How can we develop a material selection process for small projects that meets the same environmental criteria as new construction?

Yale University's campus encompasses approximately 400 buildings across 1,000 acres of grounds. In 2005, the university announced ambitious environmental goals that would influence the design and construction of new buildings. However, small-scope projects—like building renovations and refurbishments—were not governed by the same environmental goals and guidelines as new construction. Yet these projects collectively represent a significant annual investment for Yale and warrant their own protocol.

Yale's Office of Facilities, Construction, and Management commissioned KieranTimberlake to create a resource for building material selection based on a multi-criteria approach, bringing high-quality information on the environmental and human health impacts of building materials in line with the university's goals. The Yale Sustainable Products List evaluates the impacts of building materials most often employed for small projects, which typically engage limited architectural services. Its primary objective is to assist Yale's project managers and general contractors in choosing responsible products—and doing so in a manner that is swift and efficient, taking into account the limited time frames and budgets of small-scope projects. The published guide was accompanied by presentations to architects, construction managers, and project managers regularly engaged in these projects on campus.

The guide features more than 250 building products organized into broad categories such as flooring, ceiling, walls, doors, and windows. Within each category, diverse materials—eg. carpet, wood flooring, linoleum—are evaluated side by side according to such factors as material toxicity, recycled content, embodied energy, and other Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) information. This data builds upon and updates a previous iteration of the guide, presented in 2009, that provided documentation of carbon and energy impacts, end of life considerations, availability of materials near New Haven, and more.

Product ranking is presented for each material based upon a fine-grain environmental analysis of inherent characteristics and industry-recognized, third-party verified environmental certification programs. This information helps distinguish between a variety of products to determine if a specific product meets the requirements of the project and aspirations of the university. It empowers project managers, construction managers, and designers to make better informed decisions, addressing the multidimensional challenge of decreasing environmental impact while increasing human health.