The Red List

By Paul Deffenbaugh The Red List. It’s just a name that makes you think, “This can’t be good.” And that’s the idea. The Red List is a compilation of chemicals that have been deemed hazardous to humans or the environment, and their use in building products should be avoided. That’s the simple definition, but it… Continue reading The Red List
By Paul Deffenbaugh


The Red List. It’s just a name that makes you think, “This can’t be good.” And that’s the idea. The Red List is a compilation of chemicals that have been deemed hazardous to humans or the environment, and their use in building products should be avoided.

That’s the simple definition, but it can get more complicated. There is more than one Red List. Different organizations, including some large architecture firms, keep their own lists of products and chemicals that should be avoided.

There are 21 chemical groups listed on the International Living Future Institute’s Red List for its Living Building Challenge. They are considered harmful. The list is further broken out into specific chemicals. There are currently 814 chemicals listed in total.

Bisphenol A (BPA)
Chlorinated Polyethylene and Chlorosulfonated Polyethlene
Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and Hydrochlorofluorocarbons
Chloroprene (Neoprene)
Chromium VI
Chlorinated Polyvinyl Chloride (CPVC)
Formaldehyde (added)
Halogenated Flame Retardants (HFRs)
Lead (added)
Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)
Perfluorinated Compounds (PFCs)
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
Polyvinylidene Chloride (PVDC)
Short Chain Chlorinated Paraffin
Wood treatments containing Creosote, Arsenic or Pentachlorophenol
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in wet-applied Products

The one that is getting the most attention, though, and seems to be having the biggest impact on the construction industry is compiled by the International Living Future Institute (ILFI), Portland, Ore., as part of its Living Building Challenge (LBC). It works this way: The ILFI created an initiative to provide Declare labels for building products that ensures they neither contain, nor are manufactured with, chemicals that are harmful. Manufacturers voluntarily list their products and earn a Declare label. Products with Declare labels serve as a guide for project teams pursuing the LBC. But, if a chemical on the Red List is part of the building product or used during its manufacturing, it cannot earn a Declare.



The idea behind the Red List is to create transparency about what goes into buildings, according to Scott Kriner, LEED AP. Kriner is technical director for the Metal Construction Association and president of a consulting firm, Green Metal Consulting Inc., Macungie, Pa. “The whole thrust on transparency and optimization of chemicals of concern is to establish a dialogue between the manufacturers and their supply chain to discuss chemicals of concern or those on a specific red list,” Kriner explains. “Once that dialogue is established, the efforts can take on multiple paths. Sometimes a chemical of concern by an architectural group may be able to be replaced with another without affecting the performance. In other cases, however, this optimization step may not be possible. In some cases, a supplier may have proprietary components in their product which are not to be revealed. This creates a larger challenge as to compliance with certain red lists. In the Living Building Challenge’s Declare transparency label, there is a category for a product to be designated ‘Living Building Challenge Compliant’ if it contains a proprietary ingredient that prevents the declaration from being ‘Red List Free.'”

The Declare document list currently includes about 200 building products. The database lists them by manufacturer and according to CSI format to make it easier for project teams to work with the database during the planning stages. Each product label lists all the chemicals used with the product and, if available, its origin.



For project team members working on a LBC project, the most difficult issue may be finding alternatives to products containing Red List chemicals. Sometimes, there is no readily available substitute.

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)-based products is a good example. PVC is widely used in a variety of building products from sheathing on wiring to pipes to window frames to flooring. For some of those products, substitution is simple. Wood- or metalframed windows instead of vinyl windows are a simple (although costlier) trade out. The same is generally true with piping. Designers can substitute copper, steel or ductile pipes, but that trade-off includes both an increase in cost and weight.

Other Red Lists

The International Living Future Institute isn’t the only entity in the construction industry developing a Red List. Others include:

Cradle to Cradle Banned Chemicals List

The Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute registers products that meet its certification requirements. It doesn’t limit itself to building products, although the majority of the products listed are in that category. Currently, there are 134 products in the Building Material category. If you are interested, you can also find shampoo or shoes or stuffed animals meeting the criteria.

Perkins and Will Transparency List

Perkins and Will, the Chicago-headquartered global architecture firm, has been a leader in sustainable design for years. The Perkins and Will Transparency List includes products that “have been classified by multiple regulatory entities as being detrimental to the health of humans and the environment,” according to the website. The stated goal for Perkins and Will is to push for alternatives to these products.

LEED Pilot Credit 11: Chemical Avoidance in Building Materials

The U.S. Green Building Council also joined the chemical list-making phenomenon. It created the LEED Pilot Credit 11 as part of its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system. The focus was on reducing indoor contaminants. The credit was not included in LEED v4.

The alternative to PVC-sheathed wiring is metal sheathed, and that is generally seen as a poor substitute. The metal-sheathed wiring is so much more difficult to use that this substitute not only increases the cost of the product but also the cost of labor.

Project teams can ask for exceptions, of course, and that is handled differently according to each Red List. The LBC Red List handles this on a case-by-case basis. If there is a trace amount of the chemical in the products, the product may be allowed. And, if a full exception is made for products with more than trace amounts, the project team needs to formally notify the manufacturer of that particular product that its use should not be connoted as an endorsement of the product.



The good news in the metal construction industry is that, as Kriner says, “Those chemicals are rarely encountered.” Nonetheless, among associations and manufacturers in the industry, the Red List is beginning to get more notice. Coatings and finishes for metal may put some products on the list. “Products that are heavy in chemical reactions for their properties will be impacted the most,” says Kriner. “A product such as fire-retardant insulation is an example. Some chemicals used for fire-retardant properties have been under attack for some time already, and the release of red lists has made it even more difficult for that industry. In the metal construction industry, the impact would mostly fall on the ancillary products that are included in a metal wall and/or roof application. These include insulation components, sealants, caulking, gaskets, coatings and paint systems.”

If you monitor manufacturer associations in the metal construction industry, you note that at this point the concern is not high. Red List discussions are only now just beginning to pop up on agendas. In part, that may be because the influence of the Red List is still small. Only those projects being considered for the Living Building Challenge are affected and to date the number of projects involved is a small fraction of the total construction market.

But this is part of a bigger change in sustainability. “Sustainability is moving beyond green, energy-efficient and water-efficient practices to social equality and wellness as main topics in some green building rating programs,” Kriner says. “The construction industry may not consider this expansion of the definition to be valid. But once the market is transformed with new versions of LEED or Green Globes, or by enforcement of Red Lists by large architectural firms, the emphasis on the expanded components of sustainability will be with us whether we like it or not.”