Jean Hansen is on a mission to green healthcare interiors. “Years ago, I started realizing that the products we specify have chemicals of concern in them that could affect our health,” she says. “I began asking manufacturers what goes into their products and then looking for safer products.”

As a sustainable interiors manager at HDR Architecture, she’s been involved with the Healthier Hospital Initiative (HHI), a  three-year initiative to measure the environmental and financial impact of a series of environmental interventions. During the upcoming IIDA Education Day on April 25, she’ll participate in the webinar “Healthier Interiors with the Healthier Hospitals Initiative (HHI) – Leading Communities to a Healthier Future.” Here, Hansen gives us a preview of a few topics from her presentation:

HCD Magazine: Give us an update on the Healthier Hospital Initiative (HHI), which launched in April 2012.

Jean Hansen: This is a three-year project and to date we have 600 hospitals engaged, with an ultimate goal to have 2000. There are still a lot of healthcare organizations that haven’t gone too far with adopting environmental measures in their facilities. One of the things the initiative has done is introduce a series of challenges for participants. This gives them baby steps to learning how to green their facility and to understand what some of the issues are and how to get engaged. That can lead to taking bigger steps down the road or adopting additional challenges.

One of those is the Safer Chemical Challenge. Tell us more.

Hansen: While there are many chemicals of concern out there, this specific initiative focuses on only four. We did this so that we can highlight chemicals of concern but not overwhelm participants. So we’re starting with halogenated flame retardants, formaldehyde, perfluorinated compounds and PVC.  The challenge is for facilities to have 25 percent of their furniture be free of these chemicals.

How are some of these chemicals used in furniture?

Hansen: For example, halogenated flame retardants are supposed to slow down fire if a piece of furniture catches on fire, but the problem is a lot of these are toxic and hazardous to our health. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen and yet it’s used in the treatment in fabrics, as well as as part of the binder/adhesive that holds particles together like in particle board. PFCs are used for stain treatments, but they’re also a health issue.

How easy it is to find furniture alternatives?

Hansen: First of all, it depends on what type of furniture and medical furnishings you need to purchase. If it’s an administrative/office setting, the manufacturers and distributors of office furniture are fairly on board with this, especially the larger ones. But if you have a dialysis area, for instance, and you need patient chairs, the furniture manufactures that are making those types of items are not as far along. That’s why we’ve kept the challenge at 25 percent at this point–so health care organizations can achieve success and get excited about moving on to other challenges. We don’t want to make it so hard that it’s not going to be worth their time.

Without giving away your entire webinar, what’s one tip you have for designers and owners to find safer materials for their interiors?

Hansen: Look for transparency in products. During the webinar, I’ll give examples of how I research products and collect data. I want us to be better informed so that we can make more educated decisions. In addition, we’ll be forcing the manufacturers and distributors of products to be better informed and then hopefully they’ll also put pressure on their suppliers. Then we’ll see products improve over time in terms of being healthier for us. There’s incredible strength in numbers, so we can collectively leverage the marketplace a lot better if more people understand the opportunities.

IIDA Education Day  and the “Healthier Interiors with the Healthier Hospitals Initiative (HHI) – Leading Communities to a Healthier Future” webinar will be held on April 25.