Fast food is delicious, easy to come by, cheap, and filling. It’s also deadly. You could apply a similar analogy to building materials. There are myriad products and finishes that look good, that are inexpensive, and perform fairly well–but also contain toxic chemicals that can be harmful to your health, not to mention the environment.
Helping architects understand the materials they choose is just one of the goals of the Living Building Challenge, a green building certification program that’s been gaining momentum in recent years. It’s a rigorous set of performance standards that looks at seven categories: how a structure relates to its place and site, water efficiency, energy efficiency (it should create more energy than it consumes), how it promotes health and happiness in its users, its material composition, its equity, and how beautiful it is.