Contract - How Sustainable is Your Interior?

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How Sustainable is Your Interior?

02 December, 2013

-By Deborah Fuller, IIDA



As designers, we have a vast selection of finishes and materials to choose from. Because we are becoming more savvy about sustainability and designing intelligently for the world around us, we now consider how a product is fabricated, the amount of energy that is used to produce it, and what it is made of. More often, we consider the impact a product might have on our environment or the spaces we occupy, and manufacturers now openly address these issues. Designing healthful interiors is critical as more and more environmental chemicals are linked to human health issues. As our profession continues to embrace the concepts of embodied energy, carbon emissions, indoor environmental quality, ozone depletion, and human health impacts, the task of evaluating materials is somewhat more daunting.

The exciting news is that there are many tools and resources available to help design teams evaluate items in many different areas. With the introduction of LEED V4, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has made considerable changes to the Materials and Resources category. A new perspective on how finishes, materials, furnishings, and furniture affect our planet—as well as human health—will challenge design teams to seriously consider what is specified and why.

The use of third party certifications is becoming more prominent as we consider which products provide the most design-focused, environmental solutions for projects. But, for now, the sources of information are disparate. Greenguard, Green Label Plus, BIFMA level, FloorScore, Green Seal, Green Squared, facts, and Forest Stewardship Council are just a sample of the major certifications for products by type. Also, organizations or programs that offer resources for sustainable product and material research include USDA’s BioPreferred Program, BuildingGreen, Cradle to Cradle, SMaRT, Pharos Project, and SCS Global, among others. All of these resources are relatively new to our evaluation process and can be very overwhelming. Designers often tell me that they don’t have time to do research or evaluate products in that much detail: a dilemma, to be sure, but these certifications will become increasingly more important to our profession. As the determination of the chemical makeup of products becomes a project requirement, design teams will turn to these certifications and declarations more often.


Voluntary declarations gain momentum
Environmental Product Declarations were introduced to the built environment several years ago, but it wasn’t until the last few years that they gained significant attention. These declarations—voluntary, and not required by law for product fabrication—are internationally recognized summaries used to transparently communicate the environmental performance of products and services based on life-cycle assessment.

The most recent transparency tool, Healthy Product Declarations, was unveiled in 2012 at Greenbuild. The Healthy Product Declaration Collaborative, a customer-led organization, created this open standard for the disclosure of information regarding building product content and associated health information. Healthy Product Declarations are also voluntary and go a step further than Environmental Product Declarations because they address hazardous chemicals in products. Both Healthy Product Declarations and Environmental Product Declarations are important tools for designers to evaluate products that impact the environment and the health and wellbeing of their clients.

Another resource for product evaluation is Pharos, a project from the Healthy Building Network that offers a transparent and in-depth database of information about what is really in building products, with comparative scores on environmental and health impacts. The Pharos materials and chemical library documents more than 20,000 chemicals and materials in a wide variety of products. This database is available for the analysis of chemical content, lifecycle analysis, VOCs, toxic content, manufacturing toxics, renewable materials, renewable energy, and reflectance.

What is new in product offerings?

New products are being introduced on a daily basis. Many companies are re-evaluating how they manufacture their products, placing greater emphasis on energy conservation, water recycling, and healthy chemical composition. More biobased products in hard-surface flooring, vinyl tile alternatives, wallcoverings, textiles, paints, and coatings are now available. Some of these bio-based products are made from sorghum grain—a common feed for swine—nettle weed, straw, sunflower seed hulls, wheat, corn, and soy. Manufacturers utilizing bio-based sources include TorZo Surfaces, Kirei USA, Camira Fabrics, and Carnegie Fabrics.

Many manufacturers are shifting away from plastics such as PVC, as they are under greater pressure to provide alternatives. Bio-based plastics, as well as less toxic plastics such as polyurethane, are being used in textiles, wall protection, and furniture components. Disclosure of a given product’s ingredients is increasingly being requested by architecture and design firms as more research is published documenting diseases related to PVC, BPA, and the plasticizer phthalates. Construction Specialties is one of the first manufacturers to disclose the chemical makeup of their products, such as with their Acrovyn wall protection.

Traditional bamboo flooring has lost some of its luster, but new edge-grain, end-grain, and strand products are made from bamboo, coconut, and sugar palm trees. Durapalm by Plyboo is one such example from sugar palms. The product offers fabulous design alternatives to traditional hardwood flooring and veneer with the added benefit of no added urea formaldehyde (NAUF). The new Reveal Collection by Plyboo is a recent example of a beautiful and unique collection of carved and textured bamboo panels.

