John Knott: Executive Director, Health Product Declaration Collaborative

Bill Walsh - July 8, 2013

John KnottIn July 2011, the Healthy Building Network and BuildingGreen.com convened a working group of building industry experts to create the first open standard format for reporting building product content and related health hazards. At Greenbuild 2011, this working group released a draft Health Product Declaration (HPD). One year later, after an extensive pilot program involving twenty leading building product manufacturers, the HPD Version 1 was launched. A new organization, the Health Product Declaration Collaborative (HPDC), was created to administer and continually evolve and improve the HPD over the long term. I serve on its Board of Directors. Last month, the HPDC hired a green building industry veteran, John Knott, as its first permanent Executive Director. John agreed to answer a few questions about why he decided to lead this new initiative, and the positive impact it will have on the building industry.

John Knott has over 40 years of experience in urban redevelopment. His award-winning projects include work at: the Baltimore Inner Harbor, urban areas in Baltimore and Washington DC; the University of Texas Health Science Center in the Houston Medical Center; Dewees Island in South Carolina; and the Noisette Community of North Charleston in South Carolina. As President/CEO and co-founder of the Noisette Company, LLC, John leads the Noisette Project development team, which has collaborated with the City of North Charleston, South Carolina, in the sustainable restoration of 3,000 acres of the city's historic urban core and areas of the former Charleston Naval Base. Mr. Knott also served as the CEO/Managing Director of Island Preservation Partnership, which developed the 1,206-acre Dewees Island oceanfront retreat dedicated to environmental preservation.

BW: John, congratulations on your selection as executive director. Many people have expressed surprise that a developer sought out this position. Why are you interested in leading the HPD Collaborative?

JK: I come from a tradition of master builders. Our family's building and development culture has been rooted in our sense of responsibility for the health of all that we serve and all who are impacted by the buildings, neighborhoods and communities we create and regenerate for over 100 years. Once we began to understand the potential health issues associated with some building products and furnishings, this became a problem we had to solve as part of our commitment in our own business. One example of this was our effort to avoid chemical fire retardants in mattresses. We worked with a fourth generation mattress company in our hometown of Charleston to create a toxic-free mattress. That solution was good for both of our companies, and all of our customers.

Since then I have personally been challenged for 30 years to get at the issue of health impacts caused by our built environment, whether at Dewees Island, University of Texas Health Science Center or the Noisette Community. We have been engaged deeply in the issue of social justice for many years, and sick building syndrome and toxicity in poverty-stricken communities is one of the most insidious and hidden social justice issues of our time.

I am a great believer in free markets. But without transparency and disclosure, there is no capacity for a free market environment. HPDC represents a major breakthrough to create the environment for all decisionmakers, from designers and specifiers, builders and developers, to all levels of consumers to make informed decisions about the buildings they choose to occupy.

Too many times, legalities and the fears of disclosure get in the way of our responsibility to know what's in our products.

BW: Where do you see the HPD and the HPDC one year from now?

JK: Our goal would be to have a diverse technical committee that is addressing the evolution of the standard, a well structured technical resource for users, a more user-friendly format, and an understanding by all built environment consumers and developers of the importance of disclosure for transparency and objective reporting. Finally, a HPDC leadership team that is capable of managing our growth for the next 2-3 years, committed to be a learning and listening management team and a broad base of support that allows free access to the HPD by all users.

We have an obligation to make our system as user-friendly as we can make it, for both manufacturers and their customers, and to build awareness of transparency in the market. The more I get into this and look at all of the different systems, the more I see how complicated it is for everyone. The idea of the HPD is that you can have a common disclosure standard that feeds into everyone's systems, which seems logical to me. The HPD will not be an evaluation tool, just a consistent information tool. The other systems will continue to do evaluations, and they will be improved with consistent information, provided by the HPD.

Coming from my world as a developer, I also understand that complexity adds risk to a project. The complexity of so many materials evaluation systems raises concerns for manufacturers. The consistency of the HPD will reduce complexity, complications and risk.

BW: What about 5 years from now?

JK: My goal is to make the HPD the accepted global standard for disclosure of chemical content and related health impacts for all materials in the built environment supporting all certification systems.

BW: LEED v.4 has now been ratified by the voting membership of the US Green Building Council, and it offers a credit for the use of the HPD. What is your view of LEED v.4?

JK: The acceptance of the HPD as a tool for disclosure under the LEED system is an important addition to LEED and will be of great assistance to manufacturers and specifiers working with LEED.

BW: How do people and companies participate in the HPD Collaborative?

JK: It is possible to become both a member and a sponsor of the HPD Collaborative right now, by following this link - http://www.hpdcollaborative.org/support - and we expect to be doing more outreach to the community in the near future.

BW: Thank you John. We are looking forward to the success of the HPD and the HPD Collaborative.


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