By Sharon Del Bianco
Imagine a future where all projects must meet local and state fire codes; comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act; and adhere to strict sustainability regulations. This imagined future is now a reality in some municipalities. For example, New York established a law in 2005 that requires many of the city's new municipal buildings, additions and renovations to meet rigorous standards of sustainability.
Other jurisdictions in North America have, or are in the process of, passing laws that require new buildings and houses to meet minimum standards of green design. I applaud the work of the U.S. Green Building Council and its creation of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) rating system, as well as other standards and a program to accredit professionals within the system. But, I believe a majority of interior designers must embrace sustainable design in a more visible manner. Did you know that you can start a movement to pass local and national laws that would require projects to meet minimum standards for sustainable materials and design elements? This opportunity for our profession to lead sustainability efforts might also add credibility to interior design licensing efforts.
How would we do this? The same way we have achieved interior design legislation in 26 U.S. jurisdictions and eight Canadian provinces: initiating grassroots efforts to make change. Margaret Mead's famous quote has never rung more true: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
William McDonough and Michael Braungart's book, Cradle-to-Cradle, has been part of my resource library for several years. It is a wake-up call that I know others have already heard. The authors write: "At the same time that these environmentalists were issuing important warnings, others were suggesting ways consumers could reduce
their negative impact on the environment. The best way to reduce any environmental impact is not to recycle more, but to produce and dispose of less."
This worries me because interior design is a profession of consumption. Although I do not purchase and resell products in my business, I know many interior designers who do earn a living by selling furniture and accessories. And, even though I do not sell products, I still specify new materials, finishes and furniture that my clients purchase. How do we accomplish this tremendous feat of zero consumption? It is like turning a freight liner around 180 degrees in a narrow strait.
After reading McDonough and Braungart's book, I have found myself questioning my work. In how many ways am I directly responsible for the demise of this planet? That may sound like an alarmist reaction, but clearly I have been impacted by the authors' words. So, to alleviate my guilty conscience, and to take the action espoused by Margaret Mead, I came up with a list.
Most of us have seen lists of changes we can incorporate into our personal lives to slow global warming. And I hope that you recycle, drive a hybrid vehicle (or, better yet, take public transportation, walk or ride a bike) and buy locally grown organic produce. I am equally interested in ways we can begin the effort of making change within our own profession. Will you join me in this critical call to action?
- If you are not already, become a LEED Accredited Professional (LEED-AP).
- Sit on a local or state/provincial zoning board. Be vocal about changes that can be made to proposed projects that will make them more sustainable.
- Take the time to educate your clients about why choosing sustainable materials is the way to go. You wouldn't design a space that would put the public at harm, why specify materials that will harm the planet?
- Write an article for your local newspaper explaining how homeowners can incorporate sustainable materials in their own interior environments.
- Critically review the products you routinely specify. Are there other, more responsibly manufactured products you can use in their place? If so, tell the manufacturers' representative why you are dropping their products in favor of others. (Caveat: Do not base your decisions on marketing materials alone; do the research to understand what is in the products you are specifying).
- Signal your intention. I think this is one of the most profound and direct things interior designers can do. McDonough and Braungart write: "Commit to a new paradigm, rather than to an incremental improvement of the old." Making an intentional statement signifies an industry's desire for change. Collectively, can the
interior design associations make a statement signaling our commitment to the environment?
In the interest of full disclosure, I am not yet a LEED-AP. However, I am preparing for the test and hope to take the exam in early 2008. My firm routinely specifies green building materials, whether the building is applying for LEED certification or not. Additionally, approximately 25 percent of our library is composed of green material sources and we regularly ask our manufacturers' reps if, and how, their products contribute to LEED certification. Is all of this good enough? No, but that's exactly my point. This call to action I am making is for all of the designers out there like me who know we've got to do more, together, to make a dent in global warming.
Another quote from Cradle-to-Cradle sums up this call to change our behavior: "Poor design on such a scale reaches far beyond our own life span. It perpetrates what we call intergenerational remote tyranny-our tyranny over future generations through the effects of our actions today. At some point a manufacturer or designer decides, ‘We can't keep doing this. We can't keep supporting and maintaining this system.' At some point they will decide that they would prefer to leave behind a positive design legacy. But when is that point? We say that point is today, and negligence starts tomorrow."
Sharon Del Bianco is a director of NCIDQ and president of Del Bianco Interior Design Inc., a Florida-based firm specializing in the healthcare and institutional markets. She has been a member of the Florida Board of Architecture and Interior Design in the Department of Business and Professional Regulation since 1998. Del Bianco is an NCIDQ Certificate holder and a licensed interior designer in Florida.