The USGBC Tries Out Its New Interiors Program—On Itself

As it prepares to add a new Commercial Interiors (CI) program to its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) ratings system, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has become, in a sense, its own client. In November 2003, the organization began an expansion of its Washington, D.C. headquarters; it included the project as one of more than 100 pilot projects begun as a precursor to the LEED-CI launch, which is scheduled for later this year.

Although much of the LEED-CI program is based on the existing LEED 2.1 rating system, one of the key distinctions is that the former now offers the choice and opportunity for furniture, carpet, cabinets, and other products to go green. For its own project, the USGBC turned to Michigan-based Haworth, a major player in the commercial furniture market. MetropolisMag spoke with Dennis Boles, Haworth’s director of global facilities management and design, about the specific challenges of the USGBC headquarters job and larger issues associated with the LEED-CI rating system.

How did involvement with the USGBC and LEED-CI program affect your process?
It’s just a matter of making decisions. For instance, with any of the work surfaces or wood products, the USGBC had to decide, “Do we want to use veneers or do we want to pay the premium involved with having a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified veneer?” For the USGBC in particular, [the latter] was something they wanted us to do. In work surfaces and case goods, for instance, they asked us to use wheatboard, which comes from straw, a rapidly renewable material. We can manufacture these products either way. Normally, we’d just use normal wood stock, that’s cheaper, but it doesn’t have that whole sustainability story.

In the future, do you see greater availability and cost-effectiveness for sustainable materials?
It’s getting closer and closer. For instance, FSC-certified lumber was very difficult to get until Home Depot decided they were going to start stocking pieces. And all of a sudden, those particular pieces came down in price. So as [these options] become more and more popular, there’s more demand for them.

But right now, a lot of these things are still the exception. Our approach is to start by making sure the base products are pretty sustainable, with a very high amount of recycled content. After that, there are things that you can do over and above what the bulk of the market is demanding, in order to make products more sustainable. We make those options available, and manufacture in a sustainable way as well.

What are some of the furniture products you’ve selected for the USGBC space?
There are six or seven different product lines that we provided for the space. [For example], we used two lines of wood case goods, called Master Series and Vancouver [the latter of which is manufactured by Haworth’s partner SMED]. These are basically desks and credenzas for use in private offices. Again, the basic sustainability of these lines is pretty good, but they can go the extra mile if you choose to make them out of wheatboard cork, have FSC-certified veneers, and so on.

Probably what’s most interesting about the project is the Neo and LifeSPACE walls, which are modular wall systems that can be put up, taken down, and reconfigured at will. If you put up dry wall and studs as one normally does when buildings are built, the problem is that if you want to change the system, you have to tear the wall down and put it in a dumpster.

We also provided the USGBC with Moxie, a system of panels for cubicles. The base of each panel is raised, so there’s a free flow of air underneath. That leads to better indoor air quality, better energy efficiency, and fewer hot and cold pockets. It’s also another system with 100% reconfigurability and recycled content of at least 50-60%.

In addition, on all products we used only water-soluble finishes, as well as only low-volatile organic compound (VOC) adhesives.

After working on the USGBC project as a LEED-CI pilot program, are there any aspects of LEED-CI you think need to changing?
This was a real signature project for us and the USGBC was an excellent customer. But in general, I feel about CI how I feel about the rest of LEED. As a standard, it probably focuses a bit too much on the initial installation. Thus far, we don’t think LEED is doing enough to reward choices that are good for the extended life cycle of a space vs. first costs.

But I think the USGBC’s LEED program is on the right track. There was a study out of California last year that surveyed something like 68 LEED-rated buildings. It determined that the extra cost of sustainable design really isn’t that high.

Categories: Interiors, Uncategorized