Online ExpertTrack in Nature & Environment

Principles of Healthier Materials and Sustainable Building

Understand how building materials impact human health as you explore healthier materials and their use in sustainable building.

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Parsons School of DesignParsons School of Design

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Explore how materials affect human, building, and environmental health

The built environment is all around us, and humans are constantly exposed to chemicals through the materials we wear, eat, or live amongst.

On this ExpertTrack, you’ll gain an understanding of what healthier materials are and how their use benefits humans and the environment.

Understand how chemical exposure impacts human health

On the first course of the ExpertTrack, you’ll explore how various chemicals impact humans and the ways in which humans are exposed to chemicals every day.

You’ll take a deep dive into vulnerable populations and the systemic injustice they often face, in the context of building materials and health. Next, you’ll explore the need for circular design strategies by thinking about products through their entire life cycle.

Investigate the chemical industry

The second course will delve further into chemicals and their impacts. You’ll unpack current chemical regulations (and the absence of), as well as barriers to and advocates for change within the industry.

You’ll explore the specific chemicals humans are exposed to in the home and built environment, and what this means in terms of how to select healthier products in the project phase. You’ll be guided through the education, goal, pre-search, and search phases to help you understand what designers can do to use healthier materials.

Explore material selection in the built environment

On the third course, you’ll build knowledge of how to design with healthier materials.

You’ll look at what healthier designs might look like, and the considerations and priorities of material selection in various contexts. You’ll also explore some challenges to healthier building and how to compile options and assess products to find the best solution. What follows is the designer’s dilemma: there is no perfect product, so how do we make the best choice?

Learn from the experts at Parsons School of Design

Throughout the ExpertTrack, you’ll be guided by the specialists at Parsons School of Design.

With their expertise, you’ll finish with the knowledge and skills to be able to design a healthier and sustainable built environment.

Key skills you will learn

  • Design
  • Goal setting
  • Chemical classification
  • Chemistry
  • Sustainable building
  • Advocacy
  • Toxicology
  • Healthy design
  • Product identification
  • Product evaluation
  • Future thinking
  • Materials Selection

Learning outcomes

By the end of the ExpertTrack, you’ll be able to...

  • Discuss the relationship between human health, building materials, chemical toxicity, and environmental exposure
  • Identify how chemicals get into our bodies
  • Debate why chemical regulation is important
  • Assess the various tools, certifications, standards etc. for evaluating materials
  • Summarize metrics for health goals based on specific audiences and design needs
  • Evaluate design options and materials against specific criteria
  • Explore the future of healthier built environments

Experience required

This ExpertTrack is designed for anyone interested in sustainability and building.

You’ll walk through the foundations of chemistry to understand what is involved in building materials before diving into some industry-specific topics, such as building regulations, certifications, and industry-aligned decision-making.

Getting started

The ExpertTrack will be most suited for those interested in design, architecture, interior design, community advocacy, politics, or any topics of community and sustainability.

Whether you’re interested in these topics, have aspirations to work in these industries, or you’re currently working in these areas, this ExpertTrack will help you develop a well-rounded knowledge of the current state, and potential future, of healthier building.

ExpertTrack course overview

  • Course 1

    Delve into the chemicals used in building materials, their impacts on human health, and what makes a healthier material.

    3 weeks

    3 hours per week

    • Week 1

      The Significance of Materials and Health
      • Welcome to the Course!
      • How Industrial Chemicals Impact Human Health
      • Classes of Chemicals that Impact Human Health
      • Transforming Building Products
      • Week 1 Wrap-Up
    • Week 2

      Environmental Health and Vulnerable Populations
      • Welcome to Week 2
      • How Chemicals Enter the Body
      • Vulnerable Populations and Systemic Injustice
      • Confronting Risk
      • Week 2 Wrap-Up
    • Week 3

      Life Cycle of Materials
      • Welcome to Week 3!
      • Toxicity and Exposure in Indoor Environments
      • Designing for Circularity
      • Pathways to Healthier Environments
      • Week 3 Wrap-Up
  • Course 2

    Delve into the chemical industry to understand how regulations impact strategies for healthier building materials.

    3 weeks

    3 hours per week

    • Week 1

      Unregulated Chemicals in the Building Industry
      • Welcome to the Course!
      • Absence of Chemical Regulation
      • Barriers to Change
      • Industry Advocacy
      • Week 1 Wrap-Up
    • Week 2

      Material Systems, Evaluations and Design
      • Welcome to Week 2
      • Classifying Chemicals
      • Chemicals of Concern
      • Setting Healthier Project Criteria
      • Week 2 Wrap-Up
    • Week 3

      Strategies and Guiding Principles for Designers
      • Welcome to Week 3
      • Education Phase
      • Goal and Pre-Search Phases
      • Search Phase
      • Course Wrap-up
  • Course 3

    Delve into healthier materials design and unpack the challenges and opportunities in selecting materials for healthier building.

    3 weeks

    3 hours per week

    • Week 1

      Strategies and Guiding Principles for Designers
      • Course and Week Introduction
      • What Does Healthier Materials Design Look Like?
      • Current Challenges and Opportunities in Architecture, Design, and Construction Industries
      • Designer's Dilemma: No Perfect Products
      • Week 1 Wrap-Up
    • Week 2

      Approaching Healthier Materials Design Within a Community Context
      • Welcome to Week 2
      • Fundamental Goals and Principles of the Material Health Process
      • Designers as Collaborators and Participants in Social Justice
      • The Role of Occupants
      • Week 2 Wrap-Up
    • Week 3

      Implementing our Vision of a Healthier Built Environment
      • Welcome to Week 3
      • The Role of Retailers
      • Common Building Product Challenges
      • Overcoming Obstacles
      • Envisioning Healthier Built Environments
      • Week 3 Wrap-Up

Prove you're job ready

Highlight the new, job-relevant skills you’ve gained and supplement existing qualifications with a hard-earned, industry-specific digital certificate – plus one for every course within your ExpertTrack.

  • Learn the latest in your chosen industry or subject.
  • Complete each course and pass assessments.
  • Receive certificates validated by the educating organisation.
  • Impress employers with learning outcomes you can add to your CV.
  • Make your career dreams a reality.

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How ExpertTracks work

Join an ExpertTrack to master new skills in your chosen specialist area. Work through a series of topic-focused courses at your own pace, and pass the final assessment to earn a digital certificate award which proves your expertise.

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Decide if the ExpertTrack is right for you with free access to the full suite of courses and assessments for a week.

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Pay a monthly subscription fee of $39 for as long as it takes you to complete the ExpertTrack. You can learn at your own pace and cancel at any time.

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Use your specialist training to progress further in your career or build expertise in areas you’re passionate about.

World-class learning with Parsons School of Design

For more than a century, Parsons School of Design has been inspired by the transformative potential of design. Today, the school’s groundbreaking academic programs carry forward that mission, making Parsons the number one design school in the U.S. and among the top three globally. At the heart of a comprehensive university — The New School — Parsons draws on a range of academic fields to deliver a uniquely interdisciplinary education enriched by the resources of its home in New York City

Meet your instructors

I am co-Director of Parsons Healthy Materials Lab in New York. See our work at and keep in touch at

Catherine, has led educational programming at Parsons Healthy Materials Lab since 2015. She also teaches at Columbia GSAPP and The New School.

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ExpertTracks are a series of online courses designed to help you master new skills in specialist areas. You pay a monthly subscription fee which includes access to all courses within the ExpertTrack, as well as assessments and the final digital certificate.

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