Whose Health Matters?

Joel Ann Todd
Discussing the role building practitioners can play in addressing the disparate impacts of pollution on communities of color.

We are making huge strides in figuring out what makes materials “healthy” (or not) and encouraging building projects to specify these healthier alternatives. We cite studies that demonstrate benefits to building inhabitants and visitors, as well as their employers. And yet, health disparities along income and racial lines continue to grow. As Bill Walsh points out in his excellent article #BlackLivesMatter in Green Building, “since 1980 the disparity in asthma rates between black and white children has increased: “the burdens of asthma fall more heavily on black children than white children . . . Black children are four times more likely to die from asthma than white children …” And, he cites 30 years of studies that document the disparate impacts of pollution on communities of color.

What can we do as building practitioners? In addition to thinking about building inhabitants, we can look beyond them and also think about the impacts of products on workers and communities that are affected by their production. A product might pose no risk to building inhabitants, but it could have placed workers in fields, forests, mines, or factories at risk. It could also have placed residents of communities surrounding these facilities – in the adjacent “fenceline” communities — at risk. We can insist on full disclosure of ingredients in supply chains of building products and we can specify products that have fewer hazardous ingredients to reduce the risk to all. We can register to test the new Social Equity Pilot Credits in LEED that are intended to encourage projects to address these and other disparities (see http://www.usgbc.org/articles/usgbc-accelerates-social-equity-new-leed-credits).

And, as a start, we can get smarter about this issue – I suggest you start with Bill’s article — article #BlackLivesMatter in Green Building, http://www.healthybuilding.net/news/2014/12/12/blacklivesmatter-in-green-building

Joel Ann Todd
Outgoing Chair of the LEED Steering Committee, imagines and works toward a future in which the built environment is a positive force in creating equitable, sustainable, regenerative communities for all.