Green By Design Episode 203: Green Materials with Kate Bachner

Learn from art curator turned green materials consultant Kate Bachner about the importance of sourcing eco-friendly materials for building & design projects as well as a her outline for how all designers can work sustainable materials sourcing into their design process.




Kate Bachner, Green Materials Consultant & Founder of Wise Matter

Erica Reiner (00:06):

Hello, and welcome to green by design I'm Erica Reiner from eco method interiors. And today I have with me, Kate and I'll have you pronounce your last name for me? Bochner. Thank you very much. And Kate Bachner has a very interesting job, she is the founder of wise matter, which is a new eco home consultancy focused on aligning our living spaces with our health and environment. So that means she works with owners of residential build teams to select their interior and structural building materials of the highest quality. She uses the research of chemists architects and thought leaders to choose, choose materials with non-toxic chemicals and that favor sustainability. So Kate, thank you so much for being here. I'm very excited to speak with you and oh, a love for you to kick us off by letting us know a little bit more about your journey and how you got to what you're doing now at Wise matter?

Kate Bachner (01:12):

Okay. Well thank you for having me and my journey is a little different, I guess. I have a art history background, so my undergrad is art history. Then I got my master's in contemporary art. And then I worked in the New York city art world for a really long time. And while I was working there, I learned about climate change and sustainability and started really getting into green building. And simultaneously I was finding the art world a little too insular. So I took courses at NYU. I got my lead green associate accreditation, and then I kind of just like forced my way into big green building Wells. I got my real estate license, so I could be closer to buildings. I worked with inspectors because when you're selling a, a building or an apartment an inspector comes in and checks out everything to make sure it's okay.

Kate Bachner (02:18):

Learn from that. And then this company called healthy building science just took a chance on me really. And the material, the healthy material world was really kind of getting started when I joined. So there weren't really many experts. There were just real people who were passionate and also like very, very intense researchers. And I always had a fascination with how space affects behavior and that's kind of what led me into the art world and being a curator. So I was like, all right, well, greed materials, interior design does that, so I think this would be the best student niche for me in terms of green building.

Erica Reiner (03:10):

I love that story and I love windy backgrounds cause I have one too. So I love how all the experiences culminate for such a, you know, setting yourself up for such a unique position. So what is most important to you in terms of green interiors? And I know you've worked with a lot of designers and furniture makers and things like that. What is most important to you to see happen? I guess

Kate Bachner (03:47):

I think there's two things. One is vetting a product or material for chemical composition and another one is sourcing the material for its sustainability. And a lot of times those go hand in hand, but I'll give you an example of sustainability or eco-friendliness sustainability and eco-friendliness that they become like such buzzwords. I'm trying to find a different word, but right now let's just use that. So for wood, for example there's FSC certified wood, which is like the gold standard in sourcing wood, which is incredibly important because now like wood floors and wood buildings are becoming or wood, commercial buildings, obviously homes are a lot of times made of wood, but it's, it's like considered a renewable resource. However, if we're sourcing it from a forest that is like a plantation for us and it's monocropping just one tree or it's, clear-cutting that's really doing a disservice to the natural world, but it's also doing a disservice to us.

Kate Bachner (05:01):

So I find that it's really important to source natural materials properly and also understand that there's really a link between what we do to the natural world, to our environment and how that really gets back to us. So say you have a material in your home and it's not really affecting your indoor air quality, but the manufacturing process of it releases collude and carcinogens into the air that we'll get back to you that'll get in your soil that will get in the water that will get in the air you breathe. And I think that that gets lost a lot.

