Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
Home Is Where the Heart — and Our Health — Is

In this four-part series, Shaw explores trends in where and how we live, and the movement toward more sustainable housing, offices and other buildings that embraces occupant wellbeing. Read part one.

It is said that “home is where the heart is,” but over time, the role of a home has evolved.

Our relationship with our home

A home isn’t simply shelter from the elements; for many of us, it is also a reflection of who we are and what we care about, and sometimes a source of wealth generation and a sign of prosperity.

Our homes can be both a respite from the outside world and a central gathering place for friends and family. The location, layout and design of our homes can play a central role in mental, physical and emotional wellbeing.

For many people, taking steps to create a healthier home — whether by researching the ingredients in products, focusing on the ease of cleaning, mitigating moisture and noise issues; or just improving the lighting and buying beautiful, well-designed material — can be empowering and feel more tangible than trying to address global sustainability issues such as climate change.

Reflecting the growth in this trend, the international wellness real estate market is now a $134 billion industry — expected to reach $180 billion (or roughly half the size of the global green building industry) by 2022, according to researchers at the Global Wellness Institute.

These trends are prominent not just in luxury homes, but in middle-income communities and affordable housing, as well. So, what’s driving this increased focus?

Shifting demographics and demand

The US population is in the midst of momentous shift. By 2030, one in five US residents will be of retirement age, according to the Census Bureau and with that aging population comes a new wave of needs in a home. Design for ongoing management of health-related concerns — including long-term care for chronic illness and physical limitations, accessibility and aging in place — are significant for Baby Boomers approaching retirement age.

Simultaneously, the approximately 73 million US Millennials will overtake Boomers as the largest

US population group. Millennials want different things in a home than their parents as they raise their families, and early indicators are that Gen Z has an even greater appetite for change. They are more interested in creating a healthy home environment than a “smart” one, and tend to prioritize job mobility over staying with one employer for the duration of a career. And working remotely is on the rise, especially among Millennials — a recent report by Gallup noted that 43 percent of US workers do some kind of telecommuting.

Rising consumer consciousness

Today, people spend, on average, 90 percent of their time indoors — with the majority of that spent at home. So, it’s no wonder that indoor spaces can have a tremendous impact on our wellness — whether through noise, the moods evoked through design aesthetics and choices in materials, or just our overall comfort levels.

In addition to a general heightened awareness of the connection between the spaces we occupy and our wellbeing, there are often life moments and choices that trigger a closer examination of

how we interact with the elements in our home — including having a first child, owning a pet, or diagnosis or the onset of health concerns. At Shaw, we see this at play in our own operations, through calls to our consumer service lines asking about ingredients in flooring, as homeowners make purchase decisions — in addition to those about water resistance, ease of cleaning and product certifications.

Well-known retailers including Target, Walmart, REI and Amazon have introduced public chemical policies; and household names including L’Oréal and Method are among those promoting their Cradle to Cradle Certified products to consumers.

There’s broader consumer consciousness of healthy living and wellness topics, from niche blogs to more broad-based media outlets. You can just as easily find a story about flame retardants in furniture as one offering career advice or travel tips.

Sustainable building and product selection programs

Sustainable building programs and design standards for housing are evolving to embrace and consider factors such as material health and noise, alongside other building performance metrics. New standards have emerged, such as the WELL Building Standard — with a stated mission to improve human health and wellbeing in buildings and communities throughout the world. And organizations such as HomeFree are focused on supporting affordable housing developers in their efforts to use less toxic building materials. The US Green Building Council’s LEED certification includes a focus on material health, and there is a proliferation of new certifications and reporting tools available to assess or disclose chemical ingredients.

At Shaw, we fundamentally believe that everyone should have access to safe, sustainable products, regardless of price point. We’re proud that almost 90 percent of the products we manufacture are Cradle to Cradle Certified.

We use the Cradle to Cradle Certified Products Program material health assessment methodology to evaluate the hazards of chemicals present in products and the safety of those chemicals to end users. We also seek third-party certifications for our products to inform consumers of their sustainability and indoor air quality performance.

So, what’s next?

In addition to continuing to focus on the intentional design of products optimized for healthy home attributes, it’s imperative that we simplify the complex for the consumer — finding a way to speak to them in language that resonates when sustainability and healthy home can mean so many different things to different people, answering often complicated chemical questions in simple terms, providing third-party assessment of information to bolster trust.

We’re all navigating this second wave of sustainability together and we welcome the opportunity to collaborate with others to bring the best solutions forward.

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