4 FM quick reads on furniture
1. Environmental Reporting In Furniture Makes Slow Progress
Healthcare interiors choices have great potential to directly impact patient outcomes, both for the good and bad, and this is particularly true when it comes to sustainability steps. But prioritizing sustainability in the selection process in interiors for desired outcomes has to get in line behind all the other, more pressing issues healthcare has to address, such as an aging workforce, strapped budgets, and so on.
In addition, sustainability considerations are much more complex than those around energy efficiency, and pursuing sustainable interiors will only go a little ways towards a LEED certification. So it's not exactly surprising that healthcare has lagged behind other sectors in adopting sustainable interiors practices. Nevertheless, some key leaders are pursuing sustainable interiors despite all the challenges. Organizations like Ascension Health have gone as far as creating staffed positions to address sustainability directly. Even if a healthcare facility is still in its early stages of working out a sustainable interiors strategy, the good news is that incremental steps are the way to go, according to industry experts.
Here are some strategies for pursuing sustainable interiors in healthcare facilities:
Standardizing to modular furniture. When Theresa Besse, interior designer, started at Gundersen Health System, she had a warehouse full of mismatched furniture which could hardly be deployed and still have a professional look in a space. In addition, furniture did not have modular components so when an accident happened on a chair, the whole unit was thrown out. She has since standardized to furniture with replaceable components, and tracks the documentation of water-resistant features and proper cleaning steps, which helps keep individual pieces in service longer.
Demountable walls. With even clinic space being signed into 20-year leases, Melisse Kuhn, project manager for the Portland VA Medical Center, was finding that fixed walls just didn't accommodate the changing needs of the space. Now they specify architectural demountable walls that are prewired and retrofit easily into existing facilities. They create flexibility to reconfigure the space as frequently as needed while eliminating construction waste (and mess) and satisfying requirements in outpatient clinics.
Off-gassing off site. Before any of the furnishings or equipment crossed the threshold of Dell Children's Medical Center South Tower, they had first been taken to a warehouse facility, unpackaged, and allowed to off-gas for up to 30 days. "If there was any latent toxicity, it was important to let it off-gas in a way that wouldn't impact the facility," says Michele Van Hyfte, environmental stewardship manager for Seton Healthcare Family.
Environmental Reporting In Furniture Makes Slow Progress
As facility managers seek information about products, it's often difficult to find the right type of information. More manufacturers are beginning to offer life-cycle assessments and environmental product declarations (EPDs) — ways that facility managers can weigh environmental and product selection criteria. It is still difficult to compare apples to apples; however, with credits in the upcoming LEEDv4 rating system expected to reward use of EPDs and life-cycle assessments (LCA), that may change soon.
A standard LCA contains every detail about a product that current science recognizes, including carbon footprint, the impacts on air, water, and soil, the recycled content, health and toxicity issues, chemical content, whether it can be recycled at the end of its useful life, and more. It's generally a document that can extend to more than 100 pages. Although life-cycle assessments have been around for years, environmental product declarations (EPDs) have burst on the scene much more recently. An EPD is, in effect, an executive summary of the exhaustive LCA.
A significant difficulty is that, right now, no universal standards exist for writing EPDs. In particular, the industry currently lacks a full set of product category rules (PCRs) — the checklist by which an EPD should be written. PCRs have been published for many products in flooring and ceilings, particularly in Europe, but furniture at the moment is still in flux.
The situation is changing, however. The Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association (BIFMA) has published a PCR for seating in conjunction with the standards organization NSF International. A PCR for storage products is expected to be published this year.
If and when a product category rule is written, uniform EPDs can follow, usually paid for by the manufacturer and produced by an independent third party — often the same group that wrote the PCR. One challenge for furniture, however, is the number of different parts that go into a finished product.