Going Green: Tips for Interior Designers

Five years ago, the interior designers at Associates III found it wasn’t easy to be green. Members of the Denver-based firm had decided that sustainable principles should govern their practice and product choices, but they found a dearth of information applicable to the commercial realm. So they researched and wrote Turning Green: A Guide to Becoming a Green Design Firm. Developed to assist interior designers (although easily adaptable to other design professions), the pamphlet not only suggests a process for going green, but also offers product recommendations and guidelines, manufacturer’s sustainability questionnaires, and a raft of useful web sites. For those ready to become eco-friendly, here are some suggestions.

I. BEFORE YOU START
1. Establish your principles.

Ask yourself: To what extent is your firm ready to go green? Does your commitment extend to the products your purchase, to the vendors you are willing to work with, to your own office and environment and culture? To what extent are you willing to educate and seek to influence others?

2. Develop an action plan.
Once you have clarified your environmental principles, determine how you will embody them in your firm’s business practices. Make a list of the things you want to accomplish through the effort (i.e. Reduce solid wastes, increase use of recycled materials, eliminate use of water-soluble toxins and contaminants). Then review the list and for each item, ask yourself, “How must I change my current business practices to achieve this?” (The answers may turn out to be as simple as researching earth-friendly cleaning supplies to making a choice to use low-VOC paints).

II. BEGIN IN YOUR BACKYARD
3. Start with yourself.

If nothing else, you have the power to change yourself; likewise, your firm’s eco-friendly practices can begin with you. Consider raising the topic of sustainability at an all-staff meeting or lunchtime forum; follow up with E-mails, verbal reminders, and even posters.

4. Examine your current office products and processes.
Inventory the office products and processes and determine where changes can be made. Areas to consider: Cleaning supplies (Try biodegradable soaps and cleaners); office supplies (Use copier and fax paper with a high recycled content); electrical (Opt for Energy Star appliances and energy-saving light bulbs); and recycling (Reuse packing and shipping materials).

III. EXAMINE THE MATERIALS YOU USE IN YOUR WORK
5. Fix specification guidelines.

During each project’s schematic design and research phases, begin exploring product options that will fulfill your sustainable criteria. Some questions that can help guide you:

  • What type of long-life, durable products and materials will work?
  • Are their recyclable, reclaimed, or salvaged products available?
  • Are there materials with low-embodied energy that are durable enough for use?
  • What local materials can you use? (Regional materials require less energy and resources to transport to job sites.)

6. Find green vendors.
Once you have identified your aims, find products and manufacturers that meet your green guidelines. When it comes to furnishing and fabrics, consider smaller firms and custom manufacturers who are traditional builders— they may already have some eco-friendly practices in place, and/or may be more able to incorporate sustainable elements. Also, don’t forget to consider antiques and collectibles, as by using already-made items, you are recycling and eliminating a manufacturing process.

IV. GET OTHERS INVOLVED
7. Start the process early.

One of the most difficult aspects of doing interior “green” design is getting others in the project to go along with you. One strategy is to attempt to be involved as early on in the project 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. Remember, every bit helps, so do what you can— even if you only get buy-in on some points, that is better than none.

8. A little education goes a long way.
Green education can take many forms, from just talking to clients about green solutions, to discussing green solutions with team members, to asking environmental consultants to conduct seminars with your contractors, so that their carpenters and trades people might learn new, healthier, and better ways of doing things.

9. Build a network of collaborators.
As you begin to work with an eye for sustainability, you will identify those architects, contractors, and others who are also interested in and caring of the environment. Together, you can seek out opportunities to collaborate.

10. Share your solutions.
Too often eco-friendly practices and information remain imbedded in single individuals and offices, rather than shared with peers and colleagues. The result? Practitioners waste time re-inventing the wheel. Instead, create an archive of green solutions that can be used intra- and inter-office, so that both interior designers and the profession can progress.

Adapted from Turning Green: A Guide to Becoming a Green Design Firm, written by Associates III, in conjunction with the American Society of Interior Designers. Available for free download at www.asid.org/sustainable_design/Turning_Green.pdf.

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