“When you can’t breathe nothing else matters” was the campaign slogan of The American Lung Association in the mid 90’s. It came as a postcard with a photo of a cute little boy with an oxygen tube draped across his tiny face. It resonated with me as I sorted through the remaining pile of mail. As an asthma sufferer myself, I knew all too well the helpless feeling of shortness of breath and panic....how frightening it must be for a young child I thought.
Not only did I suffer with this chronic disease, I had recently lost my dad to lung cancer at the young age of 59. Shortly after that my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. I am happy to say that she is a survivor at age 88. I speculated about the connection between toxic materials and cancer.
My career in interior design was only beginning and I had embarked on reading and research on the topic of effects of toxic materials on health, particularly my asthma and folks with MCS (multiple chemical sensitivity). Wall to wall carpeting, oil based paints and finishes, formaldehyde laden particleboard were all suspect.
How could I make a difference as a designer who specified products for my clients’ homes, their habitat, refuge and sanctuary?
I began to read everything I could on the topic of healthy home design and sought manufacturers that were dedicated to less toxic products such as low VOC (volatile organic compound) paint, low emitting carpet and solid wood furniture. I aligned myself with industry professionals that held the same mission statement of creating healthy environments and focused on good indoor environmental quality for both residential and commercial customers.
It soon became clear that we were on the verge of an environmental revolution between indoor air quality, energy efficiency and environmental design.
The first LEED (Leadership in Energy Efficiency and Environmental Design) certified buildings were emerging and soon the addition of the LEED for Homes program and others that addressed criteria like site design, water conservation, energy efficiency and materials both low emitting and composed of recycled content were introduced. By Y2K the internet created a vast platform for green building resources. From pavers to roofing, sustainable building materials resources were on the rise along with rating systems and third party tested certifications to justify their claims. Waste management and reducing landfills, a key component of the movement resulted in tighter restrictions in toxic waste dumping and raised the bar for LEED certification.
Environmental groups emerged and books like “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson gained popularity in building awareness around toxins in our environment and the detriment to humans and animal habitats. Natural resource protection and human health awareness have never been more emphasized in our society as they are currently.
It is all intertwined with the global environment and prevention of climate change a controversial topic in this years presidential election. Whatever our stand is on the topic we all should be concerned with the very basic principles of waste reduction and toxins in our environment.
So as we focus on solutions and proaction let’s think about what we can do to in our everyday lives as consumers. Whether we are renovating a home or building a new one our choices will indeed make a difference for the future of our planet.
Here are some things you can do:
- Reuse vs buying new whenever possible
- When buying new items choose quality and durability for longer lifetime utility
- Don’t buy into the “planned obsolescence” of our consumer goods
- Purchase used items and repurpose as needed
- Take advantage of toxic waste days in your town to recycle oil based paint, fluorescent lamps containing mercury and hazardous chemicals and cleaners
- Look for viable third party labels on household products and building supplies
- Donate used items to charity instead of throwing in a landfill...”one man’s trash another man’s treasure”
We can do this! The choice is yours....waste less, live healthier.
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