Materials Petal

Materials Petal

The intent of the Materials Petal is to help create a materials economy that is healthy, ecologically restorative, transparent and socially equitable. Throughout their life cycles, supplies and materials are responsible for many adverse environmental issues, including personal illness, habitat and species loss, pollution, and resource depletion. The Imperatives found in this section aim to remove the worst known offending materials and practices from manufacturing processes and to drive product designers, makers and users toward a truly responsible materials economy. When impacts can be reduced but not eliminated, there is an obligation not only to offset the damaging consequences associated with innovating and creating goods, but also to strive for corrections in industry itself. At the present time, it is impossible to gauge the true environmental impact and toxicity of the materials economy due to a lack of product-level information, although the Living Product Challenge continues to shine a light on the need for transformative industrial practices.

Ideal Conditions and Current Limitations

The Living Product Challenge envisions a future where all goods and materials in a consumer society are regenerative and have no negative impact on human and ecosystem health. The precautionary principle guides all materials decisions when impacts are unclear. There are significant limitations to achieving the ideal for the materials realm. Product specification and purchase have far-reaching impacts, and although consumers are starting to weigh these in parallel with other more conventional attributes, such as aesthetics, function and cost, the biggest shortcoming is due to the market itself. While there are a huge number of “green” products for sale, there is also a shortage of good, publicly available data that backs up manufacturer claims and provides consumers with the ability to make conscious, informed choices. Transparency is vital; as a global community, the only way we can transform into a truly sustainable society is through open communication and honest information sharing. However, many manufacturers are wary of sharing trade secrets that they believe afford them a competitive advantage, and instead make proprietary claims about specific product contents.

The product cannot contain any of the following Red List materials or chemicals:

  • Alkylphenols
  • Asbestos
  • Bisphenol A (BPA)
  • Cadmium
  • Chlorinated polyethylene and chlorosulfonated polyethylene
  • Chlorobenzenes
  • Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs)
  • Chloroprene (Neoprene)
  • Chromium IV
  • Chromium VI
  • Chlorinated Polyvinyl Chloride (CPVC)
  • Formaldehyde (added)
  • Halogenated flame retardants (HFRs)
  • Lead (added)
  • Mercury
  • Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
  • Polyvinylidene Chloride (PVDC)
  • Perfluorinated compounds (PFCs)
  • Phthalates
  • Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
  • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in wet applied products
  • Wood treatments containing creosote, arsenic or pentachlorophenol

The product must incorporate place-based solutions and contribute to the expansion of a regional economy rooted in sustainable practices, products and services. Source locations for materials must adhere to the following restrictions:

  • 10% or more of the purchased inputs budget must come from within 1000 km of the manufacturing site.
  • An additional 40% of the purchased inputs budget must come from within 2000 km of the manufacturing site.
  • An additional 25% of the purchased inputs budget must come from within 5000 km of the manufacturing site.
  • 25% of the product’s purchased budget can be sourced from any location.

The product manufacturer must advocate for the creation and adoption of third party certified standards for sustainable resource extraction and fair labor practices within its industry.

In products that use wood-based materials or timber (including for all packaging uses), these materials must be certified to Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) 100% labeling standards or from salvaged sources. In products that use agricultural inputs, these must be certified organic. Products that use potential conflict minerals must ensure that their source complies with the Conflict-Free Smelter Program assessment protocols.

The product must not contain ingredients that are derived solely or in part from any animal that is classified as near-threatened, vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered.

The product must have a Declare label.

Manufacturers must demonstrate that they have a three-year plan to achieve handprints that will be bigger than the full greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint of producing the product.

The manufacturer must use the Institute Footprint Calculator to assess and document the carbon footprint of producing the product, identifying the five unit processes that make the largest contributions to the product’s cradle-to-gate carbon footprint. The footprint assessment can be based on a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) for the product, performed by or for the manufacturer, or use the Institute Footprint Calculator. If a prior LCA is used, the LCA, should follow the ISO 14044 standard for a Life Cycle Assessment being used in a third-party communication.

The manufacturer must develop and publicly share a plan to reduce the product’s cradle-to-gate climate footprint and then create a climate handprint greater than the footprint through one or more of the following strategies:

  • Innovate within the supply chain of the product to reduce GHG emissions.
  • Innovate within the manufacturing process of the product to generate fewer GHG emissions.
  • Engage with users to reduce GHG emissions through improved use of the product.
  • Purchase a carbon offset equivalent to the cradle-to-gate GHG footprint of the product after other options have been depleted.

The manufacturer must strive to reduce or eliminate the production of waste during the manufacturing process, and final product packaging, in order to conserve natural resources and to find ways to use waste in a closed loop cycle. Manufacturers must analyze the waste through the full life cycle of the product.

Manufacturing Process

The manufacturer must meet the following targets for waste diversion during the production of the product.

Material Min. Diverted/Weight
Metals 99%
Paper and cardboard 99%
Soil and biomass 100%
All others — combined weighted average 90%

The manufacturing process may not produce any byproducts or emissions considered toxic or included on the Red List.


100% of the product’s packaging must be either:

  • Completely biodegradable
  • Completely recyclable without being commingled with non-recyclable materials
  • Completely reusable through a manufacturer’s take-back and reuse program

Additionally, 100% of the product’s packaging must be:

  • Free of Red List chemicals and materials
  • Free of packaging that could pose a hazard to marine, bird or animal life

The product must:

  • Be designed so that its durability, warranty and useful lifespan have a direct relationship to its environmental impact and embodied energy.
  • Be designed and tested to last as a useful, functioning product for at least the average lifetime for its product category, as documented in the Institute’s online Product Life Database.

Disposable or single-use products do not qualify unless 100% of the product contents are biodegradable within five years or are made from a material that is compostable or readily recycled within the country of intended use.

The product must be designed to consider its impacts at the end of its useful life as a functioning product. The product must either be:

  • Free of any Red List chemicals and be completely compostable within five years.
  • Able to be 100% recycled.
  • Have a manufacturer take-back program available in the market where the products are sold.