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Sustainable Product Guide: Sourcing Healthy Interior Materials

By Kathryn Benson | Sustainable Living, Urban Design

Whether as designers or design aficionados, by this point we are all familiar with the LEED certification standards which tell us how sustainable buildings are, based on a specific set of criteria. And when designing a “green” project, whether the end goal is to obtain some level of certification or not, there’s much leg work to be done in order to source eco-friendly, healthy interior materials, learn how they are manufactured, and understand exactly what their environmental impact is. With so much green-washing in the marketplace due to the recent popularity of sustainability, this can be a time consuming task, to say the least. And often times it seems that residential products are either overlooked by sustainable product developers, or are not as well marketed as their commercial counterparts, which makes it challenging for the public to “green” our own homes.

Green Product Certifications

However, many companies are striving to be more transparent and make information regarding their sustainable practices more readily available . Some even go as far as having their products certified by a third party, much like the LEED program for buildings. UL (Underwriters Laboratories) has been providing safety analysis since 1894 and now provide product certification based on environmental impact, indoor air quality, etc. UL has an online database of certified products, which you can filter by LEED credit, which is primarily useful if you are working on a green construction project.

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Cradle 2 Cradle Certified Product Highlights. Images via MotionGarden | Bella-Dura | Eco | Xorel | Anso

Measuring Product Sustainability

Yet finding sustainable materials for residential applications, especially smaller-scale projects, remains challenging if you don’t have a showroom in your area that promotes eco-friendly products, until recently. One organization has emerged that helps give definition to the standards by which we measure sustainability in a way that’s straight forward and easy for the public to understand. Their database of certified products also includes residential materials, textiles, fashion, and health and beauty products, as well as commercial building materials, making it useful for anyone, whether remodeling or not. It’s called the Cradle To Cradle Products Innovation Institute. Similar to the LEED rating system, Cradle To Cradle gives products a rating based on five categories:

  1. Material Health
  2. Material Reutilization
  3. Renewable Energy and Carbon Management
  4. Water Stewardship
  5. Social Fairness

More information on the certification process is available here.

While the number of products that have currently obtained certification is still somewhat limited, the listings on their website provide a good jumping off point for sourcing sustainable materials as well as beginning a dialogue about what qualifies a product as truly “sustainable”. I compiled a few favorites from the interior-related categories that are not only eco-friendly, but are also beautiful products that I would feel confident specifying for a client. And, all of the products below can be used in residential settings.

Feature Image: Eco-friendly loft in Tribeca with healthy interior materials. Image via Inhabitat.

About The Author

Kathryn Benson is a Seattle-based designer and the creator of SPACE PLACE STYLE. With a background in the arts and a penchant for travel, she derives inspiration from the colors and textures of the food, fashion, interior spaces, cities and landscapes of our global community. Kathryn has a deep passion for both the built and natural environments and seeks to find balance between them in her work. When she is not busy designing (or writing about design) you can find Kathryn in the kitchen, exploring Washington wineries and restaurants, in the yoga studio or on a trail. You can learn more about me at my personal blog: www.spaceplacestyle.com.