Come Jan. 1, 2014, building product manufacturers who do not formally document and disclose their products’ material content via tools such as a Health Product Declaration (HPD) or an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD), will find themselves out of luck if they want to present to staff formally or informally at HDR Architecture. At Tsoi Kobus & Associates (TKA), after Dec. 31, 2014, lack of a publicly accessible HPD will prevent vendors from presenting to that firm and from having their products included in its design library. And after Jan. 1, 2015, Cannon Design will no longer accept products from manufacturers that are not formally transparent about their material content for the firm’s library—or its projects.

A growing number of architecture firms are establishing formal policies regarding material transparency and the collection of information about what goes into a product. As of the posting of this article, 24 firms (listed at left) had issued various forms of a template letter formally requesting HPDs, EPDs, or other forms of material content disclosure from building product manufacturers. For some firms, failure to comply may lead to a number of changes in how the design firm interacts with a manufacturer, from limited or restricted options for presenting materials to designers, to a manufacturer losing preference in specifications. And there could be other ramifications.

For the firms involved, the root of the initiative is about making better-informed design decisions.  “Our commitment is to having full knowledge of what goes into products so that we can make our best decisions and have the information at hand to do comparisons,” says Jean Hansen, LEED Fellow, sustainable interiors manager and senior professional associate in HDR Architecture’s San Francisco office. The firm issued a letter formally requesting documentation on July 8, 2013. “If we don’t ask questions, people are not going to know that we are concerned,” Hansen says.

The spate of formal letters now being issued has roots in the development of the Health Product Declaration Open Standard Version 1. As previously reported on, the open and free standard was drafted by the Health Product Declaration Collaborative, an ad hoc group of designers, specifiers, and building owners, who have as their goal creating a standard format for reporting content and associated health information of building products. After a pilot phase that involved 30 manufacturers and produced 40 draft HPDs, the first version of the standard launched at Greenbuild International Conference and Expo last fall.

While many of the sustainable leaders involved in the firms that have issued letters have been advocating for greater transparency on product content for years, the HPD standard now provided them with a formalized means of documentation. What was needed next was a formal commitment to collecting the documentation.

HKS, in Dallas, was the first firm to issue a formal letter requesting formal material content documentation, which they did on Dec. 11, 2012. “To help get traction on the HPD Collaborative, I decided that we needed to write a letter to inform building product manufacturers that this is our stance,” says B. Kirk Teske, AIA, principal and chief sustainability officer at the firm. The goal, he says, was to start putting market forces to work and to promote more dialogue. 

The firm distributed the letter via social media channels and its website, and started discussing it with manufacturers in one-on-one meetings, and HKS’s resource librarian became the loudest advocate, sharing the message with manufacturers nearly every day. Teske also shared the letter with an informal network of sustainable design leaders across the country, with many quickly developing similar letters. On Jan. 2, 2013, SmithGroupJJR issued a letter built on the HKS template. Then, as the third firm to issue a letter, Cannon Design was the first to institute formal deadlines. As the list grew, each firm set its own deadlines or terms of request, but for all, the HPD is a core element.

“The DNA of [Kirk’s] letter is a clear statement about why this is important to use and why it aligns with our mission and the goals and mission of the people we serve. We’re not an enemy; we’re an ally in this,” says Blake Jackson, sustainability practice leader at TKA in Cambridge, Mass., whose firm sent a letter to its vendors on March 8, 2013.

“People can make their own ask of the industry by the core message is that in order for us to fulfill our responsibility to our clients, we have to know this information and we now have a tool to facilitate this communication. We’re not saying it’s easy, but we’re saying that we all agree this is the tool,” says Russell Perry, FAIA, vice president and office director in SmithGroupJJR’s Washington, D.C., office. It’s not about demonizing manufacturers without HPDs, he says, but is about getting the necessary information to make responsible decisions.

Industry response to the firm’s requests has been mixed, many report. “Early adopters are happy with it and reached out immediately,” says Jackson, noting that it has also created new relationships or reestablished old ones. Some companies, however, are struggling to wrap their heads around it, he says.

It may be a lot of work, but there’s a lot a manufacturer can do with an HPD, Perry says, noting that it can be posted on GreenWizard (a common repository right now for firms who have issued letters). An HPD is also compliant with LEED v4, and it can be used an input for certification systems such as Declare and Cradle-to-Cradle. At the least, Perry says, the HPD stands as a symbol of the manufacturer’s concern for the health issues raised in the transparency discussions.

“We do not need everyone to be an industrial hygienist in order for this stuff to be a valuable contribution to the building industry. We are not scientists in all of this and we don’t need to be. We’re not making risks assessments. We’re simply saying we have to get what these products consist of out in to the world,” Perry says. “This is about finally having a full suite of data to work with.”

Click here to learn more about the HPD Collaborative and to download the HPD standard.