At the recent Interior Design Educators Council (IDEC) annual meeting, the IDEC Board of Directors encouraged educators to embrace the concept of Cradle-to-Cradle design, as described in William McDonough's and Michael Braungart's provocative book with the same title about a new philosophy that is changing the design of the world. McDonough, an architect, and Braungart, a chemist, are co-founders of McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC), a consulting firm that encourages industries to create products for "cradle-to-cradle" cycles instead of designing "cradle-to-grave" products, which are dumped in landfills at the end of their useful life.
At first glance, most interior design professionals would agree that embracing a concept like cradle-to-cradle is a logical and necessary endeavor. Additionally, interior design educators understand that sustainable design is not a single course, but rather a way of thinking that needs to be incorporated throughout a curriculum. But what is the reality of our love affair with sustainable materials for practitioners right now? How do we ensure that the sustainable products we specify and install will not be cleaned with harsh chemicals that are damaging to our environment? What are facility and sanitation engineers doing with these new interiors once LEED-certified buildings are occupied? How do clients and end-users react when the construction budget comes in high because of the extra costs associated with sustainable products? These are questions I posed to an expert on sustainable issues.
Barbara Batshalom is executive director of the Green Roundtable (GRT). GRT has evolved since 1999 to become "an independent non-profit organization dedicated to the mainstreaming of sustainable design with a systematic approach implemented through an array of integrated programs." Composed of building owners, occupants, developers, interior designers, architects, engineers, landscape architects, lawyers, suppliers / manufacturers, contractors, realtors, facility managers and many other professionals, the organization includes more than 3,000 participants from every sector related to design, construction and post occupancy of the built environment. The GRT addresses "disconnects" by coordinating the activities of all of the relevant stakeholders and leveraging their independent expertise and activities into a more unified, coherent big
picture. GRT is also the local affiliate of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).
What is the reality of our love affair with sustainable materials for practitioners right now?
Batshalom: I would say it is hot and cold. There are those who love and those who have
antipathy! "Sustainable materials" is a big category. There are some materials that have always been "sustainable," perform well and are reasonably priced (woods, stone, etc.). On the other end of the spectrum, there are plenty of materials that may have certain green qualities, but may not perform well, are more expensive, or are not yet proven. Then there is the ever-confusing condition of products having attributes that are green combined with qualities that are not very green. In that case, the challenge is to wade through criteria and decision-making priorities to make a selection in line with client goals. Vinyl, forexample, is cheap, arguably durable, etc., but dioxins emitted during manufacture or incineration have been linked to endocrine disruption and carcinogens. Another example is fly ash as an admixture in concrete. It is reusing a waste product—fly ash is a by-product from coal burning power plants—that can make concrete lighter, stronger and cheaper than using traditional mixes with Portland cement. However, this has caused concern because fly ash can contain toxins that can leach. Additionally, the embodied energy in concrete is huge and connected with global climate-change concerns. So the heightened awareness around sustainable criteria makes the job of material selection and specification much more complex and difficult than it has been in the past.
How do we ensure that the sustainable products we specify and install will not be cleaned with harsh chemicals that are damaging to our environment?
Batshalom: The three most important strategies are communication, buy-in and training. Since we need to be moving away from these harmful substances as part of normal
protocol, we need to be clearly communicating this to the decision-makers who do
purchasing and those who manage and oversee maintenance staff. If maintenance is outsourced by contract, then guidelines for cleaning substances need to be laid out in those contracts. Fines can be imposed for noncompliance.
What are facility and sanitation engineers doing with these new interiors once LEED-certified buildings are occupied?
Batshalom: The International Facility Management Association may be the best source of current information on this question. If it is smart design, they are doing less! What I mean is that if facility managers are part of the design process and decision-making, as they should be, materials are selected in accordance with expected maintenance regimes and existing maintenance budgets. There have been examples, such as one in healthcare, where linoleum floors (a sustainable organic material) were installed as part of a renovation, adjacent to an existing vinyl floor. The maintenance staff simply ran the stripper/waxer from one material to the other. There had obviously not been enough thought or training to make sure different cleaning products were used on the different flooring materials.
How do clients and end-users react when the construction budget comes in high because of the extra costs associated with sustainable products?
Batshalom: If the construction budget comes in high because of increased costs of green products, the client and designer have much bigger problems to deal with! A blown budget could be one indicator that there are missed opportunities in the overall integration and optimization of building systems. If the project is the outcome of an overall integrated design process (the ideal and becoming more standard as teams gain experience), this question should not even need to be asked. Product costs are minor if
viewed in context of the savings overall in an integrated building system design.
The Stata Center, a new Frank Ghery building at MIT, is a good example of integrated design because of the way the prime contracts were structured. Cost savings in the mechanical and electrical systems translated directly to an increase in available dollars for finish materials. If the client has thought through what it really means to embark on
sustainable design, they are more likely to be engaging in an integrated process. If this is so, the incremental costs of finish materials are a very small piece of overall design strategies and must be seen as part of a bigger picture. If the client is grabbing onto LEED/green design without fully understanding what it is or the process needed to achieve those outcomes, he or she will react negatively to increased material costs and will want to put money into mechanical systems or something that has an immediate perceived payback. The client's reaction relates directly to his or her underlying motivation and educated commitment to green design.
Clearly we have much to do to educate ourselves, and our clients, about the importance of using sustainable materials in a project. However, "a growing body of scientific evidence has indicated that the air within homes and other buildings can be more seriously polluted than the outdoor air in even the largest and most industrialized cities and that people spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors," according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. So it is obvious that our ethical obligation as interior designers is to embrace the concepts in Cradle-to-Cradle. Consistent with its mission to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public, NCIDQ strongly supports the LEED accreditation process and encourages professional interior designers to include a LEED-Accredited Professional as a member of their design team.
Sandy Friend is a member of the NCIDQ Board of Directors and principal of Interior Planning + Design in Ashland, OR, specializing in lighting design. She has been a Certified Interior Designer in California since 1992 and is an NCIDQ Certificate holder. For more information about NCIDQ, please visit its Web site at www.ncidq.org.