Designing for Chemical Sensitivity
Companies leading the way with eco-conscious products.
Hi, my name is Kate and I am thrilled to bring the Ecomedes Forum back. We are going to explore the world of eco-friendly design products. I am one of Ecomedes’ client success managers. I have the privilege of helping some of the most sustainable and innovative companies in the world connect with architects and designers to build beautiful spaces.
Before joining Ecomedes, I ran my own green building consulting company where I worked with architects and designers to spec sustainable building finishes. Without sacrificing aesthetics and function, we selected products that could be used on LEED, Living Building Challenge, and WELL projects. Here we will be taking a look at products featured on Ecomedes that push the boundaries of what it means to be sustainable as well as what to look out for when assessing products for chemical sensitivity.
Profiles of 3 Companies With Unique Green Products
Indoor air quality has become increasingly popular when thinking about sustainability and thankfully so. Products laden with carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, and neurotoxins, are shockingly still allowed to be used in buildings. These not only pose health risks to people but seriously hurt the environment. Rest assured, there are some amazing companies leading the way to design products that are chemically benign and ecologically supportive. Let’s dive in.
The only linoleum product approved for walls, LinoWall mixes smooth earthy texture with modern day colors to add warmth and serenity to any room. Its material composition consisting of linseed oil, pine rosin, wood, cork flour, and jute, not only gives the product velvety depth, but allows it to tread lightly on the environment.
LinoWall has achieved cradle to cradle silver, an incredibly difficult certification to earn. In order to pull off such a feat, companies need to meet stringent requirements in five different categories including: material health, clean air & climate protection, water & soil stewardship, social fairness, and product circularity. In order to address this holistic framework, Tarkett’s sustainability program is unsurprisingly multipronged. As far as material health goes, LinoWall is phthalate free, contains negligible VOC content that is well below third party certifications, and meets Cradle to Cradle’s Restricted Substances List (containing 93 worst in class chemical compound groups). What’s more the surface is inherently antimicrobial and can be easily cleaned. For the sake of brevity, I am not going to go into how LinoWall meets the other four C2C categories but you can access all this information on Tarkett’s Ecomedes portal and their website. Safe to say using LinoWall helps A&Ds achieve LEED and other green certification credits with ease.
When I was a green building consultant I loved helping architects & designers find tiles. They are chemically inert, durable, made of biobased materials and have been used for centuries (since 2,400 B.C.!). But even with these characteristics, I have always encountered a lack of ingredient transparency. When I came across the Crossville Tile company (Crossville, TN), things changed for the better.
Many Crossville tiles are LBC Red List free. Created by the International Living Future Institute (ILFI), the Red List includes over 10,000 toxic chemicals. This is really important because even though they may not emit VOCs, tiles can still contain additives such as heavy metals and carcinogens (amongst many others). Of course you don’t want these toxins in your buildings and you definitely don’t want chemicals like these floating around the environment. In addition to its healthy chemical profile, Crossville tackles some difficult sustainability challenges such as water consumption and waste. They reuse more than 99.98% of water during manufacturing and recycle even more waste than they produce. They were the first recipient of the Green Squared Certification from the Tile Council of North America (a standard centered around lifecycle). You can find more information on Crossville such as HPDs, EPDs, Declare Labels, LEED docs and more on Ecomedes. You can also access their sustainability report here.
OFS offers beautiful, sleek, ergonomic furniture that takes health seriously. That is why time and time again it has been chosen by architects and designers for healthcare facilities. OFS has not only achieved BIFMA Level 1 & 2 certification and SCS Indoor Advantage Gold, but it avoids some of the worst in class chemicals around.
The Dess chair featured at the Anna Shaw Children’s Institute avoids a slew of chemicals including but not limited to heavy metals (neurotoxins), phthalates (endocrine disruptors), PFAS/PFOA (persistent bioaccumulative compounds ‘forever chemicals’), halogenated flame retardants (carcinogens), and antimicrobials (endocrine disruptors). As a consultant, I was always looking out for companies that were educated about worse in class chemicals. It demonstrated that they were taking the time to understand why materials matter. OFS takes a proactive approach, ensuring their products are safe for the most vulnerable. In addition to chemical sensitivity, OFS has a deep commitment to environmental stewardship. The company offers products that are FSC certified (gold standard in forest stewardship), and they are highly engaged in efforts to reduce waste by recycling, reusing, and lean manufacturing. Check out their Ecomedes portal here!
How to Design for Chemical Sensitivity
As we saw with the companies featured above, designing for chemical sensitivity means addressing multiple exposure routes. Fortunately there are certifications and ecolabels that address these routes. There are many different ecolabels out there. I have included some of my favorites below. Spoiler alert, some of these certifications have been mentioned above.
UL GreenGuard: GreenGuard is one of the most stringent certifications that address volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are chemicals that vaporize at room temperature. Some of the most common ones are wet applied products. You can’t prevent products from off-gassing but you can avoid products that off-gas noxious fumes. GreenGuard Gold screens against 15,000 gaseous pollutants.
LBC Red List Free: When a product has a LBC Red List Free label it means that none of its ingredients appear on ILFI’s Red List. Aside from off-gassing, chemicals leach out of products through wear and tear. By choosing products with a LBC Red List Free label, you will be making sure that 10,000 of the worst in class chemicals do not make their way into your project by any means.
C2C Material Health Certificate: The Cradle to Cradle Material Health certificate serves as a stand-alone certificate representing the material health category in C2C’s 5 part standard. Similar to the LBC Red List, C2C has a ‘Restricted Substances List’ consisting of 93 hazardous chemical compounds.
Health Product Declaration (HPD): HPDs are like nutrition labels for your building materials and products. They include product ingredients down to 100 ppm and list any health risks associated with them. Keep in mind that these health risks are not just during the occupant stage, but exist throughout the entire lifecycle. What I like about HPDs is that they require manufacturers to understand what their products are made of. You’d be surprised how rare this actually is (LBC Red List Free also requires this process).
Some parting words
Sustainability has always been a moving target. However there is a growing community of architects, designers, product manufacturers, and scientists striving to make the built environment aligned with human and planetary health. Together we will get there. Please let me know if there are any products that you are particularly excited about. This blog’s name is Forum for a reason. Let’s build a community!