Originally published in Interiors & Sources

03/01/2014

Interior Chemistry

Advances in science and technology are changing materials at a rapid pace, but we designers can’t lose sight of the bigger picture.

By Rachelle Schoessler Lynn, FASID, CID, LEED AP BD+C

 

There is no question that science and technology have afforded us tremendous improvements in overall quality of life, including the materials we use in the built environment. Today’s products are more durable, colorfast, lightweight, affordable, and efficient than ever before—but at the same time, we need to be aware of the inherent risks in the chemicals used to achieve these results, and we need to be able to accurately evaluate the safety of the products we specify for clients.

seeing red
Along those lines, I recently attended a presentation at the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association (BIFMA) Conference led by Google’s Real Estate and Workplace Services Green Team Lead, Anthony Ravitz. He described the company’s new office building in Mountain View, Calif., which is being built with the goal of creating the healthiest work environment possible.

As I listened to the material choices presented by the project, I was reminded of the frustrations I face in my own practice, including the plethora of so-called Red Lists. Every organization and green rating system including the Living Building Challenge, LEED v4, Pharos, Perkins+Will and, now, even Google, seems to have its own bulleted list of “worst-in-class” materials and chemicals that should be avoided in healthy interior environments.

With all of these lists, it’s sometimes difficult to figure out where they overlap, but the potential gaps among the lists concern me even more. How does a product get on one list and not another? How are the specific risks determined, and how should these lists impact the design process?

Amid all this confusion, one thing has become crystal clear to me: health and sustainability knowledge should not be considered proprietary information used to gain a competitive advantage. All of us should share what we know. After all, that’s what we’re demanding of product manufacturers, right? As Picasso once said, “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.”

In the end, transparency in material ingredients must be a partnership between manufacturers and designers. I’m convinced that when we work together, anything is possible. During the past 21 years, I’ve seen many product manufacturers successfully undertake environmental and safety initiatives after pressure from the design world, proving that we are a vital part of the change equation.

As just one example, I recall a commercial textile manufacturer who, in the early days of the Cradle to Cradle certification program and under pressure from interior designers, changed the chemistry of its dyes after the amount of toxins, chemicals and pollution it was discharging came to light. The river near the plant had long been polluted with those chemicals, but after changes in formulation and process, the wastewater returned to the river was cleaner than it was extracted. This was the beginning of manufacturers responding to market pressure to do the right thing, and showcases the positive outcomes that come with engineering advances and product transparency.

asid in the conversation
As a primary driver in this conversation, ASID has long been pushing for sustainable interior design. Our organization was instrumental in the development of LEED for Commercial Interiors, and more recently, the ASID Foundation made a significant investment in the development of Health Product Declarations. (For more on HPDs, see Hot Topics for Materials in Healthcare in the November 2013 issue of I&S.)

These are meaningful achievements, but we must strive to do more. I believe that we need more evidence-based design that showcases the connection between healthy indoor environments and positive outcomes, and research that evaluates the role materials play in overall human health. The University of Minnesota in particular is working to bridge design and public health research to determine ways the built environment can make people healthy instead of sick, but we need to encourage more to take up the topic.

We now have the capacity to create energy models of buildings and evaluate how daylighting can impact mental health and productivity; we should be able to model indoor air quality before occupancy in the same way. Clearly, we have our work cut out for us. We make a choice every day to design spaces that will make people healthy or not—the power of one better choice every day can be profound. Share your knowledge and work together to leave a legacy of a healthy planet for the future generations yet to be born.

 

Rachelle Schoessler Lynn, FASID, CID, LEED Fellow AP BD+C, is the national president of ASID and a senior associate with MSR in Minneapolis. ASID can be reached at (202) 546-3480 or asid@asid.org, and on the web at asid.org.

 


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Tennant Company is a recognized leader in designing, manufacturing and marketing solutions that help create a cleaner, safer, healthier world. With thousands of satisfied customers already using award winning ec-H2O technology, why not see what you're missing? Test ec-H2O on your soils in your facility. Get a free demo.

 

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Visit our website today to learn about the design flexibility of a Morton building and the endless possibilities of partnering with our designBUILD team.


Wood construction is both cost and energy efficient. Check out Morton Buildings and our designBUILD team online today to discover all the benefits of post-frame construction.


When choosing a metal-clad building for your next construction project, consider Morton Buildings, Inc., and their designBUILD team, we’ll make your dream a reality.

We Can Help You Reduce Energy by 30%

Our mission is to help our customers manage their buildings' energy costs, improve reliability, and enhance performance while having a positive impact on the environment.
CLICK HERE to find out how.

 

Add highly responsive multi-zone comfort to any building project, in any climate. Our CITY MULTI H2i R2- and Y-Series VRF systems give you flexibility to fit the needs of any building. Enjoy 100% heating capacity at 0°F outdoor ambient, and 85% heating capacity at -13°F outdoor ambient.  For more information, log on to www.mitsubishipro.com

 


Tennant Company is a recognized leader in designing, manufacturing and marketing solutions that help create a cleaner, safer, healthier world. With thousands of satisfied customers already using award winning ec-H2O technology, why not see what you're missing? Test ec-H2O on your soils in your facility. Get a free demo.


Tennant Company is a recognized leader in designing, manufacturing and marketing solutions that help create a cleaner, safer, healthier world. With thousands of satisfied customers already using award winning ec-H2O technology, why not see what you're missing? Test ec-H2O on your soils in your facility. Get a free demo.

 

Replace core drilling with Connectrac In-Carpet and On-Floor Wireways, the proven connectivity solution in open interior spaces of all kinds. These elegant low-profile wireways are great for AV / telecom connectivity wherever it’s needed.

Bluebeam® Revu® simplifies digital facilities document management from design review to leveraging as-builts, maintenance manuals and O&Ms submittals.


 
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