Healthier Living Spaces: The Imperative of Healthy Materials in Design

Micène Fontaine, May 23, 2023

Do you know what healthy materials are and why they are important in design? 

Every architect and interior designer likely has a tale to share about that moment of revelation when they realized their potential to craft not only beautiful spaces but healthier living environments too. Maybe it was while standing amid an exquisitely designed project where the space was visually breathtaking, but the newly installed carpets were off-gassing harmful VOCs. It’s not hard to realize that the materials specified in projects can significantly influence people's health.

Research from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reveals that Americans spend around 90% of their time indoors, where pollutant levels are often two to five times higher than outdoors. A significant contributor to indoor air pollution comes from building materials emitting harmful chemicals such as endocrine disruptors and neurotoxins. 

For Architect and Sustainable Design Leader Laurel Christensen, “When I started to learn about this, I realized there are so many health impacts that are baked into a lot of the materials that we specify that we as designers really aren’t educated about." 

As designers and architects, you can minimize these health risks through the specification of healthier materials. Here are three actionable steps to start this journey:

  1. Educate Yourself: Knowledge is power. Dive deep into learning about the impact of various materials on indoor air quality. Websites like Mindful MATERIALS and their data partner the Health Product Declaration Collaborative offer comprehensive databases to kickstart your research.
  2. Evaluate Your Suppliers: Examine your current materials suppliers. Do they prioritize health and sustainability in their production methods? If not, it may be time to seek out those who do.
  3. Be Transparent with Clients: Communicate your healthier material choices to clients. Your efforts to create safer, healthy buildings and spaces can become a key differentiator in your market.
HemphouseHemp bricks
Top: Image of a house made with hemp, Bottom: Image of hemp concrete blocks.

Architects and interior designers have incredible power to shape people's lives and experiences through the materials you use to create spaces. By specifying healthy materials, you can positively impact your clients' lives. It's time to craft spaces that are not just aesthetically pleasing but promote well-being too.

Read the entire "Expert Interview (with) Laurel Christensen, AIA, WELL AP" on from earlier this year. For a deeper dive, check out the "Specifying Healthy Materials: What it means & how to find them" session in our Change by Design series.

Here's to healthy materials - by design.

:Change by DesignFood for Thought and Action