Expert Interview: Jill Maltby-Abbott, AIA, WELL AP, LFA


Jill is a licensed architect with WELL and Living Future accreditation. Through her experience leading sustainable achievement and verification on projects in the workplace, K-12, civic, and retail/mixed use typologies, Jill brings her passion for sustainable materials across vetting categories, AEC disciplines, bid scenarios, and market sectors. She is an expert in navigating both certifications and implementation processes for informed and documented material selection that balances building performance standards with environmental and human health requirements across the design and construction phases.


She has spoken across regional AIA Conferences, ASHRAE’s Building Performance Analysis Conference, and specialty panels and welcomes the opportunity to collaborate with you and your teams. She has or is serving as a volunteer with the Carbon Leadership Forum’s Chicago HUB, the ILFI’s Material Health Technical Advisory Group, and the Auxiliary Board of Illinois Green Alliance. Jill’s education as an architect means she works with the user experience top of mind, keeping pace with the rapidly changing nature of sustainable materials vetting and follow-through.


Connect with Jill on LinkedIn for a handshake or to learn more about our consulting services.


SM: What is your role and how long have you worked in it?

JMA: I’m with BuildingGreen, an organization championing changemakers in the A&D industry through education, consulting, and industry dot-connecting through peer networks and summits. As a Senior Materials Consultant, I’m a part of the small but powerful consulting team with expertise in deep materials vetting, facilitation, resilience planning, and integrative process consulting. Before joining BuildingGreen in April, I spent 8 years in an integrated AEIP (architecture, interiors, engineering, planning) practice focused on architecture and design before diving deep into materials vetting on a specialist team.


SM: Why do healthier materials matter to you?

JMA: Healthy materials matter to me because it’s unfair that folks don’t know what composes the space around them. We have an opportunity to generate curiosity and follow-through with confirmed achievement in a way that excites folks beyond the AEC industry. It’s completely within the power of AEC teams to be more informed and share that information with folks along the building design, construction and useful life timelines.


For me, a desire to be more informed started with Materials Matter. Initially funded through AIA Seattle as a grant, Materials Matter is now a certification series with regional versions periodically popping up. When I attended in 2017, it was a five seminar, 40-hour commitment. After each session, I would return to the studio and realize how little various aspects of materials vetting were understood or applied in contract documents of all kinds. Around the same time, I also started to pilot version 1 of a large technology company’s standard which quickly presented challenges and process opportunities. Over time, I found I understood the language of ingredient transparency and reporting and could distill the message into something more approachable for folks within and beyond the industry. Now, I feel a duty to focus and grow to new levels of sharing.


SM: Describe your approach to materials, your process and any tools you use to inform yourself.

JMA: During my time in practice, I participated in BuildingGreen’s Sustainable Design Leaders peer network and the green gurus network. Both provided unprecedented peer-to-peer knowledge informing both small-scale and large-scale action in my own goals and projects.


There are also several awesome courses like AIA’s Materials Matter, the Parsons Healthy Materials Lab courses, firm-specific internal education series, client standards, and industry transparency around changing baselines and pledges. What tools work best certainly vary, but it’s amazing to see even the level of action something as simple as a Microsoft Teams chat can stir.


We’re excited about organizations joining forces, sharing data, and working through barriers as a unified front – this level of sharing has been the essence of the BuidlingGreen’s Sustainable Design Leaders and Sustainable Construction Leaders peer networks since their creation in 2008. 

“For materials specifically, we’re especially excited about Mindful Materials’ Common Materials Framework initiative which is aggregating over 50 certifying bodies into one platform. That’s incredible, and I think a little unprecedented. I think it could be a differentiator for design teams who know the perfect product might not exist, but informed trade-offs do. Streamlined visibility across all known achievement is critical for industry professionals to tell that trade-off story.”

SM: What are some strategies or facts you use to advocate for healthier, more sustainable materials in your projects?

JMA: In my new role, I’m grateful to be working alongside several industry influencers including Nadav Malin, Brent Ehrlich, Paula Melton, and Candace Pearson. While I was familiar with BuildingGreen’s work before joining, I’ve been piecing together the impact they’ve had over 30 years focused on the changing landscape of sustainability in the built environment and materials vetting. Some advocacy stats:


  • Combined, this group has published over 1,200 written pieces including articles, news briefings, product guides, spotlight reports, and CEUs. I’ve never done 1,200 of anything in my life! The facts and reporting in their writing grounded my own strategy as a licensed architect specializing in sustainable materials, and I’m excited to be contributing to this body of work as a member of the team.
  • BuildingGreen’s knowledge base and guidance reaches thousands of design firms, college campuses, teams, and individual professionals, including more than 200 architectural firms, government agencies, nonprofits, and universities.

