Why Healthy Living Spaces Should Matter to Building Products Marketers

Oct 1 Healthy Living SpacesIf your goal is wellness (and whose isn’t?), you know eating healthy food and exercising are a big part of the equation. It’s just as important, however, to make sure the space you live in is healthy for you.   

To find out what healthy living spaces really mean and why they are a win-win for both consumers and green building products manufacturers, CMO-Scan spoke to Jillian Pritchard Cooke, founder of the Wellness Within Your Walls concept, and president of Atlanta-based interior design firm DES-SYN.

Q: Why did you feel Wellness Within Your Walls was important to bring to life now?

A: The [Wellness Within Your Walls] program has been in the planning stages for about eight years. DES-SYN was involved in the first LEED Certified Gold home in the country. Our first clients were husband and wife Laura Turner Seydel (Ted Turner’s daughter) and Rutherford Seydel and building what is now EcoManor.

Laura was interested in the design and function of the space. Rutherford was interested in the systems such as the geothermal, solar panels, and graywater systems with a desire to have them be the best they could be.

While working on this project, I also was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer so I began to think about the toxic side of building and decided to champion the healthier side of building. LEED was big at the time, and there were conflicting choices related to health, which were overwhelming to consumers. I decided to try to simplify the information, and that’s been a real focus—simplifying information from the manufacturer, the builder and the designer to the consumer.

Q: How has Wellness Within Your Walls impacted how you do business?

A: EcoManor met the LEED certification program requirements. We were very creative in the design and execution of the home to garnish additional points to meet the gold level status.

One challenge we had was that LEED deducts points for spaces over 5,000 square feet. The Seydels, a family of five, wanted to accommodate visiting guests and their family, and in order to do so, they built the house to be greater than 5,000 square feet.

We purposefully filled the home with healthy, non-toxic furnishings and interior building materials that told the story on how to reduce harmful toxins. Those purposeful choices helped us reach LEED Gold level. Marilyn Black from GreenGuard was instrumental. She worked closely with the Seydels and our design team to ensure that formaldehyde and other toxin levels erred on the side of safe.

At the time of installation, we used AMF Safecoat low-VOC paint. (Shortly after the installation many other paints became available that were no-VOC). EcoManor became the genesis of Wellness Within Your Walls (WWYW). Now our clients request that we design to the WWYW standard. This has increased our business exponentially.

Q: What lesson or takeaway is there from this model for building products marketers?

A: We’ve created four CEU (continuing education unit) credit courses available through IIDA and ASID that fall under the health and safety heading of the CEU courses. Anyone can take the four courses, which is followed by a test. If you pass, then you’re eligible for WWYW designation.

The intent is that manufacturers of home building products and furnishings would adhere to producing natural products free of toxins, sustainable products free of toxins or produce products in a responsible way, by using transparency, accountability, safety data sheets, and adequate labeling. Labeling relates to, for example, if you bring a product in your home with chemicals, what are the off-gassing procedures you should put in place so toxins don’t come into the home environment?

Q: Do you personally practice what you preach?

A: I live in a 100-year-old, 2,100 square foot house with hardwood floors. I have no pesticides in the garden so my pets don’t bring it in the house with them when they come inside. I clean with non-toxic cleaning materials. I believe in steaming to reduce germs. I believe in fresh air so all the windows in the house are operable. I have additional ventilation systems to reduce dust mites at different times of the year. I only burn soy and beeswax candles, and we clean our vents regularly. In addition, I use no-VOC paints and off-gas before I bring anything into our home.

Q: How are you expanding your Wellness Within Your Walls concept into the community?

A: We have set a goal of 50 states in 500 days. We are educating builders, contractors and designers through IIDA, ASID and NAHB. This is an organized, requested event that takes place in major cities. So far, we have already taught in Dallas; Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C.; and we’re going to Asheville, N.C. We’re also setting up dates in Louisiana, Chicago and New York. We are looking for ambassadors for the national program. As an ambassador, if you help WWYW plan the event, you can sit in on our four CEU classes at no cost and get your WWYW designation.

The response to this tour has been good. Retailers have been excited, wanting to fill their shops with products that meet the standards. We have also partnered with the Sustainable Furnishing Council (SFC), the NAHB, the UL GreenGuard certification program and other organizations concerned with sustainability that have a health platform. Our program offerings are solution-based and hinge on research-based programs.

Q: What do you feel is the next step for building product marketers with regard to your three categories of Natural, Sustainable and Responsible?

A: I think we are starting to see transparency, and with that comes accountability and proper labeling. I don’t think this is any different than the farm to table movement, where the consumers asked for it and the food industry responded.

The same applies to the building products industry. Consumers have asked for it, and home building manufacturers have no choice but to respond to the demand. Given a choice between a product that doesn’t disclose what it’s made of vs. products that do disclose and how to mediate and mitigate toxins makes them solution-based, and that’s what consumers are looking for.

Building products manufacturers all have choices as it relates to producing products that are safe, which is socially responsible.

Photo credit:  thinkstock.com

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