Sneak the Green

Thankfully more and more people are becoming aware of the numerous benefits of green design, so I am less likely to be forced to hide the fact that a product is considered "green." However, the idea is still new for many people and some have been turned off by previous bad experiences due to sub-par performance or low durability of some of the "green" products.

For example, some have been disappointed by poorly made, low flow toilets that took three flushes to work, compact florescent lights that made skin look blue, or expensive green paint that showed every smudge and handprint and didn’t cover as well as standard paint.

The good news is that, after initial trial and error, and thanks to increased demand, there are some great alternative products becoming affordable.Unfortunately, this has also created a huge "greenwashing" problem.

So, as a designer and consumer, you need to educate yourself about how to avoid products that falsely represent themselves as green. This can be daunting, but don’t be discouraged. Many non-profit organizations have also been created to help assist us and there are tools such as a life cycle assessment (LCA)—a process used to identify how green a product or building is—to assist designers and consumers in making better, more informed choices.

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This idea of "sneaking the green" is something I have been doing for many years for my clients. I know (sometimes secretly) that I can make a significant difference in their health and safety, support the local community and better business practices, as well as have a positive impact on the planet's ecosystem, just by making small changes.

In my heart, I will always be a sustainable interior designer, even though some of my clients have trouble understanding the concept and benefits and may be skeptical or reticent to purchase greener products and services.

For a long time, I worked as a commercial interior designer battling a great deal of skepticism about green design. The focus was more often on wining projects, meeting requirements, ensuring repeat business, and making a profit, all without having to leave the conventional comfort zone while learning how to incorporate green design concepts into already-complex projects.

The ability to design green requires extra work. It is far simpler to select items with fewer parameters and use the standard tried and true products and practices. There are a multitude of factors that a green designer must understand and evaluate to determine whether a product is the best choice for the job. However, with a little extra research, you can find a product that is within your budget, meets the design requirements, and has at least one other beneficial aspect.

So I've always taken it upon myself to find green products to fit my clients' needs—ones that meet the client's requirements, but are also have some sustainable elements, such as being produced locally, or are made by a reputable company that maintains green practices.

For some clients, knowing I’ve chosen a green product over a comparable “standard” product” would be exciting and seen as favorable. But some simply become skeptical or put off, so I would just present the product as best meeting their needs.

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Even a small impact such as selecting a panel fabric or paint that could promote better indoor air quality, a wood product that would support better forestry practices, a local business doing good for their community, or lighting fixtures that are energy efficient, would get me excited to make a difference. It wasn't always easy. Sometimes I found amazing products that were much better for both the client and the environment in the long run, but required an initial investment that the client was unwilling or unable to make, so we had to stick with the standard version.

In future articles I will address many of these issues to help consumers make better-informed decisions. I will discuss the benefits of green design, tell you how to look at a product not just by what it does, but by how it's made and where it ends up after its useful life, which is a challenge in our throw away culture. I will help you avoid greenwashing, and inspire and challenge you to make a difference too.

To read more on recycling and going green click here.

Photos by Tony Frantz