Using Sustainable Material and Zero VOC Materials in Medical Spaces

In the words of Mr. Lloyd Dean, CEO of Catholic Healthcare West 2000, at the Setting Healthcare’s Environmental Agenda Conference, “A consistent ethic means that our healthcare organizations must change practices…we see a clear link between environmental responsibility and our basic mission, which is to provide quality healthcare services to all. There is a direct link between healing the individual and healing this planet. We will not have healthy individuals, healthy families, and healthy communities if we do not have clean air, clean water, and healthy soil.”

Importance of using environment-friendly elements in Medical spaces

It is an undeniable fact that both environmental responsibility and quality healthcare services are essentially linked with each other. Unlike other areas, materials that are used in healthcare spaces, be it either toxic or non-toxic, are greatly associated with the overall clinical outcomes in patients. Hence, it is essential to ensure that materials that are consumed or utilised by the patient community, medical staff and doctors are organic and non-toxic, since they are all equally exposed to the composition of the materials.

Some of the widely-used harmful substances in medical spaces include volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are present in construction materials, paints, flooring and furnishings; and are released into air from particle board, carpets, and other finish materials. VOCs also emerge when tiny dust particles combine with other toxins and carcinogens, resulting in harmful interior surroundings in the medical spaces. VOCs such as formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, naphthalene, and toluene; as well as semi-volatile compounds such as phthalates and halogenated flame retardants, are found to affect both patients and staff – resulting in several effects ranging from delayed recovery for patients or sickness and ill-health among staff.

Environment-friendly Interior Design – Use of Sustainable and Zero-VOC materials

The concept of environment-friendly interior design, which is a comprehensive approach towards the creation of healthier medical spaces, has emerged from need to ensure that healing spaces comprise more natural and environment-friendly elements. Some of the most common environment-friendly designs that could be implemented in healthcare settings are described below:

  • Reducing the use of PVC (polyvinyl chloride) plastic, which is commonly used in several building materials – flooring, carpeting, wall coverings, and pipes. This can be achieved by opting for PVC-free alternatives such as rubber. Rubber flooring provides better stain resistance and eliminates the need for high maintenance – waxing and stripping; and also helps prevent patients and staff from slipping, thereby resulting in fewer injuries.
  • Ensure effective conservation of energy by installing exterior shades and reflective metal roofs and passive solar technology trims, which help reduce cooling demand in summers and heating demand in winters respectively.
  • Using Low- or Zero-VOC materials. For example, environment-friendly paints, stains, finishes, adhesives and sealants, containing lower levels of these contaminants, can be used to prevent the emission of carcinogens into the hospital atmosphere.
  • Using porous pavement to cover the parking lot, which acts as a natural filter during heavy rains, and helps remove chemical contaminants before the water seeps into the ground. This technique was implemented at the Kaiser Modesto Medical Center in California.
  • Using sustainable materials with highly recycled during hospital redesign and reorganisation. For example, re-usable modular casework and workstations, instead of traditional built-in solutions, should be preferred because they are largely recyclable and help prevent VOC emissions during frequent design modifications and reconstruction processes.
  • Ensuring that essential elements such as healing gardens, natural lighting and adequate sunlight are present in the medical spaces, to improve indoor air quality and save electricity.

An environment-friendly healthcare system also considers the need to ensure healthy air, water and food – all that is consumed by the patient community, in order to create a positive healing interior. In this regard, ‘Healthcare Interior Design’ has become a critical resource to help ensure environmental responsibility in healthcare spaces.

Reference: Health Design, Herman Miller

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