Healthy Materials 101 – A Realistic Approach to Creating Healthier Buildings with Jonsara Ruth

At the baseline, “healthy” materials should not have a negative impact on people living or working inside of a building. Beyond that, there are materials that have a low impact on people and the planet throughout their entire lifespan—and then there are materials that can have a net-positive impact, such as those that absorb carbon from our atmosphere.

Jonsara Ruth, Co-founder and Design Director of the Healthy Materials Lab at Parsons School of Design, joins this episode of the Buildings + Beyond podcast to discuss the spectrum of materials and resources available. Jonsara chats with guest host Sarah Nugent about how to phase out toxic ingredients and select materials that are healthy and affordable.

Episode Guests

Jonsara RuthJonsara Ruth

Jonsara Ruth is Co-founder and Design Director of Healthy Materials Lab (HML) at Parsons School of Design, where she is an Associate Professor and Founding Director of the MFA Interior Design program.

At HML, Jonsara brings creative leadership to the goal of improving the health of underserved communities through the transformation of design and material practices. At Parsons, Jonsara cultivates new understandings of design through her teaching, research, and convening experts from a wide variety of fields to explore and debate intertwined, cross-disciplinary topics at large-scale symposia and public events. Material curiosities drive her research.

Jonsara is a designer, artist, and founder of Salty Labs, a collaborative studio improving human and environmental health through imaginative design. She has led creative and production teams to achieve award-winning designs and mass-produce the healthiest, environmentally friendly children’s furniture available in America to improve indoor air quality and overall health. Elevating everyday human experience is her underlying pursuit. Her designs have been published widely.

She serves on the board of the Sustainable Furnishings Council, Mount Sinai’s Stakeholder Advisory Board for Community Engagement Core, and regularly participates as a guest lecturer at design industry and academic events. Jonsara was recently awarded, with Alison Mears, the 2022 Women in Architecture Innovation Award from Architectural Record, and together co-edited Material Health: Design Frontiers, released in February 2023.

Sarah NugentGuest Host: Sarah Nugent

Sarah Nugent is a Sustainability Director at SWA’s New York City office, within the Sustainable Building Services (SBS) group. She oversees building certifications for high-rise residential and a variety of commercial building project typologies.

Sarah’s professional knowledge helps guide architects, owners, developers, and building management staff on green and high-performance building and site design strategies, healthy design strategies, cost-effective building system operations, and energy-saving maintenance practices.

She has project experience with LEED® Building Design + Construction Rating System (including New Construction™, Core + Shell™, and LEED for Schools™), Fitwel for Communities, Multifamily Residential, the WELL Building Standard, the Collaborative for High Performance Schools guidelines, and the NYC SCA’s Green School Guidelines. Sarah was integral in SWA’s pursuit and receipt of LEED Proven Provider status, awarded in September 2016. She has served as a subject matter expert for GBCI and USGBC as an exam writer and course reviewer for LEED BD+C v4 exam materials.

Sarah provides documentation, research assistance and consulting in the following areas: sustainable building materials planning and procurement; sustainable site location/planning; water conservation; environmental and healthy material specifications and procurement; green education; and indoor environmental health and safety.

Episode Information & Resources

Sarah’s Buildings + Beyond podcast debut:

Healthy Materials Lab:

Affordable, healthy housing:

Robin Guenther:

Microplastics from paint:


Board insulation alternative made with wood cellulose:


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About Buildings and Beyond

Buildings and Beyond is the podcast that explores how we can create a more sustainable built environment by focusing on efficiency, accessibility, and health.

Buildings and Beyond is a production of Steven Winter Associates. We provide energy, green building, and accessibility consulting services to improve the built environment. For more information, visit

Hosts: Robb Aldrich | Kelly Westby

Production Team: Heather BreslinDylan Martello | Tricia Carr | Ian Slakas

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