“Because definitions of healthy or sustainable can be highly contextual, some of the facts that I tend to lean on also touch on workflow and processes. The AIA has an excellent survey where they looked at the copy and paste frequency in specifications. 52% of specifications have some level of copy and paste within the body content, and about 16% are fully reused. I think that’s incredible, and I’ve been able to use that to inform folks who aren’t familiar with specifications at all about their significance as a contract deliverable.”

Another advocacy point is constructability and cost. The cost of carbon is a trade-off with the dollar cost of raw materials. Then, the cost of labor and construction becomes a factor. Finally, the cost of transparency and certifications is another layer for verified achievement.  Seeing these factors shared as one line item is rare. But, I’ve experienced clients who want to see the total story, even if it’s highly speculative, as one line item. It’s powerful.

SM: What certifications do you look for when selecting materials?

JMA: BuildingGreen’s Guide to Building Product Certifications helped me understand which certifications were valued across green building rating systems, what they measure, and who manages them. Similarly, the emerging reference guide grounding the common materials framework from Mindful Materials will outline over 100 certifications and their alignment with the A&D Materials Pledge.


More generally, and especially for a firm of scale, it can be challenging to match the pace of change in the materials transparency landscape while also navigating demands of market sectors who may have different definitions of sustainability success. What a workplace might deem sustainable and feasible in their space might differ from a healthcare space, for example. As a result, it’s important to discover and drive traffic to certifications that have client recognition, multiple vetting considerations, meet the demands of many market sectors and space types, and can connect to the design why and user experience.


It’s also key to note some certifications must work together. For example, digging into VOC root testing via ClearChem reporting, Berkeley Analytical results, or other VOC testing is sometimes necessary to ground claims made in HPDs, Declare Labels, or Cradle to Cradle certifications.

“While we have great coverage and metrics for some categories, like human health or climate health, other categories and their metrics are still emerging. Social health and equity and circularity are super dynamic categories for vetting, today. It’s exciting to see the industry wrap our arms around unifying metrics and reliable comparison. Similarly, wood sourcing discussions beyond FSC, PEFC, and SFI are on my radar.”

SM: Can you share some of your favorite healthy material manufacturers which we could share with our community?

JMA: This question is tricky because there aren’t many manufacturers that cross all disciplines. I wish there were, I think it would be really neat to see how someone would think about acoustic products if they also manufactured VAV boxes, for example. It’s also challenging as the healthy materials space has been largely dominated by interior finishes and architectural CSI divisions. It’s exciting to think what pledges like MEP2040 and SE2050 are encouraging on the manufacturer reporting side.


That being said, some of my favorite manufacturers include Sustainable Northwest Wood – they are doing a lot to address wood adhesives and binders. With the red-list free status of mass timber changing frequently, having a consistent amount of options with red list free achievement would be significant for teams. I also tend to favor manufacturers who have met the demand for transparency when asked as the top of a project. Among these folks are SCAFCO, Tate Manufacturing’s raised access flooring division, Maharam textiles, Loom textiles, and others. I’m always grateful to manufacturers who meet the demand and work to say thank you when we’ve made it to the confirmed submittal.


Keep an eye out for Brent Ehrlich’s  Top 10 announcement for 2024 in the months to come! BuildingGreen has been awarding Top 10 status to products for over 20 years now – amazing.

SM: Do you have any advice for those who are currently working in the healthy building movement?

JMA: If you see something missing (data, product availability, etc.), fill that gap. It’s exactly the time to refuse to settle, and there’s often room to push or explore differently. If a project fee can’t support furthering the ball, is there a grant out there? Is there another client team that might entertain the ask? Is there a manufacturer handshake that can be booked to ask the tough questions? Is there a volunteer organization that can fast track connecting you to resources? Not accepting the status quo is key, and there’s an urgency fueling acceptance to field questions as long as they’re asked.

“I’d also encourage folks to reach out beyond their organization. The ‘we’re all just humans’ approach has taken over my mindset as of late. Thanks to this, I’ve asked questions to folks who I’ve been reading about for years. I certainly still have fangirl moments (and I absolutely share when I’m mid fangirl moment because, well, it’s honest), but knowing folks genuinely want the same thing is the best launch point that leads to poking holes through or asking tough questions that drive real change. So, if you see a group that you’re curious about, get in that mix because I’m certain they’re going to love to have your voice.”