Using a resource library to effect change

Jan 30, 2022

Even a slight shift toward more responsible materials is impactful and can effect change to the manufacturing industries and the products that designers specify.

An abundance of materials are manufactured each year to construct the built environment; miles of gypsum wall board, tons of steel studs, yards of fabric, acres of carpet, to name just a few. The magnitude is enormous. Even a slight shift in “business as usual” is impactful and can effect change to the manufacturing industries and the products that architects and designers specify.

FXCollaborative recently had the opportunity to initiate such a shift. After more than 35 years in the same space, our recent relocation to new offices inspired us to rethink our materials resource library and use the move as a tool for meaningful industry change. To do so, we developed the Resource Library Manifesto, which provides designers with the information necessary to make well-informed decisions in specifying products and materials. It also serves as a call to action across the AEC industry to incite change.

  • The motivation. The relocation meant packing and moving our architectural and design resource library – those products and materials that we select and specify to build buildings. Established in the mid-1980s, our resource library had accumulated a vast array of materials that spanned decades. While active and mostly up to date, the inevitable inertia that can come with longevity had crept in and kept the library from evolving beyond just keeping up. The move was the perfect opportunity to cull out and reestablish a new, more meaningful library – one that had a deeper connection to our firm’s mission and core values. A daunting, but most welcomed task.
  • The declaration. Our first step in planning the move was to purge the collection so we did not move outdated or unwanted products and materials. We asked ourselves how to decipher what we would take with us and what we would discard (return/recycle during a pandemic – a topic for another article). The Resource Library Task Force was established to develop criteria. The result was a Resource Library Manifesto that united our office’s resource library with FXCollaborative’s core values and beliefs. Our manifesto declared that we would evaluate materials through three lenses: (1) the company’s commitment to issues of equity and social justice, (2) promotion of well-being and production of healthy, toxin-free materials, and (3) contributions to reduce climate change and the degradation of our planet.
  • The execution. The purge reduced the materials we moved by almost half, and provided us with a well-curated base to build back. In implementing the Manifesto, we developed a scoring system for library materials, graphically similar to Consumer Report’s color-coded dots, which helps designers readily evaluate good, better, and best in material categories across the three primary criteria lenses: social justice and ethical sourcing, human health and well-being, and sustainability and the climate crisis. “Best in Show” materials, the top scorers, are given a prominent, high visibility location in our Resource Library. We are also looking to partner with industry resources who collect and maintain relevant data on products and materials to help us make informed product choices.
  • The call to action. There is power in numbers. With implementation of our Resource Library Manifesto underway and the recent development of FXCollaborative’s Sustainability Action Plan, we felt accountable to the AIA’s Material Pledge and justified in signing on to this commitment. We appreciate platforms such as The Zweig Letter that help us get the word out to our industry colleagues so they may implement their own version of our Resource Library Manifesto. The more that adopt these criteria in materials selection and sourcing, the more we can collectively bring about change in manufacturing practices and policies.

Read on for the full text of FXCollaborative’s Resource Library Manifesto. 

Ann M. Rolland, FAIA, LEED AP, is a partner at FXCollaborative. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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FXCollaborative’s Resource Library Manifesto: Our resource library will reflect  our values and commitment to issues of social justice, sustainability, and the health and well-being of our planet and the inhabitants of the environments we create. The resources we select must contribute to the creation of a healthier, more equitable future for humankind and the planet. As designers we can influence and look to our practice to insist on industry accountability and change. By signaling to manufacturers and product suppliers our firm values we send an important message and convey our sense of responsibility to collectively advance manufacturing practices and industry resources.

Finding clear, simple, and transparent information about materials is difficult.
Databases are incomplete, and the issues are often complex, technical, and can seem insurmountable. We rely on supplier information and industry resources which can be ambiguous and selective as they come with their own agenda or a specific focus. How can we make informed choices and advocate for better outcomes in our objective? This manifesto is our action plan for doing so.

It is a time to reflect, edit, and reformulate our resource library. Our goals are to cultivate an awareness in the AEC industry and to be advocates for change and to help designers make better informed decisions in selection of the products and materials that we specify.

We will flesh out the implementation of this manifesto in the upcoming months. First, we want to know what we are specifying. To do so we will ask manufacturers and product suppliers to divulge information related to their production and practices. Below is an outline of the criteria – three primary lenses we will use for evaluation:

1. Social justice and ethical sourcing:

  • Ethically sourced supply chains: Confirmation that the products are created without the use of child and/or enslaved labor.
  • JEDI initiatives and commitments: Strategies and educational programs currently in place or an indication of specific timelines toward these goals.
  • Anti-racism stance: Public record against racism with actionable items to implement positive and restorative change.
  • Corporate structure and leadership: Report of current leadership, work force, and recruiting policies that promote equitable gender and diverse representation.
2. Human health and well-being:
  • Disclosure of material ingredients: Transparent disclosure of material ingredients and health impacts using industry recognized standards such as Health Product Declarations, Declare, etc.
  • Optimization of material ingredients: Efforts to reduce the number and quantity of products with harmful content and to avoid using Red List and High VOC materials.
  • Life-cycle health: Inclusion of effects in all stages of a material’s life (extraction, manufacturing, installation, finish product, re-use, and disposal).
3. Sustainability and the climate crisis:
  • Embodied carbon/global warming potential: Provide environmental product declarations and use carbon reduction and sequestering practices.
  • Recycled content: Maximize pre-consumer and post-consumer recycled content.
  • Responsible disposal and reuse efforts: Provide materials and assemblies that can be disassembled and recycled. Offer take-back programs, and circular-economy activities.
  • Local material sourcing: Provide locations of raw material extraction and harvesting, and manufacturing of material components and finished products.
  • Responsible sourcing: Utilize responsible sourcing certifications.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.