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The Red List: What is it and How to Use it

Posted on August 15th, 2019

The Red List, unless you are versed with the inner workings of healthy materials economy, is a relatively new guide point that identifies the worst chemistries that are prevalent in products in the building industry.

It was developed and is currently maintained by the International Living Future Institute (ILFI) and identifies chemicals that are responsible for polluting the environment, bio-accumulating up the food chain until they reach toxic concentrations, as well as those that can harm construction and factory workers. Currently it comprises over 800 individual chemicals as ‘Red List’ and a new version has recently been released which includes over 3400 chemicals on a watch list.

The Red List was developed to support the ILFI’s flagship program, the Living Building Challenge, to ensure buildings meet the rigorous requirements which eliminate the red list chemistries in order to be used. The Red List has grown outside of the Living Building Challenge in recognition as a guideline to a robust, sustainable purchasing policy for building products.

Annie Bevan, Global Head of Sustainability for Superior Essex Communications, is part of the leadership team that has helped make its cable products third-party certified to be Red List free. Superior Essex Communications is the only cable manufacturer that can offer such products.

“When building owners and architects want to get serious about being Red List Free, we are uniquely positioned as the sole solutions provider in the communications cable space,” Bevan said. “So many people do not think about products that go behind the walls, so long as everything is functioning. The cables being used are the central nervous system of the building for ensuring data and power are provided throughout. The impact of what is hidden by walls is profound to occupant health as well as environmental health.”

The move to avoidance of Red Listed products is slowly becoming more mainstream.

Anthony Guerrero, the director of facilities and sustainability at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), said that the cabling industry often goes unnoticed, but absolutely should not be.

“When you think about healthy materials, it wasn’t even really on my radar in terms of what goes into the communication cables,” he said. “When we started to talk about it and we identified cables as a concern, it was kind of obvious. There can be a lot of hazardous materials in those products. Working with partners to source communication cables that are Red List Free is extremely important to the NRDC.”

Superior Essex Communications has been able create a line of red list free products by utilizing alternative jacketing materials that still meet fire code.

Its Director of Copper Products, Amir Sekhavat, was inspired by the mission and vision of ILFI and saw a clear opportunity for Superior Essex Communications to advance and develop Red List free product to fill a very present void in the market.

“Since our first contact with ILFI we committed to find a Red List free offering for telecommunication cable,” Sekhavat said. “Our main challenge was to find compounds that were able to pass the fire safety standards for riser or plenum. We are proud to have made that happen and be the first and only company to offer riser and plenum solution for Living Building Challenge projects.

“Communication cable represents a challenge to comply to environmental standards but we take our corporate policy of leadership in sustainability very seriously.”

The company has over 50 products that are classified as sustainable, many of which have both third-party verified EPDs as well as HPDs that can contribute to LEED and WELL, in addition to selection options that are Declare and Living Product Challenge certified which are Red List free.

It is still only a recent change that builders are looking for Red List Free products.

Marc Bruni, an associate principal at PA Consulting Engineers (PAE), said that the transition is one that is slowing reaching a point that others are talking about it.

“So, three years ago is when we started this Red List scrub our specs,” he said. “That concept was really to find out what are the materials that we can specify — better materials, ones that are healthier for the people that interact with them — and that was kind of just something that we could dangle and see if a manufacturer had materials that meets a certain level of sustainability and it does all the other things that we’re looking for and asking for that material.

“Then we went ahead and put them in our specs and said, we should specify this material that isn’t bad for the environment, isn’t unhealthy for people.”

PAE is a mechanical, electrical, plumbing, technology and lighting design firm. It is a collective of consulting engineers and its mission is to help solve the planet’s energy and water challenges.

Bruni is directly responsible for ensuring that what the company is specifying is the best in sustainability. He said that it is truly an effort that takes all participants.

“I would say it comes right from the top of our leadership group that, we’re all, really passionate about sustainable design and I mean, just feel like that is the right thing to do,” he said. “I think from a business case, it makes sense, it’s like we need to start moving towards that and I think that we’re helping lead the industry in sustainable design.”

Having more designers and building owners on board with being Red List-free is something that Bevan believes needs to be more the norm than the exception.

“I think that this work is now at the feet of those making the specifications for a building to start selecting and specifying better materials. This selection and communication of a desire to specify materials with these types of attributes will inspire continued investment by manufacturers to innovate products and eliminate toxic chemistries. This is a necessity in the market, and I am excited to see this continually evolve.”

About Superior Essex Communications

Superior Essex Communications is the leading manufacturer and supplier of communications cable in North America. It is on the forefront of innovation through Power over Ethernet, Intelligent Buildings and Cities, 5G Fiber infrastructure including Hybrid and Composite solutions, as well as technological advancements being made at its Product Development Center. Superior Essex Communications is also setting the pace on sustainability by being the first and only company with a Zero Waste to Landfill Certification at its Hoisington (KS) plant; the first wire and cable producer to contribute points to LEED certification, and the first to offer verified sustainable cables in over 50 products. Superior Essex Communications is Everywhere You Live and Work®. Additional information is available at

About the International Living Future Institute

The International Living Future Institute is a hub for visionary programs. The Institute offers global strategies for lasting sustainability, partnering with local communities to create grounded and relevant solutions, including green building and infrastructure solutions on scales ranging from single room renovations to neighborhoods or whole cities.  The Institute administers the Living Building Challenge, the most rigorous and ambitious building performance standard. It is the parent organization for Cascadia Green Building Council. It is also home to Ecotone Publishing, a unique publishing house dedicated to telling the story of the green building movement’s pioneering thinkers and practitioners.

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