Experts Offer Ideas for Creating 'Green' Designs

Experts Offer Ideas for Creating 'Green' Designs

By John Filippelli

This is the question posed by Annette K. Stelmack, ASID, design director of Associates III, a Denver, CO-based design firm that teamed with the Washington, D.C.-based American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) to create Turning Green: A Guide to Becoming a Green Design Firm.

As Stelmack suggests, creating "green designs," or using sustainable products, is a worthwhile endeavor that will allow designers to not only adhere to the "home as haven," concept, but make that home last for the life of the client.

"By designing or adapting the places we live and work in an ecologically sensitive manner, we can all contribute to the continued well-being of our planet and its limited natural resources. And, by doing so, we can also benefit from lower fuel bills, healthier environments, less waste and beautiful spaces," she offers.

Adds Ann Knight, v.p./marketing for Bainbridge Island, WA-based Teragren, LLC, a bamboo flooring and accessory building products manufacturer: "The main advantages of green building are not only to benefit our planet's continued existence, but also to increase the public's awareness that building environmentally is critical to sustaining our natural resources, air quality and energy."

The way to achieve this, Stelmack notes, is to educate yourself as well as your employees, clients and other design professionals.
As described in the manual: "When a new project is imminent, attempt to be involved as early as possible so that you can broach the subject of sustainability at the onset, hopefully in the schematic design phase. Address the subject with the client, the architect and the contractor and try to get full team buy-in, and then work with however much buy-in you get."

To successfully work toward the goal of "green design," Stelmack suggests selecting sites that have minimal impact on the surrounding area; using systems that are energy efficient or that come from renewable resources; specifying energy-efficient appliances and water-efficient plumbing fixtures and providing for on-site recycling both during construction and throughout the life of the building.

In addition, both cite the LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) rating system, a credit-based system created by the U.S Green Building Council, as having propelled the adoption of green building practices, technologies, policies and standards for commercial, institutional and high-rise residential buildings.

Says Stelmack: "The LEED process is most effective when used as an early organizing principle for a project, [because] determining which sustainable design elements work best for a particular project is a complex process."

David Knight, president/CEO of Teragren, LLC, adds: "We're seeing a significant shift in attitudes about environmentally friendly products and socially responsible companies."

He concludes: "At a glance, small businesses don't appear to impact the environment like billion dollar corporations, but when you look at the big picture, the opposite is true."

Green thumb design
According to Stelmack, there are many ways to promote green design, whether on the jobsite or
in the office.

For instance, marking bins for different types of usable wood scraps, such as kindling, sawdust for compost and materials for art projects as well as educating the work crew about recycling procedures are all potential solutions, she believes.

She also suggests minimizing packaging waste by asking suppliers to avoid excessive packaging or leaving packaging at the point of purchase.

Taking inventory of office products and processes can help determine where changes can be made as well, especially with cleaning supplies, recyclable fax and copier paper, she adds. Even converting to Energy Star appliances and using certain types of light bulbs can make a difference.

David Knight agrees, noting that his company measures the company's overall environmental impact, from the beginning of the manufacturing process through the time the product is shipped to distribution points and finally, installed. "Last year, the company launched a five-year plan to assess Teragren's total environmental footprint and develop practices to reduce its overall impact. The end result will be a plan that could realistically benefit small companies in any industry with steps for saving the planet and turning a profit," he states.

Stelmack believes that "Our commitment to green design, as both a firm and as individuals, ultimately enhances the services that we provide our clients."

Product greenlight
A crucial part of the green design process, according to Stelmack, is finding "green" vendors.

Therefore, she suggests that once a firm has identified its aims, it should strive to find products and manufacturers that meet its green guidelines.

But, Ann Knight warns against "green washing," or choosing manufacturers that claim to manufacture green products when, in fact, they do not.

Educating yourself about who you do business with is key. Stelmack also suggests considering smaller firms and custom manufacturers who are traditional builders especially with furnishings and fabrics because these companies may already have eco-friendly practices in place.

Ann Knight notes that bamboo is one viable resource because it is renewably harvested over and over from the same plant.
She adds: "[By selecting bamboo], you're helping to reduce the dependence on dwindling timber resources."

Knight also cites Forest Certified Wood, cork flooring, hemp to create countertop materials, crushed sunflower seeds for an MDF-type of plywood and recycled glass and plastic as other product options.

Stelmack, citing Turning Green: A Guide to Becoming a Green Design Firm, notes that designers may also select woods for interior finish and trim from certified, well-managed forests; use formaldehyde-free particle board and MDF products for interior walls or provide documentation certifying that products are from salvaged wood sources if salvaged woods are used.

LEED time
According to Ann Knight, the U.S Green Building Council's LEED Certification program has had a great impact on the surging of green products and designs over the past three years.

"The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is leading a national consensus for producing a new generation of buildings that deliver high performance inside and out," she says.

For example, she points out that council members work together to develop LEED products and resources. These include the Greenbuild Annual International Conference and Expo policy guidance and educational and marketing tools that support sustainable building.

Although reserved primarily for commercial applications, the LEED rating system does have benefits for residential projects, Stelmack notes.

"Firms can have a team member become LEED accredited and projects can become LEED certified by incorporating the LEED rating systems as a design tool," she says.

Summarizing, Ann Knight says: "[The LEED system] greatly impacts architects and designers because what they specify in a home or building is critical to the environmental movement as well as their reputation in the market as leading-edge designers."

Concluding, Stelmack poses one last question: "[After all], who doesn't want a healthy environment to live and work in that also contributes to the well-being of our planet and future generations?".