Green design is dead. The term “green design” was a fad that fizzled out when the housing market did.
Sustainable design has taken its place. Isn’t that just a semantic difference?
Green design, the fad version, rose to prominence around the same time concern about climate change post-Hurricane Katrina became widespread in the U.S. public consciousness. But just because it was a fad does not mean it did not have an impact.
Without green, there would not have been the major shift away from the ‘disposable’ house toward a more cradle-to-cradle design philosophy. There would be no explosive growth of the USGBC’s Greenbuild Expo year after year, no NAHB green building guidelines, no NARIgreen, no NKBA green education track. The design world owes the term ‘green’ a debt of gratitude, but its time is up.
Sustainability is a quieter term, indeed a more sustainable one. It describes better the way a design generation has changed its way of thinking. But how has that generation – the current generation – made this real? Kitchen & Bath Design News recently surveyed over 600 designers from across the country to get a sense of how sustainability is impacting the way kitchen and bath designers create, what kinds of products they think are important to a sustainable home, and how their clients’ requests (or lack thereof) impact the way they are doing business.
Since so much of the design business is client-driven, it only made sense to start with the question: What percentage of your clients specifically request green products? In the minds of many, the sustainable remodel begins and ends with products. Because designers are most often limited to the confines of an existing footprint, work on the insulation, windows and power systems of a home are simply not in their purview.
The results show that 402 designers, or about 67% of those surveyed, report that 10% or less of their clients are specifically coming in with requests. In the KBDN sustainable design webcast this past June, it was suggested that this could be a problem of mis- or under-education about green products. There are many myths about these products: that they are much more expensive, “ugly,” don’t work as reliably, etc.
Working through the green myths is part of the education of the client, and it appears designers are learning to do just that.
While “10% or less” sounds like a negative, consider the survey results of the next question, which asks: If your clients do not specifically ask for green products/design, do you bring up this option for discussion with them?
Almost as many people who reported that fewer than 10% of their clients come with green requests, said that they brought the subject up anyway: 65% do, 35% do not. The upsell potential of green products (whose mark-up generally tends to be 10-20% higher than standard products, according to market research), and the needs of individual clients, whether it be from an environmental standpoint or one based on health concerns, shows that selling sustainability is gaining traction with designers as part of a solid overall portfolio of services.
Because products are the driving force behind much of the sustainable side of kitchen and bath remodeling, it would logically follow that appliances would sweep the “Which types of green products do you most often sell or specify?” question. Not so.
Whether it is due to the groundswell at the federal level, or to state mandates like California’s ban on incandescent bulbs, lighting took top billing. CFLs and LEDs, in various shapes, sizes and color temperatures are more widely available than ever, and promise cost savings and long life.
Second to lighting is cabinetry with no or low-VOC finishes. This is unsurprising, as cabinetmakers have had to comply with ever-stricter California Air Resource Board (CARB) regulations in the state of California and, as the environmentalist and legislative communities well know, as goes California, so goes the rest of the country.