One of the hottest topics in the field of healthcare design is understanding the sustainable requirements and relevant information available for specifying materials. With the advent of LEED v4, which includes LEED for Healthcare, and the update of Green Globes—New Construction and Green Globes—Continual Improvement for Existing Buildings (CIEB) for Healthcare, there are now extra demands placed on healthcare interior designers as they evaluate product for hospitals, outpatient and residential care facilities.
Taking a healthcare-oriented perspective on sustainability can lead to an extremely complex set of challenges, because product evaluations must take into consideration both environmental and potential human health impacts. Factors such as service life, infection control, maintenance efficiency are also critical to performance. Here is some guidance for navigating the maze of sustainable information available and advice on what to request from manufacturers.
Environmental Product Declarations
In an effort to provide transparency regarding product contents, Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) have been deemed an appropriate vehicle for identifying the ingredients (feedstocks) used to manufacture a product. A Type-III EPD is based upon ISO standards that utilize a life-cycle approach for evaluation. This means that potential impacts to the environment are considered for each phase in a product’s life, including sourcing/extraction, manufacturing, installation, use and end-of-life.
There are two classifications of Type III EPDs: industry wide EPDs, which are generic to a product type, and Product Specific Declarations, which are manufacturer-specific for a family of products. The most recent EPDs that I’ve reviewed are available from the Resilient Floor Covering Institute (RFCI), and include third-party industry wide EPDs completed for various synthetic rubber and vinyl products. The development process spanned more than a year and included 12 resilient flooring manufacturers. These EPDs are available from UL Environment and RFCI.
Another way to compare and evaluate products for sustainable specification is the utilization of third-party certified multiple-attribute standards. Multiple-attribute standards are based upon a consensus process (usually ANSI) that includes all product-specific stakeholders. Criteria for product evaluation are agreed upon through the consensus process, and include information on feedstocks and manufacturing processes.
Examples of multi-attribute standards include NSF International sustainability assessment standards, UL Environment sustainability certifications and sustainable forestry certifications, such as NSF/ANSI 140 for Carpet and the ANSI/BIFMA e3 Furniture Sustainability Standard.
The third way to evaluate products is to utilize third-party certified Life-Cycle Assessments (LCAs) of products. Some manufacturers complete third-party LCAs that demonstrate the complete life-cycle of their product. These LCAs can be completed by a manufacturer and third-party certifier, or the LCA can be completed in its entirety by a third-party. This option allows a design professional to compare products from the same manufacturer based upon their environmental footprints.
Health Product Declarations
The latest development in understanding the impact of products on human health is the inclusion of Health Product Declarations (HPDs) in LEED v4. HPDs are intended to provide transparency in regard to product ingredients to help designers ensure a building is safe for both workers and occupants. Designers using HPDs can verify if any of the ingredients in a product are hazardous or not, although it has also unfortunately given rise to a “red list” approach to evaluating product hazards. This can be misleading to the design community.
HPDs treat ingredients as pure chemicals rather than part of a formulation that is bound into a product, creating a perception that products and their ingredients are either “good or bad.” Most chemical lists developed by the EPA and other agencies in the United States and abroad evaluate risks based upon thresholds (the amount of a substance or chemical utilized), and provide labeling and handling instructions as a result of a certain threshold. The evaluation of products based upon a listing of ingredients without understanding the formulations and risk thresholds leads to a “de-selection” approach to product selection, which is not necessarily the most sustainable or safest choice.