Health care: Setting the standard

Beyond the hospital setting

While Health Care Without Harm was working with hospitals to implement the first version of the Healthy Interiors goal, the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) was promoting their “purchaser pledge” through which institutional purchasers could indicate their unified preference for flame retardant-free furniture.

Entering the halls of the university

Among the initial group of signers to CEH’s Purchaser Pledge in 2015, Harvard University was the first college to commit to preferring flame retardant-free furniture. In October 2017, Harvard went beyond that goal and integrated the Health Care Without Harm Healthy Interiors criteria into its green building standards, requiring the criteria to be met for all furniture purchases. The standards are part of the university-wide sustainability plan that “aligns Harvard’s decentralized campus around a holistic vision and sets clear university-wide goals and priorities in the areas of emissions and energy, campus operations, nature and ecosystems, health and well-being, and culture and learning.” For such a large institution, consisting of some 700 buildings, 13 colleges, 27 million square feet of real estate, and about 45,000 people, this is no small feat.

“If Kaiser Permanente can remove antimicrobials, surely we can too.”

For both the Harvard Office of Sustainability and CEH, knowing health care institutions had adopted the Healthy Interiors criteria provided reassurance that the criteria were both important and attainable.

If you teach it, they will want it

Education is essential when it comes to shaping consumer demand and changing purchasing practices. “Getting people to change their thinking after the chemical industry has done such a good job advertising false benefits can be a challenge, but most people, when they learn the facts, prefer not to have toxic and unnecessary chemicals in their products,” says Levin.

“But there is more work to do,” warns Henriksen.

“We need to make sure that one chemical of concern isn’t going out while another is going in. We need to remain focused and vigilant, making sure that this is systemic change. We also need to focus on transparency. I believe large organizations that purchase furniture today should demand material transparency from the manufacturer, and should reward those manufacturers that provide it. There are a number of very large and reputable furniture manufacturers that are fully transparent and that make furniture that is beautiful and comfortable while also meeting the Healthy Interiors standard. Let’s reward them, purchase from them, and use them. You do not have to give up on anything — not cost, aesthetics, choice, schedule. I am confident that since we have been able to do this so rapidly, any large organization that gets alignment internally should easily be able to accomplish this,” says Henriksen.

With these collaborative, cross-sectoral initiatives, and with increasing consumer demand for such products, our market impact will continue to grow.



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Health Care Without Harm

Health Care Without Harm


Health Care Without Harm seeks to transform health care worldwide so the sector reduces its environmental footprint and becomes a leader in the global movement.