout 2014. Sign up here to be notified of future health and materials webcasts and events.

Suggested resources from the attendees:

Health Product Declaration Collaborative technical director Eden Brukman recaps her panel discussion on materials and health, outlines barriers to market transformation, and shares her vision for a healthier future in the built environment.

Insights from a Panelist - Eden Brukman Berkeley, CA from U.S. Green Building Council on Vimeo.

Keynote speaker Ted Schettler explains why he feels the topic of health and materials is so important in the built environment.

Insights from a Panelist - Ted Schettler Berkeley,CA from U.S. Green Building Council on Vimeo.

Blog post written by David Marcus, Project-Based Learning Coordinator at the U.S. Green Building Council, and was originally posted to the national USGBC blog.


The power of ventilation

It’s no controversy: People like fresh air. But to what extent does good ventilation enhance occupant moods in office and retail environments?

New research from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) addresses just that.

At a March 13 exclusive Building Health Initiative partner event, the U.S. Green Building Council – Northern California Chapter welcomed researcher Wanyu R. Chan, Ph.D., to its offices to provide summary findings on ongoing indoor environmental quality (IEQ) research from LBNL's Indoor Environment Group.

LBNL’s Healthy Zero Energy Buildings (HZEB) program generates information for the California Energy Commission to develop ventilation standards that provide for occupant needs while avoiding over-ventilation. Chan presented summary findings from a series of field studies, laboratory experiments and model simulations on indoor air quality, building ventilation and occupant outcomes. Time was then allotted for Q&A and discussion with Building Health Initiative partners.

Following is the slideshow from Chan’s thought-provoking presentation:

Building Health Initiative partners expressed interest in learning more about what Chan referred to as DALYs, or “disability-adjusted life years.” Click here to download DALY research from the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Photo by Tom Oliver.


New LEED credential exams

The next evolution of LEED credential exams is upon us.

The LEED Green Associate and LEED AP exams will evolve for the LEED v4 rating system in June. The last day to take the credential exams with LEED v2009 content will be June 15, 2014. The first day to take the exams with the new LEED v4 content will be June 30, 2014. No tests will be administered in between these dates.

USGBC-NCC will present its final LEED Green Associate exam prep for LEED v2009 in San Francisco Feb. 28. Register now if you’re planning to take the test before the curriculum changes.

What’s new in the LEED v4 exams? For the first time, LEED project experience competency will be assessed within the LEED AP exam. Practitioner experience is critical to the LEED AP designation and, as such, proficiency will be objectively tested within the LEED AP exam itself.

Also, as of June 30 the requirement to submit proof of LEED project experience at the time of application is no longer required. However, the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) strongly urges candidates to gain meaningful project experience prior to taking the test, as it is critical to successful exam performance.

Photo by Ricardo Torres K.


Changing the Conversation: The Year in Review

Even though the 49ers aren’t going to the Super Bowl, I count my lucky stars for the privilege of living in Northern California. Our region is renowned for its innovative and progressive culture, and when it comes to green building, executives the world over regularly visit to learn about the latest trends, technologies and best practices.

As Northern California leads the world, so USGBC-Northern California Chapter (USGBC-NCC) leads the region’s green building movement. We strive to continually accelerate market transformation, and to expand and deepen the sustainability agenda.

Our community has made tremendous progress over the past few years in developing solutions to some of the most pressing challenges of the day: climate change, energy, water, waste, health and preserving our natural resources. A few examples:

  • The adoption of LEED continues apace, and LEED v4 officially launched;
  • Zero net energy buildings are proving we can design and build places to live and work that are both beautiful and efficient;
  • Regenerative buildings are restoring depleted resources and habitat;
  • Ecodistricts point the way to creating communities that promote the health and wellbeing of all. 
Read more »  

Building Health Initiative - This is a Game Changer

Adobe, CalPERS, Genentech, Google, Kaiser Permanente,, University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and 20 other corporations partner with USGBC-NCC

It was a night to remember.  And it’s only just begun.

On October 29, at USGBC-NCC’s Green Building Super Heroes Awards Gala, USGBC-Northern California Chapter (USGBC-NCC) launched the Building Health Initiative, the latest Northern California innovation that puts USGBC-NCC squarely on the cutting edge of the movement to elevate green building as a public health benefit and accelerate the development of transparency standards in building materials.  

Twenty-nine globally prominent corporations, organizations and institutions came on stage to stand with USGBC-NCC and pledge to implement new organizational actions that will have direct effects on catalyzing market transformation, and generate awareness of how the built environment affects our well-being.

This unique partnership of commercial building owners and tenants; architects, engineers and builders; building product manufacturers; legal professionals; labor and healthcare professionals and institutions will work with USGBC-NCC to:

  1. Frame green as a health issue
  2. Expand the conversation in the industry to include human health
  3. Generate awareness and education
  4. Catalyze demand for healthy products and communities
  5. Integrate isolated silos in a wide range of public and private sectors. 
Read more »  

Super Heroes Awards Gala – The Best Ever

“How are you going to top this one?” That’s what so many are saying about the 2013 Super Heroes Awards Gala. On October 29th, three hundred green building leaders filled the Julia Morgan Ballroom to honor the most outstanding innovators creating a healthier, greener built environment. The inspiring, fun, and celebratory atmosphere deeply moved awardees and audience alike.

