Google Goes Great Lengths for Green Building Materials

October 11, 2011

October 11, 2011

George Salah stood in front a hall containing nearly 1000 people at the 12th annual commercial real estate forecast by Colliers International in Silicon Valley, California.  He held up a $6,000 hand-held meter that calibrates volatile organic compounds in the air, as reported by The Registry

"I brought this because it shows what we care about," Salah told the audience. He then proceeded to turn it on and, after a moment, to read the result—no VOCs, he proclaimed.

"This device scares a lot of people,” he said, “because they know it means that we mean business."

VOCs are emissions typically discussed as coming from a manufacturing plant, but they can be emitted by products, too.  Guilty products include building materials such as carpeting, paints, solvents and cleaning solutions.  VOCs in a building are toxic.  Especially in a recirculated-air scenario.

Salah oversees Google real estate and facilities worldwide. He joined the company in 1999 when it had 35 employees in 4,000 square feet in Palo Alto. It now has more than 20,000 employees and occupies 11 million square feet in 60 cities worldwide.  Salah speaks of Larry Page and Gary Schmidt like he's talking about old friends.  And he is.

Green building gets green chemistry

George Salah was in Toronto last week brandishing his message as a panel speaofficespace - Google goes greenker.  25,000 people convened for Greenbuild, the International Conference and Expo on green building October 4-7, 2011 -- and reports say that when the conference is held in the United States it garners up to 35,000 attendees.  Green building is a big deal. 

Google is taking green building and green building materials very seriously.  As can be expected, the world is watching.

In fact, one of the biggest topics abuzz at Greenbuild was:  what's in that carpet?  What's in that flooring?  What's in those building materials?  Will it off-gas?  Is there a cleaner, greener option? 

Transparency is becoming the name of the game for product manufacturers.  Safety by Design is one way that safer products are being designed from the outset.  Another way this is being addressed is the new Building Product Transparency Project label, where a label details a complete list of a product’s ingredients.

The Transparency project was launched on October 5, 2011 as a result of a collaboration between global firm Perkins+Will (P+W) and architectural products manufacturer Construction Specialties. The label identifies not only general product information and content but also:

  1. ecological benchmarks
  2. packaging information
  3. a product’s design process
  4. recyclability information

The label calls attention to a product’s critical lifecycle information and its potential impacts on health, allowing designers to make informed decisions when specifying their selections.  This is a good idea. 

"...we hope this effort helps to reset the limits of transparency," says Construction Specialty Marketing and Product Development Manager Curt Fessler, LEED AP BD+C.

The Building Product Transparency Project label holds a close relation to P+W’s “Precautionary List” of 2009, which lists the chemicals that government agencies have deemed as having negative impacts on public health and the types of materials in which such chemicals are found.  Many greener building materials companies use a third party material disclosure service to manage their data on, say, chemicals in materials used and any potential hazards of finished goods.  For examples, see Owens Corning, or Saint Gobain, or even Stanley Black & Decker, who rely on Actio software.

Of course, there are building materials lists of greener providers such as Greenspec.  What qualifies as "green" can run across a spectrum so you still have to do homework.  And because supply lines and ingredients change, vigilance, consistency and automation are key in extracting full positive material disclosure

For more on indoor off-gassing and what you should know: