Supporter Spotlight: Jean Hansen

Jean Hansen is the Sustainable Interiors Manager for the global architecture firm, HDR Architecture. She’s been a great supporter of CEH for many years, both as an employee sponsor of the HDR grant application and also as a partner with CEH on safer furniture purchasing for businesses, healthcare facilities, and interior designers. Jean has also supported CEH by going solar as part of a campaign with our partner, Sungevity.

Q: How did you become interested in sustainability practices in architecture?

A: It goes back to the mid/late 90s, when I was introduced to concept of green cleaning, in particular for our healthcare clients we design facilities for. I’m an interior designer by background and the majority of my work is involved in the design of medical facilities. After I heard about green cleaning and how harmful some conventional cleaning supplies can be, I began to research safer alternatives and how that might affect how we design and detail healthcare facilities and the materials we select. It also pointed out how important it is to work with an expanded team on the client side, that includes the Environmental Services staff, as our decisions can make a huge impact on the not only the patients and their families, but also on the staff for the life of the facility.

Q: Can you tell me a bit about your professional history and how you became involved in the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), LEED rating system committee, and how that led you to your work at HDR?

A: After learning about green cleaning, I also began to research how health and sustainability could affect our designs beyond the interior materials selections and details. My research led me to the newly developed USGBC’s first generation of LEED rating systems for New Construction*.

Shortly afterwards, I attended two pivotal programs that greatly influenced my work; the first green building conference focused specifically on healthcare co-sponsored by Kaiser Permanente in Oakland and an initial training for the LEED rating system in Atlanta. Following the conference, Kaiser Permanente (KP) decided to look further at how sustainability tied into the built environment as related to healthcare design and invited me to attend the meeting.

That first meeting at KP led to what became known as the “Green Building Committee” and later “The High Performance Committee”, and we met every month for 10 yrs. We accomplished a lot; including the development of KP’s” Eco Scorecard”, sustainable product questionnaire, sustainable standards and market transformation with a number of product manufactures for safer, healthier use. Kaiser had a number of product standards, so we were able to work closely with a number of companies to identify the health hazards associated with their products and the development of safer alternatives. Our process included sending a questionnaire to Kaiser’s contacts at each of the companies and sometimes their competitors, meeting with the manufacturers’ representatives to discuss the makeup of their products, and the work entailed to safer alternatives. We saw a number of products change over a relatively short period of time— amazing market transformation almost right before our eyes, looking back at it. One of the most valuable aspects of this work is these products became available not only to KP but to all specifiers and end users.

My initial attendance at the green healthcare conference also led me to development work on the Green Guide to Healthcare, the USGBC’S LEED for Healthcare rating system, a sustainable furniture rating system (BIFMA’s level) and most recently to the Health Product Declaration (HPD, and also to my current work at HDR. It has been an exciting journey for my professional and personal life. I was following the work that HDR was doing in the “sustainable design world”, exciting work, and met my (future) boss at a green conference 2-3 years before starting at HDR. We really connected and when a friend and colleague told me HDR was opening an office in San Francisco, I knew I was at a point in my life where it might be a good idea to talk to HDR about working together. The rest is history. I have been at HDR for almost seven years now and focus all of my time on sustainable design and human and environmental health issues for the built environment.

*Leadership in Envery and Environmental Design (LEED) is a set of rating systems for the design, construction, operation, and maintenance, of green buildings, homes, and neighborhoods.

Q: You’ve worked a lot with CEH on issues of toxics and safer purchasing of furniture for offices and healthcare. How has that helped guide your sustainability practices?

A: My work with CEH has allowed me not just to be an advocate, but to develop tools, resources and presentations for others and to share this information locally as well as nation-wide. I’ve really enjoyed my work on the new flame retardant regulations in CA as of January 1st this year with Judy [Levin, CEH]. Together we have developed factsheets specific for the design industry and have co-presented webinars on the new regulations and the purchase of safer furniture. Our work together has also been great because it has helped me become more fluent with the fire safety regulations in greater detail, thanks to Judy’s incredible knowledge on the topic!

Also because of my familiarity of all of the great work that CEH does, when HDR started a foundation a year ago, CEH was one of the first non-profits that I thought of to reach out to about HDR’s Grant program. Judy and Michael [Green] were very interested, and the rest is history!

Q: As you mentioned, you’ve been working with Judy Levin on leading webinars for safer purchasing in offices, hospitals and more. Can you tell me a bit more about those and the different sectors of industry you’ve reached out to?

A: When Judy began reaching out to the “Purchaser Strategy Advisor Group”, which I sit on, about upcoming webinars for safer purchasing as related to the flame retardant regulations, we began to brainstorm on how best to get the word out beyond CEH’s expected audience(s), which includes healthcare organizations. Our plan is to offer additional webinars to interior designers and the greater design community, through the International Interior Design Association (IIDA), both locally (Northern CA) and internationally. Our team to plan the programs has expanded to include two manufacturer’s reps (furniture and fabric), and a new owner of a local upholstery company in Oakland. It has been a valuable experience for everyone as we learn from Judy as we prepare to bring this information to the greater design community. Our work has led to one of our team members identifying a foam manufacturer committed to producing flame retardant-free foam as of April 1st this year, and we have another committed to bringing the program to each of the Northern CA communities personally, as her husband is a SF firefighter who suffered from a rare brain tumor last year, and they’re sure it’s partially caused by flame retardants exposure in fires.

Q: How did you become involved in CEH? What is your favorite thing about (or accomplishment of) CEH?

A: It goes back to when CEH was involved in initial green building efforts, and I attended the green building conference I mentioned earlier. I met some CEH staff at that time and became aware of the organization and the great work.

I love the work that the CEH does overall. I’m enjoying working with Judy on flame retardants as it’s so connected to the work I do and my industry. And it really hits home when it’s on a more personal level, such as when I learn that a colleague in my industry has a firefighter husband and father who is healing from a brain tumor most likely associated with flame retardants and friend new to the upholstery business who wants to pursue less toxic foam and to be a responsible employer and to provide healthier furniture options for her customers. It’s fantastic that they can come to me and together we can reach out to CEH for information and resources.

In regards to CEH’s work overall, I have little nieces, and I want them to play with toys and purses that are safe. And I am excited that my nieces and nephews will have safer experiences playing on artificial turf due to the work CEH is doing—CEH’s work is personal for me and my family.

Q: What projects are you focusing on right now? What are the next steps for you and HDR Architecture?

A: My work on flame retardants, both with Judy and on my own, is a big project. Together we have many ideas and opportunities to get the word out. And I will continue to think of additional opportunities to spread the word.

Overall, I work on projects on many different levels. I manage the sustainable efforts overall for many projects from a macro to micro level; I sometimes manage the LEED certification pursuit for projects and also get involved in the research of the products for some projects from a deep green perspective in addition to their general attributes for use in the interiors of healthcare and laboratory buildings. My request in product research is for manufacturers’ to be transparent with the content and health hazards of their products – which is alignment with the Health Product Declaration (HPD) which I helped develop, pilot and am now on the HPD Collaborative Board. HDR fully supports the HPD both in practice and financially, and we have written a letter that we share with all the manufacturers requesting that they be transparent with their product content. This is a huge step forward in further market transformation and safer and healthier products for all of us.