Studying the use of healthy materials in educational spaces

During the summer 2019, HEAL and Saint-Gobain conducted a joint research on material selection decision-making in building of educational spaces in Finland. The aim of the cooperation was to uncover stakeholders’ pain points in creating healthier and more sustainable buildings.

By interviewing stakeholders such as material producers, architects, designers, civil servants and advisors, we aimed to gain a more profound understanding of the material selection processes. At the heart of the study was to find the challenges these professionals face when planning and building educational spaces.

Healthier learning environments by closer cooperation

Currently, many Finnish municipalities are struggling with poor indoor air quality. Due to health problems caused by the bad condition of buildings, decision makers face pressures to invest in healthier spaces while many municipalities are already loaded with previous renovation debts.

Our findings show that the challenges in the planning process of educational buildings are short-sightedness and lack of life-cycle thinking. The interviewees recognise significant difficulties in presenting the long-term impact of materials, making it hard for decision-makers to understand the bigger picture. Additionally, the results reveal that budgets are defined without sufficient information. When it is time for material choices, the budget inflexibility delimits the option range. Without understanding the cost of the whole building life-cycle, the materials are selected based on price rather than quality.

Adapting life-cycle thinking would require closer collaboration between the diverse group of stakeholders from the beginning of the project. A key to life-cycle understanding is to make information easily accessible. The easier to acquire information on durability, installation and life-cycle costs, the better the chances that the material is approved for use.

– A successful project requires getting the architect, HVAC designer, material provider and end user around the same table. There should be discussion before a single line has been drawn, suggests Aila Laine-Sarkkinen from the Finnish Indoor Air Association .

The successful research has inspired HEAL to continue with the project of creating healthy and sustainable learning environments.

Read the research report here