Unless your name is Tarzan, your home is probably not very Green. Granted, Tarzan’s was a particular lifestyle choice, and he spent much of his time swinging from vines. So, a natural flooring of the decomposing jungle kind, and non-existent walls suffused in multi-coloured light by a radiant sun with plenty of open air conditioning worked out well for him. Even for Jane. It was Cheetah, apparently, who always insisted on having a considerable hand in decorating.
Most of us, however, come home to a different story. Except for those of you with your own Cheetahs. We kick off our shoes and shuffle across plush synthetic carpets, settling ourselves into soft, comfy seats in inviting rooms, walls splashed in our favourite designer paint colours. We’ve created ourselves a comfortable, everyday haven. A personal space to relax and recharge – peaceful, sustainable, safe.
Or is it? According to architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart, authors of "Cradle to Cradle, Remaking the Way We Make Things,” (North Point Press, 2002) our homes are anything but peaceful, sustainable and safe.
That thick synthetic carpeting that feels so good underfoot? It abrades and off-gases continually as we live on it, and 97% of all carpeting sold today is made with synthetic materials. Newer carpets and rugs may be made from PET (polyethylene terephthalate) – which is recycled plastics and packaged goods, the most common ingredient being soda containers. McDonough and Braungart call these ‘downcycled’ plastics, which were never intended for this further use. The chemical process to change them requires the same amount of energy, and produces the same amount of waste as creating a completely new carpet. And ultimately, after we’re finished cushioning our toes, all this carpeting is still on its way to the landfill.
Just hold onto your seats — no, on second thought, don’t. There’s an equally disturbing revelation about the fabrics we cozy up against in our favourite easy chairs. Particles of the fabric abrade as we touch them, and we breathe in "mutagenic materials, heavy metals, dangerous chemicals, and dyes that are often labelled hazardous by regulators – except when they are presented and sold to a customer,” say McDonough and Braungart. What did our mothers know years ago when they told us to sit still?
And then there are the paints we use to colour our world. For years after their application, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) are released in low level toxic emissions from paints and finishes. We’re suffering from indoor air pollution in the very refuge we take from all the outdoor air pollution now dulling our skies.
It’s not safe to live in our jungles, urban or otherwise. And what’s needed is a mighty Tarzan yell to rally the chimps for change.
Loreen Graw is a Nanaimo Interior Design Consultant, aware of the growing consumer demand for Green homes. A graduate of Malaspina University-College’s Design school, Graw owns and operates her business, "Eco Green Interiors” with the byline, "Interior design for your own good.”
Growing up in a small town in Northern Alberta, Graw says she’s always had an understanding of healthy, sustainable living and a natural affinity for art and design. It began for her with a love of painting and refinishing old, and what she describes as ‘funky,’ furniture.
"But,” she says, "even though at the time, I wasn’t calling it Green, I knew I wanted to do sustainable design.” And when the time arrived for her to start her own business, everything fell into place with the rising wave of public environmental awareness.
"We’re on a cusp, now,” she says. "That’s what it feels like. People are learning about it (living sustainably) and learning the value, and why. I feel that we’re really close to people falling off that other side, and saying, ‘This is what we have to do. We don’t have a choice.’”
Her consulting work involves home and business renovations, as well as a myriad of smaller individual client projects and home staging. She also works with an architectural draftsperson, co-consulting on new home design and building. But, a considerable amount of her time is spent providing information and education to people on materials and products. She notes that up to now, the main focus of the Green living movement has been the energy efficiency and savings to be had.
"When builders and contractors talk about indoor air quality, they’re still talking about a ‘tight’ home, with proper air circulation to keep it clean. They’re not yet talking about the actual materials used in the home,” she says.
She maintains that Green building materials don’t necessarily cost any more, but it does take time to source the suppliers, as most are still few and far between. She urges consumers to ask about more healthy, sustainable options and their availability locally.
When considering the materials you want to live with in your home, she offers these tips to be aware of:
If something smells like chemicals, then it’s made with chemicals. E.g. that ‘new’ carpet, vinyl, laminate flooring smell, etc.
Plastics in laminates and finishes, and the adhesives used in flooring
Formaldehydes used in cabinetry and in the core of pressed wood products
Check the smell of paints and finishes. Look for low or zero VOC paints.
Green materials you could consider using now include:
Reclaimed wood flooring, sealed with a hardwax-oil finish
Concrete, wood and granite countertops
Natural rock, stone and ceramic tile flooring
Wool carpeting and rugs
Ultimately, Graw emphasizes, it’s up to the consumer to ask questions and be informed about the products available. And in "Cradle to Cradle,” McDonough and Braungart suggest that consumers do even more, by pushing for new ways of perceiving and creating those products. Their emphasis is that by changing the one-way flow of human industry and manufacturing, from ‘cradle-to-grave,’ we stop thinking only about being ‘less bad’ in the current Reduce, Reuse, Recycle model, and start figuring out how to make ‘good’ in the first place.
Tarzan really did have it all: clean air, fresh water and a healthy environment. We’ve moved a long way from that pristine jungle ideal, but it’s not too late to make changes and reclaim a sustainable way of living. And the upside is, we really don’t have to wear loincloths to do it.
Websites to check out:
McDonough Braungart Design Chemisty at www.mbdc.com
Eco Green Interiors at www.ecogreeninteriors.com
Eartheasy in Parksville, B.C. – Ideas for Sustainable Living at www.eartheasy.com