Materials transparency and risk for architects

An introduction to advancing professional ethics while managing professional liability risks

”Understanding what a product is made of is part and parcel of the architect’s traditional role as a designer who is intimately familiar with the materials.”

The information revolution is changing societal and professional dynamics; information that was once considered confidential or simply hard to find is becoming increasingly ubiquitous. As a result, what might once have seemed like an unrealistic expectation—that suppliers should share information about the ingredients in their products—has been turned on its head. Now the question is more often, “Why shouldn’t suppliers share all product information?” and “What can I do with this information now that I have it?”

This white paper covers:

  • the evolving landscape of transparency in product contents
  • the opportunity these changes represent for architects to help expose and thereby reduce hazardous substances, and to position themselves to serve their clients proactively
  • the actual and perceived risk of added exposure to legal liability that comes with that opportunity
  • strategies for communicating with clients, modifying contract documents, and collaborating with technical experts to manage the risks involved.

Within the realm of product content transparency, this White Paper aims to provide the context and background needed to engage intelligently with basic legal and practice questions. But it does not aspire to educate the reader on how to interpret an ingredient disclosure document, nor how to assess the impact of the hazard warnings that such a document might contain. As architects should explain to their clients, such interpretations and assessments should be performed by qualified material scientists, toxicologists, or industrial hygienists, according to the Materials & Risk Task Group of AIA’s Materials Knowledge Working Group.

Written by BuildingGreen Inc., with contributions from Catherine Bobenhausen, CIH, and Margaret Whittaker, PhD

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