What Does It Mean to Design Green?
Have you ever wondered what your home’s furnishings are made of? Furniture as well as bedding, carpeting, flooring and textiles can all contain toxic materials that may contribute to health problems including obesity, endocrine disruption, cancer, and mental health issues.
Such toxins are not just harmful to our health, of course. They pollute our planet just as much.
As an interior designer, this understanding led me to seek out healthful and sustainable furnishings – and to educate others on their benefits. In addition to building great relationships and designing beautiful spaces, offering eco-friendly alternatives to my clients so they may enjoy a “green space” has become my professional goal. That is why I decided to become a Green Accredited Professional.
The Green Accredited Professional certification is granted by the Sustainable Furnishings Council. They identify which furnishings are conducive to good health, and also manufactured and distributed in ways which protect our planet. Council members endeavor to minimize carbon emissions, unrecyclable content, waste stream pollutants, and materials from unsustainable sources to the best of their abilities.
I work with suppliers that refrain from using toxins such as polyvinyl chloride, flame retardants, volatile organic compound (VOC) treatments including formaldehyde, fluorinated stain treatments, and antimicrobials – all of which are linked to poor health. The way some of these products are made causes pollution that contributes to global warming. Some wind up in landfills permanently because they are nonbiodegradable. Others originate from unethical practices like child labor and deforestation.
VOCs, which lurk in carpeting, caulking, adhesives, vinyl flooring, paints, stains, and particleboard, are especially pernicious. The EPA conducted a study in the early 1980s which demonstrated that exposure to harmful VOCs is coming from inside air, not outside air as previously thought.
In his book Clean, Green, and Lean, environmental medicine pioneer Dr. Walter Crinnion describes how the energy crisis of the 1970s gave rise to houses with less air exchange between with the outdoors. This phenomenon can lead to “sick building syndrome,” in which certain furnishings emit toxins that become trapped in your home – and also in your body.
What can you do to mitigate these problems when furnishing your home or office? Here are some sustainable ideas and greener alternatives:
Look for items made from “certified wood.” Wood from mango trees is a great green choice, for example. Once those trees no longer produce mangos, they can be made into attractive furniture.
Avoid veneers. These wooden tops are adhered to particleboard with harmful chemicals.
Latex from rapidly renewable rubber trees makes a great non-toxic mattress and cushion fill.
Avoid polyurethane foam fill in furniture. Wool, kapok and down are far better biodegradable alternatives. And wool is a natural flame retardant!
Instead of conventional vinyl flooring, try bamboo, cork, solid wood or phthalates-free vinyl flooring.
Look for the Fair Trade label on textiles. The workers who make them are paid far better wages.
Buy local. American organic cotton is one of the best fabrics you can buy, for example, and it is traceable right back to the field it was grown in. Think about how much gas and fuel are wasted shipping in products from abroad!
Reuse, recycle, and upcycle whenever possible. Habitat for Humanity will graciously accept used granite, glass, stone, and kitchen cabinets.
See if your area has a program for recycling old mattresses. Mattresses are one of the most challenging products to dispose of sustainably, even though 80 percent of their components are recyclable.
Check out the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit dedicated to safer and healthier living. Ewg.org has tons of helpful information, including a healthy home living guide.
I am here to help if you have any questions on “greening” your home! As a Green Accredited Professional interior designer I’m poised to offer options that will make your remodel, new build, or refresh look beautiful and have a better impact on your health and the environment. Contact me for a consultation!
By Julie Ann Segal