Written by: Monserrat Menendez, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
In today's world, the materials used in building and interior design can have a significant impact on human health and overall well-being. As designers, it is our responsibility to make conscious decisions regarding design and material selection to ensure a healthier and more sustainable outcome. To achieve this, we must establish clear goals and priorities tailored to each project, while also equipping ourselves with the right tools to make informed choices.
What is greenwashing?
Greenwashing is a deceptive marketing practice employed by companies to make their products or designs appear environmentally friendly, even when they may not be. This tactic aims to appeal to environmentally conscious consumers, creating a facade of eco-friendliness while potentially harming the environment. The term "greenwashing" was coined by environmentalist Jay Westerveld in 1986, in response to actions such as hotels urging guests to reuse towels as an eco-friendly measure that primarily saved on laundry costs. In an era where news primarily came from traditional media, consumers lacked the means to fact-check these claims as easily as they can today.
How can you spot greenwashing and avoid it?
Identifying greenwashing is crucial to making informed choices. Some common signs of greenwashing include:
Products labeled as 'natural' or 'organic' when only a fraction of their ingredients fit these descriptors.
Companies offering carbon offsets without committing to significant immediate changes.
Packaging that incorporates green or natural imagery to give a false impression of sustainability.
Companies promoting an eco-friendly version of their product while not extending these efforts across their entire product line.
The impact of toxic chemicals on interior design
The selection of building and interior materials holds the potential to adversely affect human health and the environment if not done thoughtfully. It's essential to consider all phases of a material's life cycle, as risks can vary. Conducting a Life Cycle Assessment enables better tracking and reduction of harmful toxins throughout construction and fit-out projects. Additionally, understanding that the impact extends beyond building occupants to include the broader environment is vital.
Setting goals and priorities
To create healthier interiors, it's imperative to set clear goals and priorities. Resources, like lists of materials with proven negative health impacts (often termed 'red list' materials), can guide this process. Educating clients and team members about these issues is also crucial.
The healthy materials design process
1. Educate: Gather necessary information to make informed decisions, prioritize the most impactful issues, and educate clients and team members.
2. Set Goals: Establish measurable project goals and incorporate relevant standards, certifications, and frameworks.
3. Pre-Search: Focus your product search on options likely to meet specific criteria and rule out less healthy products. 4. Search: Utilize tools that will indicate if your material meets the criteria, and search for tools that can be used. ingredient disclosures such as Declare, and Health Product Declarations (HPDs) can help guide and informbuilders and designers on making health-focused choices by encouraging transparency from manufacturers. The International Living Future Institute (ILFI) has a definitive and highly demanding material red list for example while health-oriented design practice Perkins & Will has its own precautionary list that provides information on unhealthy chemicals and materials they believe should be avoided. Cradle 2 Cradle (C2C) sustainability certifications for a product or material can provide a resource for healthy materials.
5. Evaluate: Compare products based on sustainability criteria, considering benchmarks and third-party
6. Specify and Verify: Before things get lost in translation be sure to share not only with your team but with the builders and contractors if the design selections impact their participation. If so, prepare also in any case scenario the backup options or criteria for substitutions if necessary.
7. Occupation and Maintenance: Ensure that the health goals set during design and construction are maintained throughout the building's occupancy. Educate maintenance staff and occupants on building health.
As Architects and Interior Designers, our role extends beyond the design and construction phases. We must ensure that the commitment to creating healthier and more sustainable spaces endures throughout a building's lifetime. This involves providing resources for maintenance staff and occupants and periodically educating them on maintaining a healthy environment.
Monserrat Menendez, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Drawing on years of professional expertise in interior design, Ms. Menendez presently excels as the founder and president of Senom Design. Through Senom, she aims to make projects not only beautiful, but sustainable, healthy, and approachable. Similarly, she specializes in turnkey rentals and property staging, custom product design, pre-construction, and more working with Iconic Modern Home in the Hamptons, New York City and Connecticut.