“Reduce, reuse, recycle” is a familiar sustainability mantra. It’s a good motto, but a bit general for professionals like interior designers who deal with details that can make or break a project on a daily basis. To help you green your practice and design healthy, high-performing interiors, we’ve outlined a Sustainability Action Plan to get you started and keep you on track. This five-point strategy provides a distinct roadmap to make sustainability less daunting and help aid in making more sustainable design decisions.
A designer’s discriminating palate extends beyond color, texture and pattern and delves into the ingredients of materials. Selecting durable, non-toxic products that contribute to the health of the occupant and indoor air quality is just as important as their aesthetic. Energy-efficient lighting and appliances and water-reducing fixtures that conserve natural resources should also be a priority.
Create interiors that stand the test of time, making sure every element in your design is appropriately durable and meaningful. Renovating existing structures is inherently more sustainable than new construction. Adding more square footage or moving into a larger space may not be necessary when space planning, adjacencies and storage are properly addressed.
Specialized knowledge is a significant value that interior designers bring to the table, so get to know your materials and become credentialed. Chemicals on the Living Building Challenge’s “Red List” such as phthalates, halogenated flame retardants and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) are human toxins, yet are ubiquitously found in common building materials. Learn how to specify safe alternatives with hazard screening tools and product libraries such as Pharos Project, EcoScorecard™ and GreenSpec®. When vetting products through third-party certifications that assess human and environmental impact, the ASID Guide to Ecolabels is also an invaluable resource.
Just as your ASID appellation distinguishes you as a qualified designer, becoming REGREEN Trained™ or a LEED Accredited Professional will differentiate you in the sustainability marketplace. More than 70 percent of hiring decision-makers maintain that being credentialed increases competitiveness, so a green credential may bring your resume to the top of the stack and help you land a new job.
Pay attention to where your materials originate from and who makes them. Select products and materials that originate or are manufactured within 500 miles of the project site. This will decrease carbon dioxide emissions and petroleum dependence by reducing the transportation burden, while also supporting local economies.
Whenever possible, use local craftsmen to infuse interiors with a sense of place to help articulate the vernacular of a region. Using regional artisans also helps sustain local businesses, which in turn stabilizes the national economy. Indigenizing is akin to shopping at your local farmers’ market: you get fresher, better-quality products while supporting your neighbor.
When you make it convenient to stay organized, it’s easier to make better choices. Green your resource library by keeping sample files in order and purging them on a regular basis. Re-purpose discontinued carpet samples at your local animal shelter and donate tile samples to a design school. Electronic samples are an even better choice because they use fewer resources, are easier to maintain, and can be shared across multiple platforms for on-the-road convenience.
As you receive new samples, vet them samples for toxic ingredients, recycled content and durability — and reject materials that don’t meet sustainability standards. Maintaining a go-to specification list with healthy materials and eco-conscious manufacturers will streamline your selection process for every project you do. Think of it like your kitchen: If you only stock healthy products, you won’t be tempted by things that are bad for you!
Oftentimes the easiest way to green your design practice is to simplify things. Be mindful of the impact daily activities have on the environment. Encourage employees to carpool or use public transit. Opt for plant-based cleaning products instead of chlorine-based cleansers, which are caustic and pollute the indoor air. Eschew ATM and gas pump receipts.
Adopt business practices that eliminate waste. Ban disposable utensils and use ceramic dishware instead. Go digital by setting up direct deposit and opting for online statements and publications. Design recycling centers at the point-of-use and make sure waste is properly sorted to comply with municipality regulations.
Sustainable design can be challenging, even for large, well-established design firms. Keep in mind that sustainability is never black and white, there are always trade-offs and good/better/best choices. Sustainable practices are applicable at every design phase, but most effective when employed from the beginning. Strive to get all stakeholders, including your professional team, involved early and keep them engaged throughout the entire process.
Keep it all in perspective and do the best you can. Before you know it, you’ll be adding reimagine, repair and reclaim to that familiar mantra.
Lori Tugman, Allied ASID, LEED AP, is the former senior sustainable design associate for ASID.