Red List(s) for the natural and built environment #redlist

Today i’d like to share a brief post on “red lists”, and how they may possibly have different meanings in the natural and built environment depending on what type of green professional you talk to. A recent event helped me come to this realization.

Last week I was out in California, and spent a day exploring Santa Rosa island in the Channel Islands. The Channel Islands are known as the Galapagos of North America because their isolation from the mainland. Just like Darwin’s finches, many creatures there have evolved over to time to develop physical traits to specifically adapt to their unique surroundings and resources. One prime example are the foxes of the Channel Islands, where a unique type of fox can only be found on this planet in six of the eight Channel Islands. Together, the foxes comprise a single species, as they have separated from its mainland ancestors around ten thousand years ago. However, each island is home to its own unique sub-species. It was pretty amazing to learn about the conservation efforts of mammals such as these on the island, especially as we were hiking through their habitats. The populations were all but lost a few decades ago when a colony of golden eagles emerged and heavily preyed on the fox after the resident bald eagle colony severely declined due to the detrimental effects of the chemical DDT.

Out of the eight islands that make up the Channel Islands, Santa Rosa Island was chosen because it contained the Torrey Pine, the rarest pine species in the United States. The Island contains two groves of the Torrey pine subspecies Pinus torreyana var. insularis, which is endemic to the island. To prepare for my exploration, I researched the species and looked at GIS maps which plotted the locations of the groves. I next consulted a resource that many naturalists, scientists, and biologists use to reference the protection status of flora and fauna: The IUCN Redlist of Threatened Species. In this query, i was able to learn quite a lot about just how special seeing these pines would be.

GetImage (13)

IUCN 2017. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2017-2. <;. Downloaded on 14 Novemeber 2017.

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species is a web-based catalog of information about plants, fungi and animals, and is designed to assess the relative risk of extinction of a given species. Participants are encouraged to catalogue and highlight those plants and animals that are facing a higher risk of global extinction, which further strengthens the resource as a critical information center to know what’s listed as Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable, Extinct or Extinct in the Wild. Those working in the biological sciences realm often use this site for taxonomic, conservation status and distribution information. Institutions and industries include botanic gardens, zoos, wildlife and nature preserves, conservation, and in research for medicine and commercialization.

Another Red List?

Now, as i was introducing myself to the IUCN Red List, i couldn’t help but think about another fairly common type of red list I see a lot working in the architecture industry to help identify sustainable materials. Known generally in the building industry as Red List Building Materials, it’s a framework to help identify building materials that contain chemicals that have been designated as harmful to flora and fauna, including humans, and other environmental organisms. Several types of these lists have been created by green industry accrediting bodies such as the Living Building Challenge, and even architecture firms [Perkins Will P-list]. Generally the lists are created by harvesting information from chemical hazard lists published by various governmental agencies such as the EPA, hence the possibilities for variation.

I know the firm i work for relies upon these types of red lists to help not only meet various green certification schemes, but also to create more sustainable buildings. Below is screenshot from the list put out by firm Perkins and Will.

GetImage (14)


Yes, Red List(s)

Overall, I find it very interesting that the term “red list” can have two very different meanings even though there is some degree of overlap between the industries who may value these resources. One perfect example of this are landscape architects, who design spaces where it is increasingly important to understand ecological sensitives that include regard for not only flora and fauna, but the building materials used as well. I don’t view this circumstance as a problem, but rather as a testament to technology and advances in science to give professionals the tools to be more efficient and meaningful in their work. When tools and resources advance and become useful, they can bring broad appeal and connect allied professional more so than ever before. Architects are now interested in moss for performative properties on roofs and facades. Biologists are now interested in materials floating in the ocean that may harm whales. Each issue can be advanced with the help of a red list, and perhaps some day all green professionals will know of the two outlined here.

Here’s a few other red lists that we see in culture that can also be applied to the sentiments above:





2 thoughts on “Red List(s) for the natural and built environment #redlist

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s