Erica Reiner (05:44):

Absolutely. And really a good point that you've made. What's so funny is when I'm explaining the difference between sustainability and non-toxic, I always use that example. I'm always like, okay, we do FSC wood FSU it, but it doesn't mean that the table was finished with non-toxic stains. And if he SUVs and stuff, stuff like that, but you took it one level bigger and said, even on the backend, the production. And it's really important that we look at not just the finished product and does it off gas or get into your lungs in some kind of way or your you're or whatever in your home, but the people a making it and then be the community at large, the country, the world at large air quality, soil, quality, water, quality, all those kinds of things. So yeah, really well said. Okay. So my next question for you, what would be your top three favorite ways to see interior designers that you would work with go green and that could be sustainable sustainable, or that could be non-toxic what would your three big pieces of advice look like?

Kate Bachner (07:00):

Oh, wow. Okay. Sourcing FSC wood so making sure that the natural materials that you're sourcing are responsibly sourced because that will, like I said, that will ultimately have an impact on the environment, the people around, but also the homeowner, right. It gets back to the homeowner. So that's one of the things next is really understanding that materials affect human health. Like really getting to that, that it's kind of like how the food we eat affects our health, the materials that are in our home, you know, we ended up picking them up. We ended up picking up the dust from materials and putting it into our mouth and breathing them in. So we're ingesting a lot of these things and I think it's really important for interior designers to understand how really important it really important it is. It's not this like fringe thing or just like this buzz word that, oh, let's like be trendy and call ourselves green.

Kate Bachner (08:10):

But I think that it's important to I guess something easy is to learn about green certifications as your guide. So like, if you don't want to go into like this chemical, you know, all the chemicals and become like a, you know, a chemist and like, no, that sounds really overwhelming, but there's some certifications that you could look at that could help guide your decisions. So like for stains, it could be a GreenGuard gold for wood FSC for paint zero VOC. And it's important to also ask if there is any exempt VOC is in your paint. So I didn't

Erica Reiner (09:00):

Know that. Thank you for teaching us that.

Kate Bachner (09:03):

Yeah. Maybe I'm going on a tangent. So just like stop me if I'm like, no, but

Erica Reiner (09:07):

That's a good little tidbit. So

Kate Bachner (09:10):

Exempt VOC. So VOC is the reason why they're a big deal is that they cause smog. That's why they've been curtailed. So the BOC is that are regulated, are the VOC, is that cause smog, the VOC is that don't cause fog are not regulated and they don't count in the overall VOC measurement level.

Erica Reiner (09:38):

Okay. That is such a good point and tip. So you're really going to want to look for paint companies that are going above and beyond maybe the specialty paint companies who've been doing eco-friendly non-toxic products for a while now.

Kate Bachner (09:54):

Yeah. You know, even bigger ones like Benjamin Moore is really responsible. They,

Speaker 3 (09:59):

They do. Yeah. They do. They

Kate Bachner (10:02):

Make sure that their pigments don't have VOC is, and they don't use exempt. VOC is there's also ECOS paints, gray. And then there's really cool mineral paint. Like there's this company called Roma BPO that uses like limestone kind of paint and American clay. And what's cool about that is that it's inherently like mold resistant. So you don't have to worry about like biocides or mill decides being added to the paint because it's inherently, it already has those qualities,

Erica Reiner (10:40):

Beautiful fact and tidbit there that I'm sure everyone's gonna put in their pocket. Okay. So what would you like to see a little bit more of in the interior design industry? So this whole whole point and mission of this podcast is to a connect to like mine individuals and have discussions and all that and, and be, be a voice for be a voice for the industry as a whole. That's trying to push it into a greener space. So we want to make certain things more available to us and to our designers and our clients, and then the people making them as a whole. So what, what are a couple things, or one thing that you think we could do a little bit of a better job on?

Kate Bachner (11:30):

I think it's important to know like the high impact categories. So like a lot of times you can't choose everything, you have a budget and you have time, you know, there's time constraints. So I would say concentrate on what applied products like coatings and sealants engineered wood, make sure that the binders are doesn't have like formaldehyde in it. And it abides by like carbs to standards, which fortunately in California, that's great because they have to watch out for halogenated flame retardants, which are in fabrics and like sofa

Erica Reiner (12:23):

Foams and stuff like that. So

Kate Bachner (12:27):

Basically all right. So I guide what applied.

