There’s been a growing discussion in our industry about chemicals of concern and the effects they have on health and the environment. The bad news is these chemicals, such as PVC, BPA, toxic heavy metals, and formaldehyde, are found in common building materials and products, and are associated with being carcinogenic and endocrine disruptors. The good news, says Deborah Fuller, HOK (Dallas), is that many manufacturers are stepping up to the plate and providing more product data so designers have more information at their fingertips when specifying a project.

“As an industry we need to push for more transparency so we can specify the right products,” she says.

Fuller and colleague Jessica Vuocolo, interior designer, HOK (New York) discussed green product specification and procurement during the session, “The Green (R)Evolution: What’s Next For Healthcare” at Neocon. New requirements for disclosure and performance are presenting new challenges for designers and architects—and new tools.

Precautionary lists, Health Product Declarations (HPD), and Environmental Product Declarations are becoming more common, while new regulations and mandates, led by states such as California, are also changing business as usual for manufacturers and suppliers.

That’s giving designers and architects tools to help access more information on the materials content of the products they’re putting into healthcare spaces, which can lead to better informed choices. However, there aren’t always alternatives ready to take their place. For one, demands for durability and maintenance standards are high for healthcare spaces. “There aren’t a lot of materials that can withstand the abuse of healthcare,” Fuller says.

There’s also the issue with market availability, but that’s starting to change as more formaldehyde-, mercury-, and PVC-free products hit the market. “Architects and designers need to specify these products,” Vuocolo says.

As the industry moves forward, the speakers say more projects need to demand disclosure from manufacturers on such issues as energy use, waste generation, air emissions, and content of materials and chemical substrates. More firms are starting to demand this information before they’ll even consider working with a company. They also stress the need for more funding and research to gather conclusive test result data as it relates to human health.

It’s an investment that will be well received. According to SK&A’s Green Sustainability Global Customer Survey for Medical Devices & Diagnostics Global Services LLC, a Johnson & Johnson Company, 54 percent of hospitals rated the impact of “green” on purchasing decisions high for health care products and supplies, specifically, pharmaceuticals and medical devices and diagnostics.