No matter where we live or work – each of us deserves to be in a space that enhances rather than detracts from our wellbeing.
Over just one year, many of us can spend up to 1920 hours sitting at the same desk, in the same building. That’s a long time to be surrounded by the same furnishings and breathing the same air.
Architects and designers may spend a great deal of time and energy creating stylish and functional spaces, but how much thought goes into how healthy those fittings might be?
Many of us might not think to ask whether our office carpet might be contributing to poor indoor air quality, or if there are carcinogens lurking in the foam of an office lounge. But decisions made about interior furnishings can have an impact on the health of employees.
In addition to this, when you arrive on Monday morning to find a nice clean workspace, what’s been used to freshen the place up? Cleaning and janitorial staff are the unsung heroes of the office world (and of every other building too), moving in when the other workers are gone to wipe over the desks and empty out the bins. We assume they do a thorough job, but we usually don’t know what cleaning products are used to clean the surfaces we touch every day.
Most indoor air pollution comes from interior sources and can include pollutants from adhesives, upholstered furniture, flooring, paints and cleaning products. Each of these can emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as formaldehyde or potentially carcinogenic substances, which can trigger allergies, asthma, headaches, respiratory irritation and other symptoms as they readily vaporise into the surrounding air.
Paints are one of the worst offenders when it comes to VOC emissions, particularly solvent-based paints. As a fresh coat dries, it can cause a dramatic rise in indoor VOC levels immediately following its application and can continue seeping out of the walls for several years.
Cleaning products and flooring materials can also give off VOCs, which is why switching to greener products is so beneficial. Many conventional cleaning products can also contain a plethora of chemicals which bear Risk Phrases, which are labels used to describe the properties a substance may have, such as being a carcinogen or teratogen (harmful to a developing foetus).
Substances used in furniture manufacturing can have a range of potential adverse health effects when people are exposed to them in the final product. For example, the compound 1,3-butadiene; which may be used in the production of latex, foam or plastics; has been classified as a probable human carcinogen. In the case of soft furnishings and textiles, it’s important to ensure that they do not contain hazardous materials such as azo dyes, which can pose a significant risk to human health.
And don’t forget adhesives. Adhesives, glues, sealants and fillers can be used for a wide range of different surfaces and applications in a single space, ranging from glues in the furniture to the sealants used to waterproof a surface.
The fact that adhesives are so ubiquitous means that they end up contributing far more than we might expect to potential indoor air quality problems in a building. Formaldehyde, a known human carcinogen, is a particularly common VOC found in adhesives and resins, despite its toxicity to humans.
Since the International Well Building Institute launched its WELL v2 standard, we’re seeing manufacturers raise the bar and more commercial buildings are wanting to provide healthier spaces.
“What we’re seeing is a real drive in consideration of and uptake of wellbeing and the understanding of materials in the commercial space”, says GECA’s CEO officer Kate Harris.
The trend is also evident in consumers, who are generating a rising number of inquiries for GECA certified products.
“It shows people are becoming more aware and starting to think about things before they buy,” Harris says.
Ecolabelling programs, such as GECA’s, play an important role in demonstrating that products are safe to use. When a product has been GECA certified you can be sure that the product has been assessed to meet environmental, human health and ethical impact criteria.
Products certified under GECA’s standards for Adhesives, Fillers and Sealants, Carpets, Cleaning Products, Floor Coverings, Furniture and Fittings, Panel Boards and, Paints and Coatings also contribute towards achieving credit points for projects being certified under the Green Building Council of Australia’s Green Star Performance tool. Our Cleaning Products standard also contributes to meeting WELL features under the WELL Building Certification.
*Kendall Benton-Collins is digital marketing office at GECA
This article first appeared in the May/June issue of INCLEAN magazine.
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