Mar 1, 2024
Cover Stories

Back to Nature:Going all-natural and nontoxic at home and work

Scanning news headlines, we are often bombarded by the evils of toxic chemicals and the effects of humankind’s choices on the environment. It can seem overwhelming, but there are things we can do both at work and in our homes to improve the health of our spaces while helping the environment at the same time.


The way our homes and businesses are constructed and the materials we surround ourselves with can have an enormous impact on our physical wellbeing and the planet.

According to, the construction industry creates about 40% of global carbon emissions. That’s because, “It takes energy to harvest raw material, manufacture it and then transport it,” said Jackie Hoffman, sustainability coordinator at STOA Architects in Pensacola.

Not only that, but chemicals used in creating everything from flooring to furniture to paint can emit toxic gases into our spaces, causing health issues.

“There are tens of thousands of unregulated chemicals used in our building products, and they can increase the risk of everything from asthma to obesity to cancer,” according to “Materials containing these toxic chemicals include carpet, insulation, wet-applied products like adhesives and sealants, and many others.”

The good news is that there are so many choices now for creating living and working spaces that are beautiful, functional and yet healthy for us and the world.

Hoffman said we can make small changes like using healthy construction materials that eliminate some or all of harvest, manufacture and transportation new materials require and instead reuse and recycle building supplies.

“These changes benefit families, the community and the environment.”

Using environmentally responsible, healthier materials isn’t just good for us, it’s good for the economy, too, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a charity encouraging the elimination of waste and pollution to regenerate nature.

“A circular economy is a system where materials never become waste and nature is regenerated,” says the EMF website. “In a circular economy, products and materials are kept in circulation through processes like maintenance, reuse, refurbishment, remanufacture, recycling and composting. The circular economy tackles climate change and other global challenges.”


Jessica Marikovich, owner of A Clean Sanctuary cleaning service, uses all-natural cleaners both for work and for home. Having her first child inspired her to start researching healthy choices for her family.

“When I had my daughter, I went deep into the research,” she said. “I was already shifting toward natural living, eating and all that. It is a lot, and it’s very overwhelming.”

Her goal now is to help people to slowly transition to healthier homes and workspaces by spreading the word and leading by example.

“One of the biggest toxic things in our homes that is hiding everywhere is fragrance,” Marikovich said.  

She’s backed up by science.

“Fragranced consumer products, such as cleaning supplies, air fresheners, and personal care products, are a primary source of indoor air pollutants and personal exposure,” stated Anne Steinemann in a 2016 article published in Air Quality, Atmosphere, and Health. “Previous research indicates that fragranced products can trigger adverse health effects.”

These effects include “migraine headaches, asthma attacks, respiratory difficulties, neurological problems, mucosal symptoms and contact dermatitis.”

That’s why Marikovich bans scented candles and other home fragrance products from her own home.

“Smell doesn’t equal clean, and I don’t know how we’ll ever get away from that,” she stressed.

She wants people to know that it isn’t necessary to disinfect everything all the


“When we get obsessed with disinfecting, we’re killing everything. Even the good microbes.”

Marikovich searched for and found better nontoxic cleaning products to use at home and in her cleaning business.

“Branch Basics is my absolute favorite go-to,” she said. “People might look at it and go, ‘Oh, my gosh, it’s so expensive’ because it’s $55 for a bottle of concentrate, but that concentrate lasts me months. You can use it for your all-purpose cleaner, your laundry, your bathroom.”

Whatever you use, Marikovich recommends finding a way to check products and ingredients you use to ensure safety for your family.

“EWG is the Environmental Working Group, and you can go on their site and type in any product, and it tells you what the risk is,” she said. “If you want to change one thing, start reading ingredients on your products, and if you see synthetic fragrances, don’t use it.”

There are other things you can do to improve the quality of the environments you live and work in.

“Changing out air filters is key for your health,” Marikovich said. “If you can’t afford to purchase organic carpets or furniture, you can open the windows and let some of the toxins out. Open windows 10 minutes a day, two times a day just to let in fresh air and let out the toxins. There are even plants now advertised as air cleaners.”

The quality of tools you use to clean is also important for healthier living.

“Look for a good quality vacuum cleaner that has not only a HEPA filter but also advanced cleaner technology. The seal technology keeps everything inside,” she explained.

And maybe the best advice Marikovich had to share was this: “If you can’t stay on top of it, hire someone.”

She said that even though she owns her own cleaning company, she still hires someone to come clean her home because, “I’m working and don’t have time to do it.”

If you hire someone, ask the important questions. Are they using products you’re comfortable with? Be mindful of what they are bringing into your home. Most cleaning companies will use your products if you want them to.

“If you can’t afford to purchase organic carpets or furniture, you can open the windows and let some of the toxins out. Open windows 10 minutes a day, two times a day just to let in fresh air and let out the toxins. There are even plants now advertised as air cleaners.”—  Jessica

Jackie Hoffman of STOA Architects in Pensacola shared these tips for creating home and business environments that are good for us:

*Design and build what is just big enough to serve your needs; try not to overbuild. A smaller home uses less energy and less building materials and is more efficient, less wasteful, less expensive and easier to maintain.

*Use low-emitting materials for all your interior finishes including flooring, drywall, insulation, paints and ceilings. These materials meet California Department of Public Health Standards for chemical emissions (guidelines used by sustainability organizations) and create a safe indoor air quality.

*Use safe bio-preferred products for hygiene, cleaning, maintenance, lawncare and pest control. Bio-preferred products are derived from raw materials such as plants and other renewable agricultural, marine and forestry materials. They provide an alternative to conventional petroleum-derived products that contribute to climate change.

*Install windows and skylights to not only receive natural light and reduce energy use but also add health benefits. Natural light boosts Vitamin D and has been shown to ward off depression and improve sleep.

*Install solar shading with trees, overhangs and window treatments to prevent overheating. This still allows for natural light, but also helps to cool your home.

*Ensure your home is airtight at all exterior penetrations, door and window openings. Air leakage can account for 25% of the energy used for heating and cooling.

*Use local materials to reduce the need for shipping. Transportation is one of the largest contributors of carbon emissions that cause climate change.

*Use local reclaimed and recycled materials to avoid the unnecessary harvest of raw materials and greenhouse gas emissions created by the manufacturing process. Examples are recycled glass tiles for shower walls, reclaimed wood for flooring, fencing and even furniture, reclaimed brick, stone and other masonry, and reused soil from excavation for new landscaping.

*Install native plantings. Local native plants provide food and shelter for wildlife and beneficial insects, and they contribute to the larger ecosystem without relying on irrigation or extensive maintenance to survive.

*Use rapidly regenerative material. Bamboo is the fastest growing plant in the world, according to the Guiness Book of World Records. It can be used instead of pine, oak and maple that have decades-long harvest cycles.

*Use bio-based materials that are sourced from responsible certification programs. The Forest Stewardship Council ensures responsible forest management to protect from deforestation for future generations. Wool insulation sourced from regeneratively-grazed herds can be used instead of fiberglass batt insulation.

*Install building materials that contain a high amount of recycled content such as asphalt shingles, carpet, concrete, drywall, metal framing and metal roofing.

*Install Energy Star appliances and equipment and WaterSense water fixtures and equipment for efficiency.