Indoor air quality is on the American radar screen, but “no VOCs” is not.
Almost half the participants in our Eco Pulse™ 2013 survey said they are concerned about the indoor air quality of their homes. This isn’t surprising, since we are seeing American families focusing more and more on health issues.
But when we asked consumers to choose (from a long list) the three most important things they should do to improve their homes’ indoor air quality, consumers were generally less concerned with the products they bring into their homes and more concerned with ventilation.
This is surprising, since many home products emit chemicals that health-conscious consumers would worry about. But that’s IF they knew they were there.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that most indoor air pollution comes from sources inside buildings, and it has developed a new home indoor air certification program, called Indoor airPLUS, to address this issue.
For example, adhesives, carpeting, upholstery, manufactured wood products, copy machines, pesticides and cleaning agents may emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including formaldehyde. (Click here or on the house above to take a tour of the EPA’s Indoor Air Quality House.)
EPA studies have found that concentrations of many VOCs are consistently higher indoors (up to 10 times higher) than outdoors. That research also shows that some VOCs can cause chronic and acute health effects at high concentrations, and some are known carcinogens.
But most Eco Pulse respondents prioritized basic ventilation actions like changing air filters and opening windows. Only about a third chose, as one of the actions they should take to improve indoor air quality, one of the VOC-oriented options we offered:
- avoid buying furniture, carpet, mattresses, etc., that emit chemicals;
- use low-odor (low-VOC) paints;
- buy natural flooring with environmentally friendly finishes; and/or
- use building products with no formaldehyde content.
This indicates that companies that want to leverage a “no VOC” message first have to explain it: Even though concern about indoor air quality is increasing, two-thirds of Americans are still generally unaware of the potential carcinogens in the products they bring into their homes.
However, for more sophisticated green consumers, “no VOC” is becoming a strong point of differentiation.
It may be time for green product manufacturers in high-VOC categories like home furnishings (furniture, floor coverings, mattresses, etc.) to focus on raising consumer awareness about the potential health impact of chemical emissions.
Cross-category sponsors could join together for a campaign that wakes people up to the impact of VOCs on indoor air quality.