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Making a Difference in Material Health Gallery

Green Science Policy Institute

Tell us about your organization.

The Green Science Policy Institute (the Institute) was founded in 2008 in Berkeley, California, by Executive Director Arlene Blum after she learned that the same chlorinated tris flame retardant that her research had helped remove from children’s pajamas in the 1970s was back in furniture and baby products. Since its founding, the Institute’s scientific research and policy work has contributed to preventing the use of “Six Classes” of harmful chemicals in consumer products and building materials worldwide.

What is your organization’s most notable accomplishment to date in the field of Material Health?

A 1975 California furniture flammability standard called Technical Bulletin 117 (TB 117) led to the use of harmful and ineffective flame retardant chemicals in furniture and children’s product foam. Unfortunately, this California regulation was followed across all of North America. TB 117 required the foam inside furniture to withstand a small open flame for 12 seconds. However, in a real fire, the cover fabric will ignite first, leading to a large flame quickly igniting the foam, even if it contains flame retardants. In fact, furniture with and without flame retardants burns similarly. After science and advocacy by the Institute and our colleagues, California’s governor directed the state to revise TB 117 to a new standard, TB 117-2013, which became mandatory for new furniture manufactured after January 1, 2015. The new standard provides for better fire safety in furniture and children’s products without the need for flame retardant chemicals. This standard was adopted by the U.S. Congress in 2020 and implemented by the Consumer Product Safety Commission in 2021.

What plan did you follow to achieve this accomplishment?

Our recipe for positive change combines three key ingredients: research, partnerships, and communication. We conduct research with clear and essential policy relevance, collaborate with experts from multiple sectors and institutions, and strategically communicate our results to the news media. Our communications strategy involves selecting an optimal release date and composing a press release in accessible language with a “hook” to attract attention from key stakeholders and the public. As a result, some have been viewed by tens of thousands of readers, enabling our research to affect positive changes in policy and purchasing. For example, publicity around our studies finding flame retardants in children’s products and furniture contributed to these chemicals no longer being used in these products. As a result, our papers that we have helped publicize have scored in the top 5% of all research output.

What are the most important actions you’ve taken within your organization to support Material Health?

Bringing groups of key stakeholders together have been an essential part of our success in making homes, workplaces, and schools healthier. For example, our Institute convenes a Material Buyers Club whose members are large institutional purchasers striving to create healthier workplaces. The group’s mission is to bring together a unified multi-sector community of purchasers to collaborate with designers, specifiers, manufacturers, and academics to shift the market toward healthier materials.

What are the measurable results of this Material Health accomplishment?

Due to the efforts of the Institute, all 20 million dollars worth of upholstered furniture that is projected to be sold in the U.S. in 2023 will not have costly and toxic flame retardants (Statista, 2021). The Institute has also helped hundreds of families replace their furniture foam protecting children who, due to their frequent hand-to-mouth behavior, have the highest levels of exposure.

How can people learn more about your organization’s work in Material Health?

For more information about the Institute and our work with flame retardants, PFAS, and the other members of the Six Classes, visit our websites: • News, science, policy, PFAS-free products • Information about the Institute and our work • Short videos on classes of harmful chemicals And like and follow our social media pages: • Twitter: @Green_Science • Facebook: • LinkedIn: Sign up for our monthly e-newsletter to stay up to date on all the Institute’s activities.

Environmental health work is a lot like climbing Annapurna or Denali. We know what the summit is. The summit is a healthier world with less toxic chemicals and we even kind of know how to get there. But there are avalanches and yetis and storms and many, many obstacles. And you just kind of have to keep picking your foot up and putting it down and plodding upward. And that’s how working on chemicals to make the world healthier is like climbing mountains — it’s the same patient, painstaking process. – Arlene Blum, Executive Director of the Green Science Policy Institute

What advice would you give other organizations about practicing Material Health based on the lessons you’ve learned through your work?

In order to create a clearer road map for building industry stakeholders, the groups working in this space ought to align our goals, and share information.