Part of our overall strategy to bring sustainable practices to low-income communities includes improving indoor air quality (IAQ). For a lot of organizations working on IAQ in affordable housing, that means advocating for better building materials. There are several programs and certifications that require green materials in the construction and maintenance of buildings. Best known among these is the LEED certification developed by the US Green Building Council.
When we first heard about the USGBC’s new certification for affordable housing, we were ecstatic. Okay, maybe really, really happy. Finally, green standards for affordable units. Finally, improved living conditions for low-income residents. The EPA ranks indoor air pollution the fourth highest public health risk – often worse to breathe than outdoor air. Many toxins are in the structure itself (carpet, fiberboard, paint), which the imposition of green construction standards addresses. But, other toxins include pesticides, smoke and cleaning solvents, which are resident driven.
The LEED certification does not include a requirement in its rating system for educating residents about ways to improve indoor air quality. When we saw this article on LEED yesterday, it was like wow, someone else is finally talking about this IAQ thing. Yes, wouldn’t it be great if the certification included a requirement for improving environmental health and maybe even educating residents. We would love (yes, love, not just really, really like) a program like that — whether it mandated a full-on Promotora program, like at Esperanza Community Housing Corporation, where residents are trained to educate other residents about green cleaning, or an in-home environmental intervention conducted by a health organization, or even an introductory talk required of all new residents, to explain the benefits and ease of using natural products to clean their homes.
But, and this is a big but, the fact is LEED is a building and construction standard. It isn’t about resident lifestyles. But, much in the way cities require builders to meet certain LEED standards, maybe those cities can also make education about improving indoor air quality (whether for residents or commercial tenants) part of the local requirement to receive tax credits and other incentives. People can be encouraged to use natural products (baking soda, vinegar, lemon, air filtering plants) and all commercial cleaning/maintenance would be required to be green certified.
We’ve written a Clean Cookbook with recipes for naturally cleaning everything from ovens to toilets. And, we post a new Clean Recipe nearly every Tuesday on our OriginalGreen Facebook page (under the Discussions tab). Soon, we’ll deliver this book to residents in housing developments along with a few natural products to get them started.
Our ultimate goal is to change policy in green building and standards for low-income and affordable housing, so that they mandate this type of education. It’s great that the building is “green” but when the indoor air quality in some units can be 100 times more polluted than outdoor air quality, we think it’s time to clear the air and fulfill what we call a “whole home” philosophy.