Guidelines for Material Selection

Most materials and products used in standard exhibit construction produce toxic emissions, contribute to environmental degradation, come from sources that are not rapidly renewable, and/or contribute to indoor air pollution. These include plexi-glass, laminates, fiberglass, plywood, paints, solvents, adhesives, carpeting, stains, finishes, wood, metal primers, wall covering, sealants, particleboard, drywall compound, fabrics and furniture finishes. In looking for alternative materials for construction, it is important to keep the following guidelines in mind.

  1. Use materials that avoid toxic emissions. Instead aim to use products   that are natural or minimally processed, products that are made without dangerous substances, products that are made with PVC alternatives, products that are not treated with preservatives, and products that do not contain ozone depleting substances, like volatile organic compounds (VOC's).
  2. Use materials that improve indoor air quality and contribute to a healthy environment. Use products that do not off-gas or release significant pollutants into the environment. Use products that help rid the environment of indoor air pollutants and block the spread of contaminants.
  3. Use products made with salvaged or recycled content. Use products that are made with post-consumer recycled content, salvaged materials, or agricultural waste materials.
  4. Use products that conserve natural resources. Use products that reduce material use, have low maintenance requirements, are certified sustainable, are renewable, or have superior durability.
  5. Use materials that conserve energy and water . Use materials that help reduce the need for energy and water, including fixtures and mechanical equipment.

Most importantly however, is the reminder that the ingredient list of any product or material is your signal to pay attention. If the product contains a warning like "danger," "poison" or "warning," this is a clear indication that the product is highly toxic, possibly enough to kill a person in small amounts. The word "caution" signals a product that is less toxic, but can still cause significant harm to human health and contribute to environmental degradation. As a general, it is best to avoid products or materials that have a string of unpronounceable chemical names in the Material Data Safety Sheets.

Here is an example of a list of common chemicals found in standard synthetic carpeting:

  • ethylbenzene
  • ethylxylene
  • hexadecanol
  • 1-h-indene
  • 2-methylnaphthalene
  • 2-methyl-4-tridecene
  • octadecenyl amine (oleylamine)
  • polyacrylates
  • 2-propylheptanol
  • styrene
  • 1,2,4,-trimethylbenzene
  • 2,3,7-trimethyldecane
  • formaldehyde
  • methyl methacrylate
  • tetrachloroethylene
  • xylenes
  • acetonitrile
  • benzene
  • 2-butyloctanol-1
  • 1,3,5-cycloheptatriene
  • diphenyl ether
  • 1,4-dihydroxyacenophthene
  • 1-ethyl-3-methylbenzene
  • hexamethylene triamine
  • 1-methylnaphthalene
  • 1-methyl-3 propylbenzene
  • 5-methyltridecane
  • oxarium
  • 1-phenylcyclopentanol
  • phthalic esters
  • 1,2,3,-trimethylbenzene
  • tetradecene
  • undecane,2,6-dimethyl
  • methacrylate acid
  • acrylic oligomers
  • toluene
  • 4-phenylcyclohexene
  • azulene
  • biphenyl
  • cyclopentadiene-ethenyl-2-ethylene
  • 1-chloronaphthalene
  • dodecane