ILFI Red List


As concern for material safety rises, many organizations have created material lists, databases, and resources to equip the industry to make better, more informed choices.

The Red List is a resource specifically geared toward the building industry with the purpose of warning against the most toxic chemicals commonly used in building materials today. It contains 10,000 different chemicals grouped in 19 classes.9


Background of The Red List

  • The International Living Future Institute (ILFI) is an environmental non-governmental organization (NGO) committed to catalyzing the transformation toward communities that are socially just, culturally rich and ecologically restorative. ILFI created the Red List in 2006 as part of its stringent assessment of a project’s level of sustainability to qualify for the Living Building Challenge.
  • Why was it created? To identify the “worst in class” materials, chemicals, and elements known to pose serious risks to human health and the greater ecosystem that are prevalent in the building products industry. It plays an important part in the movement for material transparency in identifying what we need to avoid.
  • The Red List is updated yearly with chemicals that have well-established research pointing to their toxicity. It takes into account:
    • the evolution of voluntary restricted substances lists
    • global regulations
    • innovation of the building products manufacturing industry5

The Watch List

  • An accessory to this list is deemed The Watch List, which contains materials under scrutiny. This list gives the industry a warning that ILFI aims to add the chemical to the official Red List in one year.
  • The Watch List fills an important gap in identifying and prioritizing chemicals for Red List inclusion and serves as a buffer for projects already under construction.

Precautionary Principle

Both the Red List and Watch List affirm the precautionary principle – originating at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. The principle argues that in the presence of threat or risk of serious damage, we should not use lack of scientific certainty to avoid taking action to prevent that damage.7 We must take precaution and not wait for regulations and policies to protect our health.11

ILFI is promoting and aligning their work with the precautionary principle in the creation of these lists, emphasizing their role as tools for advocacy. ILFI plays an important part in representing the collective knowledge of the industry in a unified and aligned voice to engage and influence regulators, policy makers, industry representatives and community partners and drive much needed change.5


Why it matters

  • For teams who are not ready for certifications or taking on the LBC, the Red List is a tool every builder, architect, and designer should use as we move toward the goal of truly sustainable materials.10
  • The Red List also pushes manufacturers to start rethinking product chemical composition. When architects reject products made with any of the listed ingredients in favor of companies using safer alternatives, it encourages more manufacturers to seek safer alternatives in order to compete. This concept promotes advocacy, accountability and action.
  • Not every architect or designer has the time or energy to dedicate themselves to sustainability entirely, but we all play a part in unknowingly specifying harmful materials. The Red List gives us the power of informed choices. When we know what is better, we’re empowered to do better.


When specifying materials, start with the Declare Database, Red-List free filter. Begin by switching out one manufacturer at a time to familiarize yourself with pricing and performance. Continue switching out more materials over time and make it a practice!