Sustainable Kitchens

So much has been and continues to be published about green that I am challenged to bring something relevant and new to the topic of sustainable kitchens. The green conversation now happens much sooner in the design process. Before product selection begins, I have my “elevator speech” about a few key categories that you find in the kitchen. Inevitably, we use huge natural resources to design and build products that become part of our living environment. To some degree, I can effect change by guiding the client to choices that have less impact on the current environment while in the long run have the greatest green value because of the minimal amount of energy the client will consume and the natural products they can use to maintain their products’ appearance.

Cabinets Although bamboo is green in many ways, consider where it comes from. The same applies for African woods, like sapele and mahogany. Although these woods may fall under the guidelines of a certified-forestry program, the carbon footprint to bring these products into the U.S. is huge. Our native woods species are excellent choices for cabinetry. Alder, cherry, maple, walnut, vertical grain fir and oak continue to be the most popular choices. Salvaged and reclaimed woods have found niches in custom cabinetry, as well. Waterborne finishes have improved dramatically in their quality and durability.

Cooking surface Consider induction. The efficiency is not only in energy savings, but also in the amount of time it takes to heat and cook.

Countertops Get over granite and move on to a more responsible choice. Few see the hole in the earth from the quarry, comprehend the amount of energy it takes to fabricate and polish the slabs or consider the chemicals used to seal the porosity of the stone. The choices are increasing for eco-based products, including countertops made from paper and composites using recycled glass and ceramic material bound by environmentally friendly resin. Not only does how it’s made need to be part of the selection process, but also how is it cared for. Does it use a hazardous chemical product or will a dilution of white vinegar work?

Dishwashers Spend money on a better quality unit. It will last longer and give you more options. The initial expense will pay for itself in money saved on energy, water and the cost of having to replace a cheaper model in five to 10 years. Use air to dry the dishes instead of the heat option.

Faucet Water aerating and low-flow faucets are becoming the standard. The addition of air and a sensor in the faucet mechanism reduces the overall usage but does not compromise the feeling of full volume. Using low-flow faucets contributes to less groundwater and distribution pumping, less sewer water reclamation and less wastewater treatment. Water-saving fixtures lower water costs today and may reduce the need for costly water reclamation and treatment programs in the future.

Flooring Cork, tile and wood are great product choices. Consider a reclaimed or repurposed wood floor with a tung oil finish. It can be time- and labor-intensive in the application but provides a superior water-resistant finish from a natural product.

Refrigerators If you have to have the water and ice dispenser, make sure it is on the outside of the door. The cold air escapes when you open the door to get ice or water and then the compressor kicks on to restart the cooling process. A smaller, point-of-use refrigerator drawer for frequently used items can offset the initial cost through the energy savings realized on the smaller appliance.


Judith A. Neary is a professional instructor for the National Kitchen and Bath Association. She is currently part of the Jenn-Air Design Advisory Council, an ongoing forum of industry experts offering commentary about a variety of kitchen and design industry topics.