Understanding that most people spend about 90% of their time indoors, interior designers have a great opportunity to influence the health of a building’s occupants and to help advance wellness. 
 
The interior of a building contains many components that influence your health. One thing common to nearly every interior are the furnishings. Furniture is such a basic part of the work place, yet how furniture fits into the health of building occupants and the environment is less well understood. Yet that is all starting to change. A flurry of activity from standard setting organizations, NGO’s (Non-Governmental Organizations) and some of the largest companies in the country is shining a light on the role of furnishing in a healthy interior environment. For example, the Center for Environmental Health recently published a review of policies by major institutions like Harvard University, Kaiser Permanente, Google, Facebook and many others detailing policies they have adopted to avoid the procurement of furnishings with chemicals of concern. 
 
Leading standard setting organizations like LEED, the Living Building Standard and others are also addressing the importance of furnishings to achieving a truly green building. Another notable initiative is the Healthy Interiors goal of the Healthier Hospitals program. That initiative, sponsored by Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) and Practice Greenhealth, has targeted flame retardants, PVC (known as vinyl), formaldehyde, perfluorinated compounds and antimicrobials to avoid in furnishings. Working closely with some of the most respected health systems in the country, and with some of the largest institutional furniture manufacturers, the effort is moving the furniture market toward greater sustainability. 
 
As part of the program HCWH and health care allies initiated discussions with furniture and textile manufactures, designers and end users to remove barriers to increasing the manufacture and purchase of furnishing with chemicals of concern in health care. One of the tools developed by this effort is a list of furniture that meets the goals of the initiative by 15 major furniture suppliers and furniture companies.  
 
Why are furnishings important? It turns out furniture, like many other products, can contain chemicals that may affect human health. Exposure to the chemicals, noted above, have been linked to cancer, birth defects, infertility, asthma and chemical sensitivities. Chemicals of concern exposure comes from the breakdown of the chemicals that migrate out of the furniture and we are affected through air and dust. 
 
Do we really need these chemicals? It turns out many may not be important for high performance. For instance, addressing concerns regarding fire safety with the elimination of flame retardants the Consumer Products Safety Division stated that these chemicals did not provide a “significant greater level” of safety than untreated furniture. Also, new fire safety standards improve the safety of building occupants in the case of a fire.  
 
As we seek a better understanding of sourcing, environmental exposure and relationships to our own wellbeing, the goal of specifying furnishings that are safer may help create healthy interiors!