One desk chair—hold the formaldehyde

4/9/12 | 10:05:00 AM

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(cross-posted from the Official Google Blog)

Formaldehyde. Lead. Pesticides. Mercury. If building materials had nutrition labels, would you buy a product containing these toxic ingredients? There are more than 80,000 chemicals in the world, and we don’t fully know how they impact our health. And a surprising number of hazardous chemicals still make their way into everyday products we use, including furniture, paints, carpets and flooring. Whether it’s in the home or office, we shouldn’t have to worry that the chair we’re sitting in or the air we breathe contains harmful chemicals (PDF).

On my first day on the job at Google over six years ago, a co-worker asked me to sniff a carpet sample. I didn’t smell anything and was told, “That’s good!” We want to build a greener future and create the healthiest work environments imaginable for Googlers, which means we only use paints, sealants, adhesives, carpets, furniture and building materials with the lowest levels of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) possible.

A straw-hut style huddle room made with sustainably forested wood from Pescadero Willow Farm, bound by a saline-based, toxin-free solution

Unfortunately, the lack of clear and widely-available product ingredient information makes progress in this area challenging, so we’re asking the market to provide toxin-free products and make its contents an open book. We put all our products through a rigorous screening process to make sure they meet our healthy materials standards, and request full transparency from our vendors by asking them to share comprehensive product ingredient information.

This movement is also gaining momentum outside of Google. Recently, 30 leading building product manufacturers signed on to pilot the Health Product Declaration (HPD) Open Standard, the industry’s first common reporting standard for transparency around health impacts of building materials. Google is a founding endorser of the HPD, and we applaud these manufacturers for taking this important step. Continued leadership like this is needed for the product transparency revolution to gain real traction—not just for building materials but all types of products we consume or use.

So whether you’re at the restaurant or hardware store, ask tough questions so you can make better-informed choices about products to help keep yourself and your families healthy. Your collective voice and purchasing power can make a huge difference.

As for Google, by setting high standards, asking difficult questions and encouraging transparency from our partners, we hope to show how other organizations can create their own healthy and sustainable work environments.