Erica Reiner (12:33):

So that's for Cole, no listening, but yeah. So anything that's like paint, stains, varnishes lacquers yeah.

Kate Bachner (12:44):

And stuff like that. So try and also go water-based and look for green certifications because there's a lot of green certifications in that category. Floors, FSC, wood, or sustainably sourced wood FSC, there is a price premium. So if you can't, you know, if that doesn't work in your budget, make sure you ask some questions about where the wood is worst. I would say, okay, so upholstered goods, I think trying to avoid or trying to avoid products that are made or sofas that are made with foam and instead get late like natural latex wrapped in wool as an alternative, because then you don't have to worry about flame retardants being added to the product. So I think that that's a good rule of them for upholstered products.

Erica Reiner (13:46):

Those were great. That's a really good I think that was like a really good top three big impact areas to look at. And I think that those pretty much aligned with mine as well. So those are things that we should be on the lookout for, but is there anything that you can think of that you've seen get better since you've, you've been doing this work? Like in real time, like for me I've seen just an overall awareness grow. I've seen a few more, you know, things become available in terms of choices and, and, and that could be both, excuse me, sustainable or eco-friendly whichever umbrella you want to put in under or, I mean, sustainable non-toxic and and I've seen a lot of, a lot more awareness about flame retardants and maybe a little bit about VOC two. So is there anything that you ha are like really glad that you think we are doing a good job on as an industry and educating people about?

Kate Bachner (14:56):

Absolutely. So I think materials are becoming the forefront. It's really the next level of sustainability. So I think first it was about being energy efficient and now we're really looking at materials. So there's just been this proliferation of you know, green third party certifications for materials. And there's the, all these organizations that are trying to make manufacturers be more transparent with their ingredients. And that really helps them know what's in their products and also how to improve it. And the manufacturers actually, who are the most green are actually making a lot more profits than those that are not, I

Erica Reiner (15:49):

Love that. I hope everyone hears that.

Kate Bachner (15:53):

Yeah. and I would check out also what the international living future Institute is doing. They oversee the living building challenge and they have a what's called the declare label and that's on a lot of different products that lists the the ingredients on them. And it also says whether they have they're on the watch list on the watch list or the just like no, no list. Yeah. And that's over like 800 chemicals and they're, they're declare the number of manufacturers that are doing declare labels has really grown. So it just shows that it's gaining a lot of popularity.

Erica Reiner (16:46):

That's great. So tell us now a little bit more about what your work looks like at why is matter and what you're doing on the day to day.

Kate Bachner (16:56):

Sure. So I work with residential build teams. So I work with interior designers, contractors, architects, homeowners. I'm kind of like the, the center person a little bit. Cause the homeowner comes to me. The contractor comes to me and I help either vet products. So a contractor says, Hey, could I use this sealant or interior done? Hey, could I use this ceiling? Could I use this floor? And I'm like, ah, that's a little funky. Like, Lubana we go this way? Why don't we choose this product? Or sometimes I just make a, like, do some guidelines, like, you know well this is kind of getting into more contractor and less interior design, but the first thing that comes to mind is like installation, right? So like let's go to like natural installation instead of foam insulation. Or

Erica Reiner (17:52):

I go by hand installation and install that or whatever right. Or cellulose or rock wall,

Kate Bachner (17:59):

Something like that. But yeah, so I work really closely with them to vet products. And my process really looks at looking at the documentation that's available for the manufacturer, checking out what chemicals the manufacturer lists and then cross-referencing that to a lot of different read lists. So there's like a bunch of red lists that have you know hundreds of different chemicals of concern. California has one the architecture company Perkins and will the European what is it called? The European chemical agency has one. The ILSI has one. So I compare what's in the product to those lists.

