Taking the Green Line

Sustainability is about the journey, not the destination—professional associations like IIDA can help make it a more rewarding one.

10.01.2011 by Peter Conant

The International Interior Design Association (IIDA) has always been dedicated to serving its members and providing valuable insights and learning experiences in the design field. When sustainability was a new type of design nearly 10 years ago, we saw the chance to help our members discover more about the emerging field by creating a sustainability forum. Today, IIDA provides opportunities for designers interested in raising the sustainability bar through initiatives that sustain our natural environment, improve our current quality of life and showcase outstanding design.

Our association seeks to promote awareness and knowledge of sustainable interior design processes. The IIDA Sustainability Forum, established in 2003, serves to provide resources about best practices in sustainable design, courses and roundtable discussions on the latest developments, and networking opportunities with other professionals who have a specialized interest in sustainability.

IIDA has worked toward integrating sustainability into our entire association—that includes integrating it in the space where we work with designers who come to us looking for new insight. When IIDA moved its headquarters in the Merchandise Mart to a 10,000-square-foot office in 2009, sustainability was at the heart of the design. “Sustainability is part of overall excellence and IIDA is committed to being a resource for all designers looking to make smart decisions in their design solutions,” IIDA Executive Vice President and CEO Cheryl Durst, Hon. FIIDA, LEEP AP has repeated many times, and the IIDA board of directors agreed. They wanted to create a green space that is both beautiful and functional, so we called on Ken Wilson, FIIDA, FAIA, LEED AP of Envision—our own superhero of sustainability who recently completed the new headquarters for the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).

Wilson designed the resulting Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold-certified office to take form and function to higher levels while using environmentally friendly products including recyclable carpet tile, paint and adhesives that are low-VOC; an energy-efficient air delivery system; and motion-sensored fluorescent lighting fixtures. This space is where I host our international board meetings and many groups during NeoCon, and it is still as amazing today as it was when it opened three years ago—a testament to the sustainable nature of the space.

Not only does IIDA practice sustainable design in our workspace and forum, but we also highlight projects that set new standards for sustainability. IIDA benchmarks best practices through competitions including the IIDA Student Sustainable Design Competition, which acknowledges students with creative understanding of sustainable principles; for professionals’ project innovations, the Smart Environment Awards honor the best design solutions that are environmentally responsible as well as beautiful, accessible, functional and enhance user well-being.

Last year I was thrilled to be a judge of this competition. One winning project that stood out to me was the Ramsey County Roseville Library in Roseville, Minn., designed by Scherer & Rockcastle, Ltd. Instead of expanding on land bought by the library for renovations, the firm suggested expanding upward—a more sustainable choice that had not been previously considered. This space-saving alternative allowed for additional, much-needed parking for the busy LEED Gold-certified library and saved money as well.

Sustainability is always evolving, whether it’s through new product standards or shows. In 2009, the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association (BIFMA) created level, a certification program for evaluating the environmental impacts of furniture products and processes that allows designers to choose products based on their standard of sustainability. And other trade shows, in addition to Greenbuild, have incorporated sustainability as a baseline practice. From NeoCon to Lightfair International to the Healthcare Design Conference, designers now have the world’s sustainable knowledge and networking opportunities at their fingertips.

IIDA is constantly working to be a solid resource for our members on the most relevant issues in the industry. We recently held a “Sustainability Initiatives in Government Design” forum at NeoCon that focused on the thresholds set for sustainability as embraced by the federal government, life-cycle assessment of products and achieving zero environmental footprint. Katie Weeks, editor of Eco-Structure magazine, moderated the panelists including Dianne Juba, IIDA of the General Services Administration (GSA), Peter Van Vechten, AIA of SOM, Ben Saylor of Tandus Flooring, and Marianne Schofield, IIDA of the U.S. Air Force for a discussion on how standards vary by agency.

The forum was such a success that IIDA is presenting a new Government Design Town Hall Meeting, co-sponsored by GSA, at NeoCon East in November. Titled “Overcoming Obstacles to Sustainable Government Interiors,” the discussion will cover issues facing downsized spaces in the future and new challenges for VA facilities.

When it comes to sustainable design, the goals of designers and IIDA are to protect and restore our natural environment, provide opportunities for learning and celebrate design excellence. It’s important for each of us to find our own passion within the realm of sustainability! We need to carve out a niche where we truly can make a difference.


IIDA President Peter Conant, IIDA, AIA, LEED AP is the founder of Conant Architects in New York. You can reach IIDA at (312) 467-1950 or at iidahq@org.