Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are chemicals widely used as ingredients in products such as paint, building materials and furnishings, office equipment and cleaning supplies. Elevated levels of VOCs have been linked to eye and respiratory irritation, headaches, fatigue and other symptoms associated with sick building syndrome.
When our company, ISC International, began to plan an office redesign, we made the reduction of VOCs a priority. At the time, some low- and no-VOC materials were just coming onto the market. But today, with a growing emphasis on indoor air quality and environmentally-friendly business practices, the low-VOC market is going mainstream. Manufacturers are responding to consumer demand, making low-VOC materials more accessible than ever.
Low-VOC paint: EPA standards for low-VOC paints took effect in 1999 and today, more than a decade later, durable low-VOC and zero-VOC paints and finishes are widely available to both professional designers and do-it-yourselfers. When talking with a designer or shopping for paint, ask for it. In our redesign, we used Sherwin-Williams and Benjamin Moore low- and no-VOC products.
Flooring: Environmentally-friendly flooring materials and adhesives help to minimize indoor air pollution. Today, formaldehyde-free bamboo, cork and hardwood can all be laid without the use of solvent-based adhesives. In our office redesign, we used porcelain tile and natural fiber, wool-based Karastan carpet which emits little to no VOCs yet is still durable and strong. To see a full listing of eco-friendly options, the Carpet and Rug Institute’s Green Label and Green Label Plus certification program rates low-VOC carpets.
Furnishings: Many furniture manufacturers today are minimizing the VOCs used in paints, adhesives, finishes and pressed wood products. As part of our redesign, we purchased Knoll office chairs that are GREENGUARD certified. GREENGUARD is one of several independent organizations that now certifies office furnishings that meet environmental criteria. We also incorporated faux leather couches and chairs into our design; they contain no tanning compounds yet look and feel as luxurious as the real thing.
By incorporating all of these elements into our company’s office redesign, we achieved two key objectives. First, when the project was complete, our employees were able to move into their new surroundings without experiencing any of the irritation, headaches or nausea that might have accompanied a traditional remodel. And secondly, we were able to build a healthy workplace without sacrificing aesthetics. High quality, low- and no-VOC products are becoming increasingly available, making it easier than ever for designers and building owners to reduce indoor air pollution and satisfy “green” corporate responsibility objectives in style.
David R. Meister is president of ISC International Ltd, a privately-held company that provides global messaging services such as OCR fax services, and text message broadcasting services to businesses around the world including five of the top 10 businesses in the Fortune 500.