Erica Reiner (18:55):

I can't stress enough what important work this is because if you, if anyone listening is less familiar it's it's. So the reason why all of us are doing this is because it's the wild west out there in terms of any oversight. So certifications standards data behind harmful chemicals, testing chemicals on human health. There's so many gaps between in all of those categories. There's so everything is a big patchwork, nothing is clear to the consumer and it requires a lot of your own research there's. And the reason is because there's no top-down oversight pretty much in this country. There's like five chemicals that are banned out of, we talk about this all the time out of, you know, however many like 50,000 or whatever it is since or more since world war II and before. So in terms of supply chains and the sustainability there, it can be tricky to track.

Erica Reiner (20:05):

And there's a lot going on under the umbrella of eco-friendly, whether you're looking at the sustainability side or the nontoxic human health side. And so your work is so important because with that patchwork, there's a variety of non-profits that have sprung up trying to plug these holes in the gaps in the, in the system. And there's also greenwashing. And then there's also no regulation that states that we need to have ingredient lists and materials, or, you know, not allow certain things into baby cribs. There's, there's just no one out, no one looking out. So it's, you know, people doing some things the best that they can, and we need people to tie it all together, get out their magnifying glass and interpret for the rest of us. And that's why your work is so important and valuable and green designers and myself try and make an effort to do this.

Erica Reiner (21:07):

And th and we streamline it a little bit by kind of going good, better, best and my approach at least, and some of the other designers I've had on there describes a, trying to go for natural products, be trying to go for products that have declaration of being sourced responsively, or are meeting certain criteria. And then obviously the best is having a third party audit and certified body with that label on it. But maybe even like platinum would be to have it being cross-referenced investigated a little bit more like with the work that you were doing. So I just think it's a really, really interesting role that you're filling and hopefully we'll see more of you pop up and kind of help fill in more of those gaps in this industry. And let me ask you, do you, are you only working with new builds or renovations or would designers listening or whomever listening be able to reach out to you and get information on materials on behalf of their design product project or tell us how that would work?

Kate Bachner (22:30):

Sure. So I don't, I work across the board, so I do new construction, major innovations, but also like cosmetic work. So say somebody needs

Speaker 4 (22:41):

Like to source

Kate Bachner (22:43):

Sustainable, beautiful furniture or wants to change their paint on their wall. It really could be from like really big projects to really small ones.

Erica Reiner (22:57):

Hmm, great. So is there anything else that you want us to know that we haven't covered either about your work or the industry as a whole?

Kate Bachner (23:10):

I would say that eco-friendly homes just feel better. They feel better. They are the products that you're putting into them are made with intention. That intention is for your health and the health of the planet. And I think that really resonates and how a home feels. It resonates with the energy of the home. So we talk about the chemicals and, you know, or the sourcing, and though that's really important, but I think not to sound woo. But the subtle energy of the home feels better because it's aligned with the natural world and yourself, and it's really trying to harmonize the built environment with the natural environment. And I think that's really a beautiful thing.

Erica Reiner (24:20):

I love that so much. And you know that's not to Hulu. That's actually the second time I've heard that sentiment and I love it. The universe is forcing it upon me to recognize a little bit more. So thank you so much for sharing that. Is there one place where listeners can find you hire you? Yeah, sure.

Kate Bachner (24:44):

You can go to my website. It's a wise, w I S E dash matter M a T T E r.com.

Erica Reiner (24:55):

Great. Okay. I'm sure. There'll be a lot of us knocking on your door. Well, thank you so much for sharing your really valuable insight and your process and the work that you do, and even just letting people know that this service exists with you and hopefully others and I so appreciate your valuable time. So thank you so much for joining today.

Kate Bachner (25:22):

Yeah. Thank you for doing this. I think it's so important. The work that you're doing and it's been my pleasure.

Erica Reiner (25:30):

Thank you. I appreciate that. Yeah. Okay. Well, we'll catch you next time. Okay. Bye.

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