Green building, particularly in terms of interior design, is often characterised only by its environmental components. However, with research indicating the benefits – or detriments – associated with interior spaces and our health, we now understand that environmentally responsible products go far beyond the environmental.
At the Property Council’s Sustainable Urban Development conference, acclaimed architect and environmentalist Joost Bakker made a startling observation that may seem contrary to what the public and industry professionals alike would like to believe, suggesting that the air that we breathe both day and night while indoors is dirtier and more toxic than the air outside.
According to John Culina and Miranda Baker of ecolour paint, Bakker’s statement holds true.
“Inside air is more toxic than out,” says Baker. “The thing is, we live in such a toxic world there’s a sort of build up. This only adds to that build up, and all of that has really devastating effects on the body.”
That new car smell, the crisp smell of freshly painted walls, or the scent of newly cleaned carpets are all illusions of cleanliness, masking astonishing levels of toxicity. In fact, according to Culina, a brand new ‘healthy’ home will emit toxicity levels of 4,000 parts per cubic metre for up to eight months after the building’s completion date.
When considering that a toxicity level of 60 parts per cubic metre increases a child’s chance of developing asthma fourfold, this is an alarming reality. According to Culina, this is especially relevant when considering paint choice in a home, with Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) emitted from paint making up 60 per cent of an interior space’s toxicity levels.
“This is the kind of stuff we’re breathing in. Is it a gas chamber? Absolutely,” says Culina.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) further illuminates this point. Although deeming ‘safe’ interior toxicity levels at 500 parts per cubic metre, the EPA has specified that its own office buildings are to be far less toxic than this, at 200 parts per cubic metre.
It is clear that current ‘safe’ standards are not low enough, and certainly not for Australia’s first and only zero VOC paint manufacturer ecolour. According to both Baker and Culina, with statistical evidence in hand and the overwhelming evidence from the World Health Organization that certain ingredients in conventional interior products are ‘toxic and carcinogenic to human beings’, it is simply no longer acceptable for the design industry to enable the development of poisonous spaces.
Furthermore, according to Culina, reducing indoor toxicity levels is easy. Not only are there zero VOC paints readily available, they are also price competitive, and market standard equivalent in relation to colour tints.
The manufacture process involves used engine oil that is otherwise difficult to dispose of. The used oil is turned into an emulsion, replacing the original drying agents and other VOC components of conventional paint, creating a recycled, carbon neutral VOC-free product.
With mounting evidence suggesting high toxicity levels and the continual development of spaces with drastically low Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ), Baker says brand loyalty and sticking to what we know leads to designers continuing to build toxic spaces.
That is the reason behind Australia’s very sluggish response to green building in the first place, and could in fact, stand as the catalyst for a continual development of toxic interior spaces.
For those pushing considered IEQ, an elimination of VOCs is about creating a new standard and quality level. Green building no longer only means environmentalism. It has grown to mean value, increased quality of living standards and the very best of modern industry practices.
That is something that simply cannot be ignored in order to maintain comfortable industry norms.