Certified woods are becoming more readily available in a larger variety of veneer species than just a few years ago. Wood is such a limited natural resource that protecting the illegal harvesting of trees is critical to preserving the natural landscapes and forests. Reconstituted woods have also entered the marketplace as an alternative to expensive veneers. These products look like real wood veneer with fewer imperfections, unlimited available quantities, easier matching, and are often less expensive. Reclaimed wood is also becoming a coveted material. For example, Kaswell Flooring’s Hickory Dry Recovered Wood and Edge Grain Black Cherry makes a strong design statement. Interlam Design has a series of NAUF medium-density fiberboard (MDF) carved screen panels ideal for a special wall surface or as space dividers.

Several new products have been introduced to the marketplace with a social responsibility focus as well. The Full Circle collection by 3form is an inspiring example of this, implementing handcrafted skills of artisans from around the world, and providing a source of income for their communities. Another example of this is Arzu Studio Hope, a non-profit organization that sells rugs woven by Afghan women, providing the artisans with fair wages and access to healthcare and education.

Alternatives to natural stone, granite, or marble countertops are being introduced more regularly, such as recycled glass, stone and agate slices, objects embedded in a concrete mixture, and quartz surfaces. These alternatives offer an environmental benefit because they are not depleting our planet of so many natural resources. As an example, DEX Industries offers some of the most creative and unique alternative countertop products, and they rarely require additional coatings, are harder than natural stone, and are virtually maintenance free.

Porcelain tiles have improved as manufacturers develop increasingly photo-realistic images with an inkjet process to mimic natural stone, wood, and other graphic textures. These products are less expensive, do not require sealers, and offer less maintenance long term. Larger tile sizes allow designers to create a variety of patterns. Many new glass tiles and mosaics—some made from recycled glass—have also been introduced in a variety of sizes and shapes.
For improved indoor air quality, gypsum board and ceiling tile products are now available that claim to absorb Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in the air. The furniture industry has embraced product testing to comply with Greenguard or BIFMA level standards for low VOCs as well.

The transformation in furnishings, finishes, and materials continues across our industry. Although the process may seem to be slow, the industry is moving in the right direction and we can continue to look forward to seeing new technologies and unique offerings in the years to come.

Deborah Fuller, IIDA, is a senior interior designer at the Dallas office of HOK. With a strong focus on sustainability, FF&E, as well as finish and materials, Fuller is also a sustainability consultant managing and advising on multi-million dollar projects. She has experience in a variety of project types including municipal, institutional, corporate, and healthcare, and has also created and delivered continuing education for project teams, building occupants, staff, and other key stakeholders.




How Sustainable is Your Interior?

02 December, 2013


As designers, we have a vast selection of finishes and materials to choose from. Because we are becoming more savvy about sustainability and designing intelligently for the world around us, we now consider how a product is fabricated, the amount of energy that is used to produce it, and what it is made of. More often, we consider the impact a product might have on our environment or the spaces we occupy, and manufacturers now openly address these issues. Designing healthful interiors is critical as more and more environmental chemicals are linked to human health issues. As our profession continues to embrace the concepts of embodied energy, carbon emissions, indoor environmental quality, ozone depletion, and human health impacts, the task of evaluating materials is somewhat more daunting.

The exciting news is that there are many tools and resources available to help design teams evaluate items in many different areas. With the introduction of LEED V4, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has made considerable changes to the Materials and Resources category. A new perspective on how finishes, materials, furnishings, and furniture affect our planet—as well as human health—will challenge design teams to seriously consider what is specified and why.

The use of third party certifications is becoming more prominent as we consider which products provide the most design-focused, environmental solutions for projects. But, for now, the sources of information are disparate. Greenguard, Green Label Plus, BIFMA level, FloorScore, Green Seal, Green Squared, facts, and Forest Stewardship Council are just a sample of the major certifications for products by type. Also, organizations or programs that offer resources for sustainable product and material research include USDA’s BioPreferred Program, BuildingGreen, Cradle to Cradle, SMaRT, Pharos Project, and SCS Global, among others. All of these resources are relatively new to our evaluation process and can be very overwhelming. Designers often tell me that they don’t have time to do research or evaluate products in that much detail: a dilemma, to be sure, but these certifications will become increasingly more important to our profession. As the determination of the chemical makeup of products becomes a project requirement, design teams will turn to these certifications and declarations more often.


Voluntary declarations gain momentum
Environmental Product Declarations were introduced to the built environment several years ago, but it wasn’t until the last few years that they gained significant attention. These declarations—voluntary, and not required by law for product fabrication—are internationally recognized summaries used to transparently communicate the environmental performance of products and services based on life-cycle assessment.

The most recent transparency tool, Healthy Product Declarations, was unveiled in 2012 at Greenbuild. The Healthy Product Declaration Collaborative, a customer-led organization, created this open standard for the disclosure of information regarding building product content and associated health information. Healthy Product Declarations are also voluntary and go a step further than Environmental Product Declarations because they address hazardous chemicals in products. Both Healthy Product Declarations and Environmental Product Declarations are important tools for designers to evaluate products that impact the environment and the health and wellbeing of their clients.

