Sustainability at Holst Headquarters

Sustainability at Holst Headquarters

At Holst, we recognize that architects are stewards of the environment, and we advocate for resilient, healthy design choices in all of our projects. This attitude was especially valuable when it came to designing our new office headquarters. As both our daily working environment and a space for client and consultant meetings, we knew that our new space needed to reflect our commitment to sustainable design. Our Sustainability Director, Cory Hawbecker, led the green design process along with the design team, identifying sustainable and healthy choices for our new space.

The sustainability goals for this project centered on improving interior air quality, which has been shown to improve health and performance. With limited control of a shared HVAC system and few operable windows, our team focused on design decisions that would minimize the presence of interior air pollutants in the new office. After comparing materials research from leading experts - including the Environmental Protection Agency, National Institute of Health, Living Building Challenge, and Green Science Policy Institute - we identified five materials to “red-list” from our new office: added formaldehyde, halogenated flame retardants, perfluorinated compounds, phthalates, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in wet-applied products. These materials are common in interior products and, in addition to being harmful to the environment, they pose significant risk to human health during use.

Formaldehyde is a chemical used in some adhesives and is a respiratory irritant. At low levels, it can trigger asthma and disrupt sleep and cognitive function, and long term exposure is linked to multiple cancers. As an adhesive component, it offgasses into interior air and is inhaled, and can also be absorbed through the skin with physical contact. It is commonly found in wood products, fibrous insulation, acoustic ceiling tiles, and furniture. Our team was able to specify products with No Added Formaldehyde (NAF) in wood products, and worked with product reps to identify NAF furniture.

Halogenated Flame Retardants (HFRs) are a broad group of chemicals that are used to inhibit the ignition of building products. When absorbed into the body, they break down into dioxins, a powerful known carcinogen that can also cause a wide range of negative health outcomes in humans. They are commonly applied as a spray to flammable fabrics and foams, and as a topical product, enter the environment through physical contact and offgassing. When choosing furniture for the office, we worked closely with a representative from Pacific WRO to specify furniture without HFRs.

Perfluorinated Compounds are a group of chemicals used to make upholstery and carpets wrinkle, stain, or water resistant. They have been identified as endocrine and immune system disruptors and may cause damage to liver and pancreatic function. Our team specified patcraft EcoWorx carpet, which does not use perfluorinated compounds, comes in tiles for easy cleaning or replacement, and in a color that hides stains and dirt.

Phthalates are a group of chemicals that soften vinyl plastics used in numerous products including flooring, upholstery, and countertop materials. They have been identified as a Chemical of Concern by the EPA and have proven negative health effects, particularly in childhood development. While most people are exposed to phthalates through contaminated food, they are also transmissible through physical contact and inhalation of contaminated dust. Throughout the office, we used a minimal material palate, helping us eliminate the use of products that might contain phthalates.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are a group of chemicals with many short- and long-term negative health effects that offgass from numerous interior finishes and household products. They significantly impair interior air quality and cause negative health effects including headaches, nausea, and fatigue. Similar to formaldehyde, we were easily able to specify low- or no-VOC products.

In committing to a sustainable and healthy office environment, our team learned a lot about material health and sustainability in interior design. Developing our in-house red list and specifying safer products required an enormous amount of research. In some instances, information on the material health of a product was easily found through third-party certifications and declarations. The International Living Future Institute’s DECLARE program was particularly helpful, as a product’s DECLARE label includes information on where a product is made, what that product is made of, and where it goes at the end of its life cycle. In other cases, understanding the material health required digging into a product’s manufacturing handbook and researching international requirements for the use of hazardous materials. The most difficult products to specify were lighting fixtures, which are assembled with components that do not always disclose material makeup. There are material health requirements for electrical products in the European Union, the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (ROHS), but it can be difficult to determine whether a fixture is compliant.

Ultimately, we found that while there is growing information about the efficiency and environmental impact of a product, there is less transparency about the material makeup of products and their effect on human health. We are encouraged by programs like DECLARE and hope that more manufacturing companies commit to minimizing or eliminating the use of hazardous materials in their products. At Holst, we will continue to advocate for sustainable and healthy design and are proud that our new office reflects this commitment.

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