Making it Easier to be Green
Green design includes energy conservation, but that's not what it's all about. It's about having good air quality both indoors and outdoors, making the environments in which we work, live, study and play healthier and more comfortable and conserving all of our natural resources.
This site will provide a balanced, holistic view that includes advice about saving energy, water and other natural resources, improving indoor air quality, using environmentally responsible design and construction techniques and minimizing waste.

I will be focusing on interiors for three reasons:

  • We spend about 90% of our time indoors.
  • Buildings in the United States annually consume about 30% of our total energy and 75% of our electricity.
  • As a New York State Certified Interior Designer and a LEED Accredited Professional, I want to share my knowledge and expertise with you.
Sustainable design and construction can be done in many different styles and using a wide variety of materials. There are examples of healthy, sustainable, comfortable and inviting interiors for commercial, not-for-profit and residential clients on the web site for Interior Design Solutions.
You can use the labels on the sidebar to locate entries that you want to read. For instance, most people might want to look at the entries for "Green Homes," but "Green Finance" would be of more interest to professionals involved in the design, construction, management, financing and marketing of buildings.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Warning “Green” Products May be Hazardous to Your Health

Green products are not always healthy products. As a matter of fact, some of them can kill people, either through their use or through their production and disposal. Green claims for such products make me see red.

Some materials commonly used in the construction and furnishing of buildings contain substances that are persistent bioaccumulative and toxic (PBTs)* or contribute to the formation of persistent organic pollutants (POPs),** and should be avoided whenever possible. “Toxic” in this context refers to serious adverse health risks, such as cancer, birth defects or neurological or reproductive disorders. There are brief descriptions of PBTs and POPs at the end of this post.

Greenwashing is the deceptive use of marketing to promote a misleading perception that a company’s products or policies are environmentally friendly. It takes many forms, from making totally bogus claims to not providing information about negative impacts of a product that actually has some green aspect. The worst form of greenwashing, as far as I’m concerned, is making environmental claims to encourage people to use something that can have adverse health impacts.

Manufacturers of products containing Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) such as vinyl wall coverings and floor coverings might claim that they are green because they contain high recycled content, but the manufacture and disposal of these products produces dioxins (persistent toxins that the EPA and National Academy of Sciences link to cancer, birth defects, and other health problems). Most vinyl products contain phthalates, PBTs that are continuously emitted from such products and that are linked to reproductive disorders. Yet at least one manufacturer of vinyl tiles has worksheets on its website showing how using its product can contribute to LEED certification.

Bamboo is a perfect example of a “natural and sustainable” material that should be carefully evaluated. Products containing bamboo are widely viewed as “green,” and they do all meet one of the criteria of sustainable design and construction. Because bamboo grows much more rapidly than trees, it does save natural resources, and using it can qualify for LEED points in the “rapidly renewable material” category. But most flooring materials and other products made with bamboo contain added urea formaldehyde, a type of volatile organic compound (VOC) which the EPA considers especially harmful. In addition, this “green” material is grown with pesticides, rainforests are sometimes clear-cut to create space to plant bamboo, and most bamboo growers are not committed to fair trade practices including fair compensation for employees.

Although post-consumer waste is considered better than postindustrial waste when it comes to conserving natural resources, how can we be sure that something contains no toxins if we cannot trace each ingredient it to its origin? An extreme example would be a product made from tires that had been used for vehicles operating in a hazardous waste dump.

When in doubt, just think of your mother saying “don’t put that in your mouth, you don’t know where it has been.” If you think that putting something in your mouth could cause health problems, perhaps you should think twice about using it. For professionals involved in the design, construction and maintenance of buildings one of the best ways to “know where it has been” is to read the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) from the manufacturer of a product that you are thinking of using.

The Green Guide for Health Care puts considerably more emphasis on the potential health impacts of interior design, construction techniques, and product choices than other systems.

* Persistent bioaccumulative and Toxic (PBT) pollutants are chemicals that are toxic, persist in the environment and bioaccumulate in food chains and, thus, pose risks to human health and ecosystems. The biggest concerns about PBTs are that they transfer rather easily among air, water, and land, and span boundaries of programs, geography, and generations. (From the EPA website)

** Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are organic compounds that are resistant to environmental degradation through chemical, biological, and photolytic processes. Because of this, they have been observed to persist in the environment, to be capable of long-range transport, bioaccumulate in human and animal tissue, biomagnify in food chains,[1] and to have potential significant impacts on human health and the environment. (From Wikipedia)

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