The built environment accounts for over two-thirds of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. In the majority of the places we live, work and play, research has realized that indoor air quality is more polluted than the outdoors, even in the largest industrialized metropolitan areas. This is cause for concern because humans spend over 90% of our time indoors.
The case for healthy and sustainable materials in this time of turbulent climate change is ubiquitous. Sustainable materials help reduce carbon emissions and nurture the overall health of the planet. Harmoniously, healthy materials produce meaningful eudemonia to the inhabitants of the space.
These types of holistic spaces are vital, fundamental to the health and equity of humans and to the health of the planet. There’s also an intrinsic and perhaps even a philosophical need for these materials in our dwellings. In the future, perhaps these materials should become the baseline for all building projects.
A Look at Organizations
There are many admirable organizations that support healthy and sustainable design philosophies, included and not limited to:
- Environmental Design Research Association (ASDA)
- International Interior Design Association (IIDA)
American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), founded in 1975, champions that “design impacts lives” and uses evidence-based design and research to demonstrate how.
USGBC began its LEED program mission in 1993. Twenty-six years later, LEED is the most widely used green building rating system in the world. Available for virtually all building, community and home project types, LEED provides a framework to create healthy, highly efficient and cost-saving green buildings.
The International Living Future Institute (ILFI), founded in 2009, defines its mission to make communities socially just, culturally rich and ecologically restorative. The ILFI’s Living Product Challenge is a philosophy first, advocacy tool and product certification program that defines the most advanced measures of sustainability in product manufacturing today. The Challenge is comprised of seven performance categories called Petals:
- Health and happiness
Launched in 2014 after years of extensive research and development across disciplines, the International Well Building Institute (IWBI) strives to revolutionize the way people think about buildings. It explores how design, operations and behaviors within the places where we live, work, learn and play can be optimized to advance human-health and wellbeing. IWBI offers the WELL certification program focused on seven guiding concepts:
The mission for viable buildings starts with the people, processes and products that comprise them.
The Product: A Cascade for Sustainability
Wall finish and flooring selections are fundamental on the six planes of interior selections. Paint color is appointed perfectly with coatings like Sherwin-Williams Harmony, which was a green industry-first in 2001. Harmony meets the most stringent VOC regulations and has achieved GREENGUARD Gold Certification satisfying LEED v4 v4.1 criteria. Its additional qualities of odor-eliminating and formaldehyde-reducing technologies help improve indoor air quality by reducing VOCs from possible sources such as cabinets, carpets and fabrics.
Regarding color for spaces of vitality and retreat alike, Emily Kantz, interior designer at the Sherwin-Williams Company, recommends the following palettes:
“The Electric Exploration palette features the striking Rivulet, Rejuvenate and Izmir Purple. These colors bring energy and life into the space. The Off the Grid palette is a breath of fresh air with the nature inspired colors of Almond Roca, Copper Mountain and Cascades, bringing the earthy elements of the great outdoors inside to give us a sense of health and well-being.”
Mohawk Group has a suite of Living Product Challenge Petal-certified flooring including:
- Lichen carpet plank
- Nutopia carpet plank
- Nutopia Matrix carpet Plank
- Sunweave broadloom/area rug
- Pivot Point enhanced resilient tile
Representative of the Living Product Challenge, Sunweave’s Petal Certification aims to leave a handprint rather than a footprint. Mohawk Group engaged in a special handprinting partnership with Groundswell to install 10 SmartFlower solar systems in underserved communities and at educational institutions with STEM programs across the U.S.
He considers his own place in the design industry as CSO not as a career pinnacle, but instead part of a greater journey that began in the 1990s at the University of Texas - Houston. He served as the Chairman of the USGBC and worked alongside Ray Anderson at Interface before joining Mohawk Group three years ago.
At Mohawk, Bandy also sees himself as the connector – in his case, connecting the dots between the internal and external product creation, between the industry and the community. He envisions the product as a cascade for sustainability, utilizing sustainable practices throughout manufacturing, and leaving a lasting, positive social impact on the communities where Mohawk plants are located.
Striving for a circular economy, designers have reimagined, repurposed and reused what was supposed to be waste. A category of new and innovative composites from plastics and other discarded materials has been invented. Foresso is such a composite: a sheet material composed of timber and wood waste from sawmills.
Conor Taylor, creative director at Foresso, says, “We consider ourselves very lucky to get to work with timber every day, the richness of wood adds warmth to interiors and can make any space more welcoming. Nowadays it is hugely important to consider the sustainability of our work so we endeavor to use every part of the tree in Foresso and hope that by doing so we can encourage others to make the most of this incredible material.”
Tom van Soest and Ward Massa founded StoneCycling in the Netherlands in 2013, their shared vision that the need for reimagined waste products was also the opportunity. They created a building material whose main input is the waste output from construction sites, which massively pollute the earth. Their product, WasteBasedBricks, which as an early prototype was conceived in a homemade industrial blender, has evolved - and their circular and sustainable products are being used across Europe and the U.S.
Also a product of the Netherlands, the tulip may be the single most iconic image from the region. In fact, 77% of the world’s tulips come from this small country of 12 provinces, comprising for roughly two billion tulips. “Strangely, the most beautiful part of the flower, the head, has no economic value except being a coveted photo object of many a tourist,” says Tjeerd Veenhoven of Studio Tjeerd Veenhoven. By a process of extraction from what would be the waste residual of the dried flower head, pigment is distilled. Color is a wonder in this artisanal process, and applications range from uses in finger paint to biological plastics.
Mother Nature Engineered
In the quest to save Mother Nature, nature itself is investigated and replicated. Bolt Threads developed Microsilk after studying the silk spun by spiders and produced their own protein. Whereas 60% of fabric fibers are petroleum based, Microsilk is generated mostly of sugar. Bolt Threads has partnered with iconic brands such Patagonia and Stella McCartney. The company currently doesn’t have any specific plans for the interior design material industry, though the brand is excited about what the future holds and will continue to introduce new materials for a more sustainable world.
Renee Hytry Derrington, vice president and global design lead at Formica Corporation, reports of the company that the past several years, Formica has introduced a suite of sustainability décor-based products including Reclaimed Denim Fiber and Paper Terrazzo patterns. Reclaimed Denim Fiber is real reclaimed denim fiber made from post-production waste collected at cloth production mills, embedded in paper. No one sheet is alike due to the natural papermaking process, which will be seen as a slight linear direction to the laminate sheet. Paper Terrazzo utilizes small fragments of post-production solid color paper that would otherwise have gone to waste. These paper chips are re-used to create a new paper sheet that is 30 percent reclaimed material. This paper technique uses small-batch craft production so that each sheet is unique and natural.
Bio-based plastics are forecasted to be a $35B business by 2022. Corn starch, sugar, cooking oil and even waste avocado stones are re-engineered for use in this material category. Algae and fungi-created materials will continue to bloom in use and scale. And designers continue seeking solutions reimaging the ultimate waste product – carbon – itself.
“In the future, healthy and sustainability materials will be considered the standard and not called out as special or unique. This will be the result of product designers reusing and reducing waste, considering the human interface and thinking about the environment during the design process,” predicts Hytry Derrington.