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US Hemp Building Association Pushes Green Building Industry Forward

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US Hemp Building Association Pushes Green Building Industry Forward

Photo: US Hemp Building Association board members. Top Row L-R: Heather Fazio, communications; Jacob Waddell, executive director; Ryan Doherty, supply chain; Henry Gage, Jr., certifications. Bottom Row L-R:  Rachel Berry, regional leadership, Alona Thompson, marketing; Marilynn Hill, fundraising. Not pictured: Sergiy Kovalenkov, education.

By Jean Lotus

The small-but-mighty US Hemp Building Association has had an outsized impact on the emerging hemp building industry in the United States after only three years in existence. 

Along with the ordinary trade association activities of hosting educational events and providing member resources, the group has kicked open the doors of hemp building in the United States by moving forward with approval in US building codes for hemp + lime insulation (also known as “hempcrete”).

“So much [has been] achieved by USHBA in such a short period of time,” Lori Daytner of New Castle, PA-based DON’s Services, builders of the Project PA Hemp Home told Let’s Talk Hemp in an email. “Clear strategic planning, laser-precise execution, and plain old hard work have set the foundation for this industry which will benefit so many with healthy and truly green building, local commodity production and local supply chains, job creation, and so much more,” she added.

Hemp as a natural building material is coming into its own as a green building solution  – and has been used in Europe for 30 years. Hemp building materials have the capacity to greatly reduce the carbon footprint of the construction and demolition industry, which contributes almost 40% of greenhouse gasses and fills 25% of landfills worldwide.

USHBA will be host to the Fiber, Materials and Industrial Applications Area at this year’s Southern Hemp Expo, taking place August 19th and 20th in Nashville, TN.

But enormous hurdles remain to bring hemp building to the United States. Challenges include: Using materials from a plant that was only recently legalized after 80 years of prohibition; navigating fragile supply chains; facing a scarcity of products; lacking uniform standards and building a skilled workforce from scratch. 

USHBA has jumped in to try to make things happen.

“We do not have a problem with the lack of opportunity. We have a problem with the lack of manpower and energy to accomplish everything that we see,” Jacob Waddell, the group’s executive director, told Let’s Talk Hemp.

Still, the organization has made tremendous inroads since its founding in June, 2019. 

Starting last year, the sister-non-profit US Hemp Building Foundation raised money, hired consultants and tapped expertise of dozens of hemp builders, engineers and code experts to win code approval this spring by including hempcrete in an appendix in the International Residential Codes.

Code inclusion will cut red tape and save time on hempcrete projects in the United States because the materials will no longer require a special materials variance and extra engineering costs. 

“There are so many things that we’re even just starting to accomplish now, that we saw and  discussed two years ago,” director Waddell said.  “We’re just now getting the manpower, and getting the capability in place to execute.”

Coming up July 9 is the organization’s 2022 Hemp Build Online fundraising event featuring hemp contractors, architects, educators, farmers, influencers, and more. 

Also this year, USHBA will start a campaign to get hempcrete approved strategically in the patchwork of thousands of US building jurisdictions, Waddell said. 

A membership-financed organization, USHBA depends on corporate members and individual memberships that are kept affordable at $99/year. On a shoestring operation, USHBA is focusing on growing its 200-member organization.  

“USHBA has been a benefit to us since the beginning,” Greg Wilson of Murray, KY-based HempWood told Let’s Talk Hemp. “USHBA even wrote us a letter of support for our most recent structural hempwood grant application.”

Gina Engel, founder of Portland, OR-based Earth Merchant hemp block company, said  USHBA “understands needs and challenges faced by the hemp building industry.” She praised the organization’s transparency and advocacy for its members in an email. 

“Skilled organization, educational opportunities, and critical communication with other stakeholders and agencies are just a few of the value points the USHBA  provides,” she wrote. “I appreciate the people and the active talent integrated into the membership of USHBA.”  

This fall, the group plans to release a series of measurements and standards for hemp building materials that can guide the emerging US hemp industry to create the best manufactured raw materials for building products. 

“The standards should help get us to a point where we can create approved materials domestically to match the quality that’s coming from overseas,” Waddell said. 

Cameron McIntosh of Allentown, PA-based Americhanvre said his company jumped onboard as a corporate sponsor in fall 2019 and “has benefited greatly from their efforts ever since.” 

“The USHBA has been, from the start, a hemp-focused trade organization that truly executes on its goals,” McIntosh added. 

“USHBA was able to discern and focus on what was important, in what order,” wrote member Ray Kaderli of New Braunfels, TX-based Hemp Build Network. “This focus enabled all the new startup builders and advocates to have a professional center for collaboration. The vision is bright and enthusiastic moving forward, but yet necessarily methodical and systematic,” he added. “USHBA does a good job being the heartbeat for the building/construction niche within the larger industrial hemp industry.” 

The USHBA’s diversity and inclusion wing sponsors workforce skills training and scholarships for workshops so members of underserved populations can learn green building skills.  

The organization is also working on a series of instructional videos and resources, the USHBA Hemp Building Guide based on the supporting technical documents submitted to the International Code Council. Animated cartoons will answer questions for those curious about hemp building, while technical details will provide resources for building permitting departments. 

“We should be very grateful for the hard work of USHBA,” wrote Angel Romero, Jr., hemp builder and co-founder of Fort Dodge, KS-based StucGoCrete. “From the beginning we said that we must pull the same rope to move this industry forward, I am very humbled to be a part a group of builders ready to make this world a greener place to live.”

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Jean Lotus is a Colorado-based award-winning journalist and hempreneur who writes about the American West and sustainable food and technologies.

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