The Red List

IMG_8223I parked my bike at the Marcus Nanotechnology Research Center at Georgia Tech to take a hard hat tour of the Kendeda Living Building that’s under construction next door to it. (Big thanks to the folks involved for listing bike parking first on the emailed directions, by the way. That says a lot, and, in fact, I skip events that don’t do so.*)

Fun fact: There are only eighteen currently-certified Living Buildings on earth right now. The certification takes “green building” to a new level of actually being not just responsible but regenerative, self-sufficient, and able to exist within the resources on site. Each building desiring certification is judged using a flower metaphor on its actual performance (not just intended performance) in various categories called Petals, which include Place, Water, Energy, Health and Happiness (!), Materials, Equity, and Beauty. The one I visited will be the truly greenest building in the southeastern United States. What’s happening there is remarkable (right down to the food forest), and I have much to share about it (and would be happy to do so in a paid article).

The big takeaway? There’s something called The Red List. This is a list of 777 materials that are banned from construction of a Living Building because they are toxic or otherwise bad. (Note: you’re living with many of them right now.) They include things like PVC, Teflon, Chromium-6 in metal studs, and added formaldehyde (although salvaged wood such as the church joists used in the ADA ramp at the Kendeda Living Building seems to get a pass). Good, right?

Well, hold on a minute. The plot thickens. The construction industry does not make alternatives to many of these materials yet, so in those cases, the project can apply for “exceptions,” thereby resulting in this bad stuff being in this good building (albeit far less than would have been otherwise). (Note: There was no mention of whether or not recycled brick, such as that sourced from the Georgia Tech Tower and Greenleaf Brick in South Carolina, could have originally been made with slave or prison labor. Granted, we mostly talked about the “materials petal” so maybe that was in the “equity petal.”)

However, all’s not lost, and in fact, this is where the sea change happens. The Living Building certification requires 100% materials transparency so a list of those exceptions will be publicly available and will serve as a stimulator to the construction industry to develop safe alternatives.


We’ll see.

In the meantime, you can see the Kendeda Living Building for yourself on the Sustainability-in-Action Bike Tour, as it’s among several included highlights on the Georgia Tech campus and surrounding area. We are currently booking Earth Hour Saturday (March 30) from 4:30-7:30 PM (finishing in time for you to participate in the global lights out), and select dates during the Earth Month of April (and beyond) (which, by the way, kicks off the 50th anniversary year of Earth Day, which was first celebrated in 1970 — I was a tree in a 1st-grade play). Contact Bicycle Tours of Atlanta’s owner Robyn Elliott to schedule your group outing.

* such as the upcoming TedX event at the Rialto Theater in Downtown Atlanta, which is easily accessible via train, streetcar, bike, and scooter yet which lists only THIS for transportation options:

What are my transportation/parking options for getting to and from the event?

There are parking decks and lots within walking distance of the Rialto Center of the Arts in downtown Atlanta.

The irony? It promotes itself as an event where “thinkers, doers, makers and story-tellers share convention-defying, future forward ideas that spark change and celebrate the power of the human spirit!”