Photo courtesy Killarney Homes
Photo courtesy Conscious Homes
WHAT LIES BENEATH?
One of the biggest issues associated with modern building materials are the chemicals used during manufacture. Some of these are known carcinogens, and wreak environmental havoc at the production level, and then leach airborne toxins (off-gas) into homes for their entire lifecycle. Dr Shaila Divarkala at GECA says paints, carpet and carpet underlay, and the boards used to manufacture kitchen cabinetry are top offenders. ‘Wall and ﬂoor coverings are particularly important because they cover such big areas of the home. When these products are new they can release high levels of gases [or Volatile Organic Compounds], but then it’s a chronic thing – over time, they continue emitting low levels of chemicals, polluting the air we breathe indoors.’ Check out the GECA database for healthier alternatives. Dr Shaila Divakarla
Photo courtesy Phil Kelleher Homes
undertaking a lot of research, it can be impossible to know what’s behind the “environmentally friendly” claims on a product’s label.’ By helping us to identify the products that are truly ‘environmentally friendly’, the GECA eco-labelling scheme allows us to take control, see past the greenwash and make informed decisions about the materials we build, decorate and furnish our homes with. In this way we can achieve healthier, more truly sustainable homes, while helping to effect change at a broader level.
‘THE CHEMICALS USED IN MODERN BUILDING MATERIALS AND RESOURCES CAN HAVE A HUGE IMPACT ON THE ENVIRONMENT’
From a purely practical perspective, looking for the eco-label can save you money over the longer term, because the ﬁrst requirement of GECA standards is that a product should be of good quality. ‘Obviously you want to choose a product that’s going to perform and last well because that represents better value
for money,’ Shaila says. ‘But quality also ties in with environmental considerations, because poor quality equals a waste of resources. When a product does its job properly, and is well made, the less likely it is to be thrown out.’ Shaila says that sustainability and health are also intrinsically connected. ‘For example, in a passive-solar designed house, the ﬁrst thing people will notice is not that it’s green, but how nice it feels. These homes will have lots of natural light, are well-ventilated – they are pleasant to live in,’ she explains. Similarly, when you choose products that are manufactured using low-impact, sustainable methods and resources, or without the use of toxic chemicals, the net result is a healthier, cleaner living environment. ‘It’s amazing how what’s good for the environment eventually comes back to what’s good for you.’ Check out GECA’s searchable database of certiﬁed building and interior products at www.geca.org.au. If you want to know more about the benchmarks against which products are assessed, the standards for each product category are available for download. gs