Wednesday, October 12, 2011

How green is Douglas College? Part 3: indoor air

Concerned about the indoor air quality at Douglas? Have no fear: the College is taking steps to ensure that you breathe easy.
It is estimated* that Canadians spend 90 percent of their time indoors. That means we spend the majority of our lives breathing in substances – such as chemical vapours from cleaners, paints and furnishings – that could be hazardous to our health.

The good news is that about four years ago Douglas took steps to improve the quality of its indoor air. Instead of chemical cleaners, most of the cleaners now used at the College are certified by Green Seal, an organization that encourages companies to develop greener products and services, and certifies them.

“Any time we need to purchase a cleaning product or equipment, we go to the products that are Green Seal-certified whenever possible,” says Fernanda Santos, Manager of Facilities Services at Douglas. “We still use some chemicals, because we haven't, for example, found a product that replaces what we’re using to disinfect certain areas, but we’ve really minimized those products.”

Cleaning crews have also switched to microfibre cloths. Microfibre doesn’t need chemicals to clean certain surfaces, such as mirrors and chrome. The cloths can be washed and reused many more times than standard cleaning rags, and are much better at gathering and holding dust and allergens. They also have the advantage of being colour-coded to each cleaning task, which helps eliminate the possibility of cross-contamination during cleaning.

The College also uses low-VOC products whenever possible. VOC stands for volatile organic compounds and they include chemicals such as acetone, benzene and formaldehyde. Major sources of VOCs are carpets, upholstery fabrics, vinyl floors and paints.

“All the interior latex paint is low-VOC,” says Fernanda. “There are some areas where we still use high VOC – areas where latex paint just isn’t durable enough – but we try to minimize that. We do it all after hours and on weekends, when it's not affecting anyone.”

The new flooring installed in the New Westminster concourse is also low-VOC and Greenguard-certified. The acoustical wall panels (the vertical panels just under the concourse ceiling, used for sound control) are low-VOC and are partially made of recycled materials. The panels are biodegradable and can be composted or ground up for soil amendment.

Finally, Douglas asks all students, staff and faculty to be “scent-aware.” Many perfumes, deodorants and other beauty products contain chemical fragrances that can trigger serious reactions in people with asthma, allergies, migraines or chemical sensitivities. Douglas encourages the voluntary cooperation of everyone on campus to work toward a scent-free environment.

“Our efforts to reduce chemical use have been very successful,” says Fernanda. “I think it’s made a big difference in our indoor air quality.”

Green Tips

  • Avoid the use of scented products; use scent-free alternatives instead.
  • If you do use scented products, use them sparingly. As a general guideline, a scent should not be detectable more than an arm's length away from you.
  • Do not apply scented products in public areas.
  • At home, replace chemical cleaners with eco-friendly ones, or make your own. Baking soda mixed with dishwashing liquid makes an excellent soft scrub. Baking soda on its own is a scouring powder, and white vinegar is an effective all-purpose cleaner. Find out how to make a non-toxic cleaning kit here
See our previous posts on the College's eco-friendly roof and the greening of the cafeteria.

    *Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation