With millions of products available on the market today, consumers can easily get lost when trying to figure out which products are best for them. The process may be even more complicated when trying to choose a product that is free of harmful materials, performs as advertised, is easy to use, and that may positively impact our health and wellness.
For insights into what a product review process entails and learn what product aspects are key to consider when prioritizing health and wellness, Delos’ scientists Jie Zhao, PhD, and Yuski Yu, MSc share their thoughts.
1. Can you talk about why Delos reviews consumer products?
Over the past several years, Delos has been recognized as a trusted brand in the healthy building industry. The WELL Building Standard™ (developed by Delos and now administered by Delos’ subsidiary, the International WELL Building Institute pbc), has been widely adopted around the world, providing guidance on what are the science-based solutions and strategies to improve our living environments.
Utilizing the same scientific knowledge, together with an evidence-based and data-driven approach, Delos has been reviewing products that could be used in consumers’ daily lives to positively impact their health and well-being. Our goal is to objectively evaluate consumer products from a holistic perspective, so that people can be confident in using them to make their lives healthier and happier.
2. What are your guiding principles when determining what types of products to consider?
In theory, we could review any product that may have an impact on human health and well-being, but in practice, we have to consider and prioritize different product types by business relevance, market impact, and other factors.
3. What product aspects and qualities do you prioritize? How do you evaluate them?
Based on scientific research and industry standards and best practices, we create product technology position documents, which include the pros and cons of the technology, specifications on efficiency, durability, and other parameters. Based on this information, we develop proprietary product review criteria, which include four key components: material safety, functionality and performance, marketing claims, and user experience.
Our product evaluation process then basically follows the product review criteria – we check all relevant information about the product as specified in the review criteria. Depending on whether products meet our criteria, we’ll either “approve” them or not. Occasionally, if the information we have is insufficient, we’ll also reach out to the manufacturer to request additional documentation before making a decision. Finally, we will often conduct our own testing of the user experience – while it’s not a health or wellness related aspect of a product, we want to make sure that the products we select (and subsequently recommend to our customers) are easy and enjoyable to use or interact with.
4. What makes Delos’ product review process different from other popular product review platforms, such as Wirecutter, CNET, or Consumer Reports?
What surrounds us and what we touch, breathe, consume and interact with matters to our health. When it comes to products, our expertise – and main difference – is in understanding how products can impact our health and wellness. Many products have certain health attributes, but consumers aren’t often aware of them. For example, printers can pollute our indoor air, making it important to pay attention to which ones do so, and how much. So we review items like emission levels of specific pollutants (as well as potential health effects of those pollutants), and certifications that indicate low or no emissions, and make consumers aware of it.
Other platforms don’t look at products with this health and wellness lens, and instead focus primarily on user experience, efficacy, quality, price and other aspects of the product – all of which is very useful information for consumers, but it does not provide a holistic picture of the product, since it does not say how using that product might affect your health.
5. Manufacturers sometimes embellish the qualities and capabilities of their products. How do you ensure that the product information you have is accurate? What do you do if the performance of the product does not match the manufacturer’s claims?
Checking the accuracy of product information is one of the key things we do in our product review. In so many cases we see exaggerated performance claims, inaccurate descriptions, and sometimes just plain errors. In our product review process, we rely on 3rd party certification and/or testing data to verify product information and claims.
For example, when assessing material safety, we review different standards, regulations and guidelines from over 10 reputable standard-setting agencies and authorities – such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), National Sanitation Foundation (NSF), Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturer’s Association (BIFMA), California Air Resources Board (CARB), Breast Cancer Prevention Partners (BCPP), among others. If we find inconsistencies in what the manufacturer claims about their product, or need more documentation to complete our evaluation, we request additional documentation from the manufacturer.
Another area is functionality and performance. For example, Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR) is a key performance metric for air purifiers. To ensure that a product does, in fact, deliver the CADR that it claims to deliver, we review 3rd-party CADR test reports of the product, and check whether the testing was done in a reliable laboratory and based on well-established industry standards. If needed, we also perform our own in-house testing of certain elements of some products.
6. There are many emerging products and technologies, from wearables that promise better focus and performance to air purifiers that claim to be most efficient at killing SARS-CoV-2. How do you approach them?
In some cases, the technologies that we review are novel, and industry standards for their efficacy and performance don’t yet exist. In such cases, we review available scientific literature on those technologies and consult with subject matter experts. If a product looks promising, we then work directly with the manufacturer and reputable laboratories to conduct product testing, and in some cases even develop our own testing methodologies. For example, we have worked with the British Research Establishment (BRE) to develop a testing protocol for active green walls, and even published a peer-reviewed journal article based on the testing results.
7. If a product you’re reviewing has qualities that you consider detrimental to health, do you communicate that to the manufacturer? How do they usually respond?
In many cases, we work directly with the manufacturer, providing them recommendations on how they could improve their product. They are usually very receptive and proceed with making adjustments to their product.
8. What are some of the most common product types that you evaluate?
Some of the most common product types we review include air purifiers and sensors, water filtration systems, tunable lighting solutions, and cleaning supplies. During the Covid-19 pandemic, we focused most of our efforts on evaluating different types of standalone air purifiers, products for task lighting, as well as cleaning agents and disinfectants and systems for their delivery.
9. Who is the team that evaluates products at Delos?
Delos Labs is the team that drives product evaluation, which is one of our core functions in the company. Delos Labs is a highly dynamic and interdisciplinary team of scientists, engineers, designers, and health professionals. We are passionate about improving people’s health and well-being through all aspects of our living environment, including consumer products. We also work closely with experts in academia and industry to advance our understanding of cutting edge research and emerging technologies, which also helps to inform our product evaluation process and decisions.
There are certainly many aspects to consider when choosing a product that best meets your health and wellness goals. Delos’ scientists do the work to select best-in-class solutions, so you don’t have to! Check out the Delos Shop to see the products that we confidently stand behind, and reach out to our team if you’re looking for solutions customized specifically for your space.
Contributors: Jie Zhao, PhD; Yuski (Yue) Xu, MS, WELL AP
Regina Vaicekonyte, MSc, WELL AP, is a Vice President at Delos Labs who specializes in research on healthy built environments to develop and evaluate products and services for commercial, residential and hospitality sectors. Her work on healthy buildings has been published in peer-reviewed journals, books and digital platforms.