Another resource for product evaluation is Pharos, a project from the Healthy Building Network that offers a transparent and in-depth database of information about what is really in building products, with comparative scores on environmental and health impacts. The Pharos materials and chemical library documents more than 20,000 chemicals and materials in a wide variety of products. This database is available for the analysis of chemical content, lifecycle analysis, VOCs, toxic content, manufacturing toxics, renewable materials, renewable energy, and reflectance.

What is new in product offerings?

New products are being introduced on a daily basis. Many companies are re-evaluating how they manufacture their products, placing greater emphasis on energy conservation, water recycling, and healthy chemical composition. More biobased products in hard-surface flooring, vinyl tile alternatives, wallcoverings, textiles, paints, and coatings are now available. Some of these bio-based products are made from sorghum grain—a common feed for swine—nettle weed, straw, sunflower seed hulls, wheat, corn, and soy. Manufacturers utilizing bio-based sources include TorZo Surfaces, Kirei USA, Camira Fabrics, and Carnegie Fabrics.

Many manufacturers are shifting away from plastics such as PVC, as they are under greater pressure to provide alternatives. Bio-based plastics, as well as less toxic plastics such as polyurethane, are being used in textiles, wall protection, and furniture components. Disclosure of a given product’s ingredients is increasingly being requested by architecture and design firms as more research is published documenting diseases related to PVC, BPA, and the plasticizer phthalates. Construction Specialties is one of the first manufacturers to disclose the chemical makeup of their products, such as with their Acrovyn wall protection.

Traditional bamboo flooring has lost some of its luster, but new edge-grain, end-grain, and strand products are made from bamboo, coconut, and sugar palm trees. Durapalm by Plyboo is one such example from sugar palms. The product offers fabulous design alternatives to traditional hardwood flooring and veneer with the added benefit of no added urea formaldehyde (NAUF). The new Reveal Collection by Plyboo is a recent example of a beautiful and unique collection of carved and textured bamboo panels.

Certified woods are becoming more readily available in a larger variety of veneer species than just a few years ago. Wood is such a limited natural resource that protecting the illegal harvesting of trees is critical to preserving the natural landscapes and forests. Reconstituted woods have also entered the marketplace as an alternative to expensive veneers. These products look like real wood veneer with fewer imperfections, unlimited available quantities, easier matching, and are often less expensive. Reclaimed wood is also becoming a coveted material. For example, Kaswell Flooring’s Hickory Dry Recovered Wood and Edge Grain Black Cherry makes a strong design statement. Interlam Design has a series of NAUF medium-density fiberboard (MDF) carved screen panels ideal for a special wall surface or as space dividers.

Several new products have been introduced to the marketplace with a social responsibility focus as well. The Full Circle collection by 3form is an inspiring example of this, implementing handcrafted skills of artisans from around the world, and providing a source of income for their communities. Another example of this is Arzu Studio Hope, a non-profit organization that sells rugs woven by Afghan women, providing the artisans with fair wages and access to healthcare and education.

Alternatives to natural stone, granite, or marble countertops are being introduced more regularly, such as recycled glass, stone and agate slices, objects embedded in a concrete mixture, and quartz surfaces. These alternatives offer an environmental benefit because they are not depleting our planet of so many natural resources. As an example, DEX Industries offers some of the most creative and unique alternative countertop products, and they rarely require additional coatings, are harder than natural stone, and are virtually maintenance free.

Porcelain tiles have improved as manufacturers develop increasingly photo-realistic images with an inkjet process to mimic natural stone, wood, and other graphic textures. These products are less expensive, do not require sealers, and offer less maintenance long term. Larger tile sizes allow designers to create a variety of patterns. Many new glass tiles and mosaics—some made from recycled glass—have also been introduced in a variety of sizes and shapes.
For improved indoor air quality, gypsum board and ceiling tile products are now available that claim to absorb Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in the air. The furniture industry has embraced product testing to comply with Greenguard or BIFMA level standards for low VOCs as well.

The transformation in furnishings, finishes, and materials continues across our industry. Although the process may seem to be slow, the industry is moving in the right direction and we can continue to look forward to seeing new technologies and unique offerings in the years to come.

Deborah Fuller, IIDA, is a senior interior designer at the Dallas office of HOK. With a strong focus on sustainability, FF&E, as well as finish and materials, Fuller is also a sustainability consultant managing and advising on multi-million dollar projects. She has experience in a variety of project types including municipal, institutional, corporate, and healthcare, and has also created and delivered continuing education for project teams, building occupants, staff, and other key stakeholders.

 


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