For those concerned with the impact and lifecycle of construction materials, BEES is a new design tool that helps designers and consumers make informed decisions. Construction and manufacturing have a significant effect on the environment. Cooper-Hewitt’s Exhibitions department specifies, purchases, and uses many materials in our exhibits. We strive to be as environmentally sensitive as possible, but determining which materials are truly green is not as simple as using a single criterion, such as low VOC emission. Single-attribute claims may be misleading because they fail to account for other impacts that occur in the lifecycle stages of a material—how it is harvested, manufactured, packaged, transported, and ultimately disposed of. In 1994, the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Healthy and Sustainable Buildings Program started the Building Environmental and Economic Sustainability project (BEES) project to address these issues. NIST developed the BEES software using scientific principles for selecting building products that achieve a balance between environmental and economic performance, based on the decision maker’s values. The final score shows which materials have the greatest and least impact on the environment, from cradle to grave, and also helps determine the relative cost-effectiveness of the material. Materials are evaluated using the following criteria, weighted for their relative importance (depending on the weight set you select): • Ozone depletion • Acidification • Indoor air quality • Smog formation • Noncancerous effects • Habitat alteration • Eutrophication (mineral deposits causing algae growth) • Ecological toxicity • Cancerous effects • Water intake • Criteria air pollutants • Fossil fuel depletion • Global warming BEES is supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. EPA Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Program; and the USDA has an expanded version of BEES that supports bio-based products eligible for preferred Federal purchasing. According to the agency, “While the BEES tool has been primarily used to evaluate building products to date, its evaluation methods are applicable to any product, used for any purpose.” If nothing else, you may gain an appreciation of how complex the manufacturing of every material in your life really is. A new version of the software is now available online for free: http://www.nist.gov/el/economics/BEESSoftware.cfm

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