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Google helps promote sustainable, toxin-free buildings


Google has helped create a tech tool it hopes will cut down on the amount of toxic materials used in buildings. The company is working with a team of real estate, architectural and construction material firms to ensure it is widely adopted throughout the industry.


In October, Healthy Building Network, the green building movement’s leader in health and transparency, and Google announced Portico, a web based application designed to simplify the analysis, selection and specification of building products that meet health and transparency objectives.


"Our aim is not to eliminate a material, but to facilitate a debate," Larry Kilroy, Chief Technology Officer at the Healthy Building Network, told Fast Company. "The campaign is about having discussions about materials, and when manufacturers do that they'll find a better way to make them. We're not trying to dissolve an industry; it's about trying to improve their products. Working with someone like Google, which has a large market presence, elevates the conversation." Google, whose purchasing power is very strong, has the leverage to persuade manufacturers to make healthier products.


Portico offers a unique service that allows the key participants in a building project such as owners, architects, contractors and manufacturers to collaborate, research and make actionable decisions on healthy building materials.


“For the past 15 years Healthy Building Network has been a leader in creating the tools and championing the policies that make health and well-being a top priority in the building industry,” said Bill Walsh, Founder and President of the Board of Healthy Building Network.  “We have had great success in collaborating with Google on Portico for the last two years and today we are excited to count industry leaders Perkins+Will, Durst, Harvard, and affordable housing innovators among our partners in the effort to create healthy built environments.”  


“We are especially thrilled to include our HomeFree affordable housing leaders as part of our founding members.  Often sustainability efforts are out of reach for low-and middle-income populations due to cost premiums. Portico is a tool that will ensure that everyone has access to healthy materials,” says Gina Ciganik, Chief Executive Officer of Healthy Building Network.  HomeFree is a nationwide healthy, affordable materials program created by Healthy Building Network with support from The JPB Foundation.


“Google has long sought a means to bring our values and commitment to healthy buildings to life, and Portico provides us with the platform  to do so,” said Anthony Ravitz of Google Real Estate Workplace Services. “It provides actionable data that prioritizes health outcomes based on rigorous standards and integrated criteria, enabling real time decisions within the cost and schedule constraints of a design and construction project.”


Portico was developed by the Healthy Building Network team led by Chief Technology Officer Larry Kilroy, in collaboration with Google, to advance healthy materials use, accelerate access to high-quality and comparable data, and seamlessly connect supply with demand.


Since 2015, Google has been using Portico to identify the healthiest products for its worldwide buildings, communicate Google priorities and inform product decisions that meets the healthy materials criteria and product scoring based on reliable and transparent manufacturer supplied data. 


Unlike other product databases, Portico is designed to integrate with a typical design and construction delivery process. It connects data with project workflow and has three main functions which are performed in the app: project management, product research and product information requests.  


Users can manage a building project by defining criteria, setting goals and tracking progress.  The product library is continually growing, and today has more than 2,500 products.


Products are assessed against more than 40,000 chemical hazards sourced from Healthy Building Network’s Pharos Project, allowing users to search and compare materials for health and environmental hazard screening and certification information.  Lastly, Portico connects manufacturers and their supply chain to their users, providing a direct communications channel to request and provide more detailed information about specific products, streamlining the communications process and saving time and money in the process.


“At Perkins+Will, creating places that promote and nurture health has long been part of our ethos,” said Phil Harrison, Chief Executive Officer of architecture firm Perkins+Will.  “To that end, transparency into what’s in our building products and materials is critical. It’s why we spearheaded the development of the Perkins+Will Precautionary List in 2008, and shortly thereafter, our Transparency website. Today, we’re proud to be among the founding partners of Portico. We look forward to working with HBN, Google, and others to ensure that safe, healthy, high-performing products are both manufactured and used in place-making projects around the world.”


“Portico is a tremendous asset for those seeking to improve transparency and understanding of the products and materials that make up the built environment,” said Alexander Durst, Chief Development Officer of development firm The Durst Organization.  “It leverages the collective power of the owners, contractors, designers and architects to demand that manufacturers disclose vital data about their products and the process of how they are made.  In addition, Portico strengthens the marketplace by fostering competition and aggregating information on healthier building products, allowing for more informed and better specification for bidding and negotiations.”


"As the first founding partner from the higher education community, Harvard is excited to use and contribute to Portico for the advancement of healthy materials at universities, companies and everywhere,” said Heather Henriksen, Director of the Harvard Office for Sustainability (OFS). “We’re also excited to connect this work with our primary mission through a unique collaboration between OFS and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health's Center for Health and the Global Environment with HBN and Google that will foster opportunities for our faculty and students to use the rich data available to generate new research and support existing initiatives on healthy buildings that are already underway at Harvard."

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