A Stellar Line Up

The speeches of the distinguished presenters and honorees provided compelling messages from a diverse array of sectors.

TransForm, recipient of the Outstanding Community Organization Award, set the tone for the evening. Dressed in super hero attire, with a shield in the shape of a Clipper card and a scooter in hand, they accepted their award with a lively rap poem. Meea Kang of Kings Beach Housing Now, donning a super hero cape, then moved the audience with a passionate speech about the importance of green affordable housing.

Nathan Brostrom, EVP of UC, accepted an award to The Office of the President of University of California  for their outstanding institutional leadership.  UC’s award included special recognition for Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories, UC Berkeley, and UC Davis.

Read more »  

Greenbuild 2013: The built environment and human health

As design professionals, we know that a sustainable built environment can be a game-changer not only for the positive environmental and economic benefits, but also for the human experience .

At USGBC, we know that LEED buildings can have a positive, measurable impact on human health, wellness and occupant experience—but given the rising global challenge of human health, it is now time to move from anecdotal evidence to intentional action linked to thoughtful evaluation. It's time to bridge the public health and design community and benefit from evidenced-based and citizen science research, while advancing solutions for tomorrow's challenges today.

At this year's Greenbuild, we have a robust agenda for architects, designers, product manufacturers and other industry leaders exploring these public health and design opportunities. Our must-see programs include Tuesday's pre-conference summit on Materials and Health, which will directly engage marketplace leaders on how safer, healthier materials in our built environment have positive benefits on human health. Thursday's Master Speaker session—Health Matters.  And Green Building Can Help—features renowned public health expert Dr. Richard Jackson (UCLA), and an engaging and dynamic discussion moderated by Metropolis' Susan Szenasy.  

Read more »  

USGBC-NCC Launches Building Health Initiative

USGBC-NCC Community,

Last night at the Super Heroes Awards Gala, our Chapter launched the Building Health Initiative, starting with a two-year program in which industry leaders from multiple sectors pledge to promote health and wellness, take actions to catalyze industry transformation, and create market demand for product transparency and healthy places.

The Founding Partners include 27 prominent corporations, institutions, and organizations, including CalPERS, Genentech, Kaiser, and Google, among others. Additional partners may join over the next few months.

Representatives from 27 Founding Partner Companies at Initiative Launch

USGBC-NCC will work with these partners to develop a series of educational programs and events through 2014-2015 — Stay tuned!

Read the press release below to learn more.

It is our greater community that allows this work to be possible, and we thank you for helping make this incredible initiative come to life.


USGBC-Northern California Chapter

Learn more:

Building Health Initiative Website

"USGBC sparks Building Health movement with help from Adobe to XL" via

"Elevating green building as a health issue" via The Mercury News

Read more »  

USGBC-NCC National Board Endorsements

Each year, USGBC members have a unique opportunity to shape USGBC's future by electing its national Board members. All full time employees of national member companies are eligible to vote, and voting concludes October 30. Cast your vote today!

USGBC-Northern California Chapter endorses the following candidates for the 2014 USGBC National Board of Directors:

Lisa Matthiessen, Principal, Integral Group
Lisa Matthiessen is running for the Sustainable Practice Leader: Architecture and Design seat on the 2014 Board of Directors.
Learn more >>

Dan Burgoyne, Sustainability Manager, State of California
Dan Burgoyne is running for the State and Local Government Agency Employee seat on the 2014 Board of Directors.
Learn more >>

Stephen Bushnell, Senior Director, Fireman's Fund Insurance Company
Stephen Bushnell is running for the Insurance seat on the 2014 Board of Directors.
Learn more >>

Learn More About the USGBC Board of DIrectors Election >>


Super Heroes Awards Gala Honoring Green Building Innovators Since 2007

This year’s Green Building Super Heroes Awards Gala is shaping up to be an unforgettable program. Our six award winners are true super heroes that are propelling the sustainability movement in Northern California and beyond. We are thrilled to recognize and celebrate with

  • Mary Nichols, Chairman, California Air Resources Board – Green Groundbreaker Award
  • Anne Simpson, Senior Portfolio Manager, Director of Global Governance, CalPERS – Green Groundbreaker Award
  • Arlene Blum, Visiting Scholar in Chemistry, UC Berkeley and Executive Director, Green Science Policy Institute– David Gottfried Special Achievement Award
  • University of California System (including Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, UC Davis, and UC Berkeley) – Sustainable Neighborhood/Campus Award
  • Kings Beach Housing Now – Sustainable Neighborhood/Campus Award
  • and TransForm – Outstanding Community Organization Award

at the Julia Morgan Ballroom in San Francisco on October 29th. Presenters of these awards include Linda Civitello of Breathe California, Senate Majority Leader Ellen M. Corbett, and USGBC Founder David Gottfried, among others. The evening will include great networking, a unique and engaging awards program, costumes, inspiration, and celebration.


The first Super Heroes Awards in 2007 laid the foundation for the gala to become one of the most anticipated green building events in Northern California. Robin Bass and Dan Geiger came up with the idea that year as a way to recognize the most outstanding green building innovators.

Read more »  
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Annual Sponsors


Platinum Sponsor


Platinum Sponsor


Gold Sponsor

Rudolph and Sletten

Gold Sponsor


Gold Sponsor

U.S. Green Building Council -
North California Chapter

560 Mission St. Suite 900
San Francisco, CA 94105
Phone: (415) 659-9404