Google donates $3 million for indoor environments

Yesterday Google announced on their official blog that they were awarding a $3 million grant to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) in support of healthy buildings and indoor environmental health. Google’s interest in healthy indoor environments stems from their own internal commitment to using low-emitting products in their own workspaces. Now they will be helping to change the way we all think about building materials. Google imagines a nutrition-like-label about every product we use indoors, with a list of building “ingredients” for each product (with a particular focus on potentially harmful or toxic chemicals). Their grant will support industry research and the development of better standards around healthy materials.

This is exciting news for our field. I appreciate that they are funding both research and standards development, as they should go hand-in-hand, the latter informed by the former. Standards are a bit of a mess as they stand now.

One issue I see is Google’s vision of an “ingredients” label for building products. It’s a smart idea, but I hope it’s done right (or I hope we can get some of this funding to ensure it’s done right). Currently products are identified in LEED as merely containing low levels of total volatile organic compounds (TVOCs) in their mix (think: paint must have a low TVOC content). But that misses two points: (1) how well does mere TVOC content in bulk correlate to actual emissions after application? (there is some evidence that this correlation may not be very strong) and (2) are there individual VOCs that are more important for health concerns than the sum of TVOCs? There are also some issues with how VOCs are actually defined, but we’ll save that for another day. On (1), I do believe that the new 2012 proposed LEED guidelines push for actual emissions testing, but the way they specify the testing is extremely important.

Overall, I’m excited to see some movement in this direction. I’ve linked to a few other bits of media coverage if you’re interested:

Filed under: Green buildings | News | Research funding