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Our Sustainable Opportunity

The notion of sustainable design has been widely embraced by the A&D community; however, many firms have yet to actually practice it on a wide-scale basis.

By Sari Graven


The notion of sustainable design has been widely embraced by the A&D community; however, many firms have yet to actually practice it on a wide-scale basis.

A few weeks ago I met a woman named Sati who jokingly said to our mutual friend, “Give me a call—or better yet, just shoot me now.” Why? “Kitchen remodel.”

Ah. We commiserated: the disruption, the dust, the delays. … “Actually, that’s not the problem,” she said. “I’m going crazy trying to find products without formaldehyde.”

Talk about timely. Sustainable design is at the top of ASID’s issue list for 2010—as both a design practice and an organizational goal. Beyond being “green” and advocating sustainable design practice, we are exploring what it means to be a sustainable organization. In doing so, we’ll be looking at how our organizational structure sustains our viability as a professional design association—both on the national and chapter levels—as well as how our financial strategies sustain our mission, among other things. It’s a lot to consider and we’re just getting started, but stay tuned; we’ll share what we learn.

Sustainable design, on the other hand, is something ASID has been deeply involved in since the Association became a founding member of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) in 1993. ASID is also a founding member of Mission Zero, an online “information warehouse” inspired by Ray Anderson and devoted to living and working with zero environmental impact, as well as the 2030 Challenge, an aggressive campaign to dramatically reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions within the building sector by the year 2030.

We’ve created tools to assist our members (and others) in incorporating green design into their practices, including white papers, CEUs and a host of resources available on our Web site. Most recently, through our partnership with the USGBC, we have created REGREEN, a residential remodeling program that defines best practice guidelines and educational resources for sustainable residential improvement projects.

We are proud of our record, and we’ve made great strides—especially in the commercial sector—toward “small footprint” interior design and are excited about the kind of future that widespread sustainable design can generate.

At the same time, it is clear that we have a long way to go. As an idea, sustainable design is accepted … even embraced. But as a practice for most designers? Not so much. While certainly many have seized the opportunity that sustainable design represents, many more simply don’t see themselves as a part of the sustainable green movement.

Fair enough, until you consider Sati—desperately seeking healthy solutions for her kitchen remodel and unable to find them without intense legwork and countless dead ends.

I would contend that until the needs of people like Sati are well served, we haven’t done our job. Seventy percent of our membership serves residential clients, working with homeowners like Sati, who are increasingly looking for ways to make their home more energy efficient and healthy for their family and their community.

Can you say “lost opportunity?”

While many of today’s designers continue to question what is becoming a sustainable design mandate, the next generation questions the validity of design that does not address environmental health. In much the same way our emerging professionals intuitively relate to new technology, these young designers are—in the words of Annette Stelmack, ASID’s sustainable design council chairman—“sustainable design natives, rather than immigrants.” As such, they’re not only well prepared to take on the challenge of sustainable design, “they’re hungry to make a difference.”

For ASID, then, our job is clear: to deliver more value—both to our clients and the world we live in by connecting the sustainable passion of the young to the design experience and wisdom of those who have yet to embrace sustainable design.

ASID president Sari Graven is the director of planning and resource development at Seattle University’s Facilities Services. ASID can be reached at (202) 546-3480 or, and on the Web at