Fulfilling the Sustainability Trifecta

The future of green building can be found in buildings and products that are well-designed, sustainable and affordable. Here's what we're doing to make that a reality.

by Randy Fiser

For more than 15 years, the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) has promoted sustainable design at the national level and through our 48 chapters across the United States and Canada. By providing practical solutions, applying innovative thinking and establishing creative partnerships, ASID continues to play a front-line role in the effort to create a sustainable world that stays green for all people, at all socioeconomic levels, in all places. Our responsibility to economically disadvantaged populations is especially acute, because these populations are least able to bear the rising cost of energy and are most vulnerable to health issues caused by sick environments. The following are just a few of our initiatives we’ve undertaken to promote green and sustainable design:

The ASID Foundation helps fund Pharos, a project of the Healthy Building Network, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to transforming the market for building materials to advance the best environmental, health and social practices. Pharos maintains extensive digital libraries of building products, chemicals and materials, and provides ratings of products based on second- and third-party certifications. Funding from the ASID Foundation and others, along with subscription fees and individual donations, frees Pharos from having to accept payments from manufacturers to list or advertise their products.

green remodeling
For designers working on the residential side, REGREEN® is the nation’s most  comprehensive green remodeling program. Co-developed by ASID and the U.S. Green Building Council, REGREEN integrates a whole-house, systems-thinking approach with professional collaboration. Launched in 2008, the program is geared toward interior designers, architects, contractors, builders, manufacturers, project managers and even consumers who want to renovate in an environmentally respectful manner with a distinct focus on energy efficiency.

REGREEN offers remodeling guidelines, best practices, education (both online and in-person), case studies and a certificate program that designates design professionals as “REGREEN trained” following the completion of the program’s rigorous curriculum.

education and conferences
The Society’s GO PRO events (GO PRO/LA was in June and GO PRO/NYC will be held this month, from October 4-5) educate emerging designers about sustainable design, along with bread-and-butter issues such as business strategies and client engagement. For those designers who have passed the “emerging” stage but are still interested in continuing their education, our ASID Uni (asiduni.org) portal has an entire section dedicated to sustainable design. These courses, centered around topics like Designing for Clean Air and Embracing LEED Specifications, can help designers stay abreast of important topics, products and issues in the industry.

ASID regularly publishes papers to help our designers understand and implement concepts in sustainable design. The topics covered in these papers are indicated by their titles: “Indoor Air Quality,” “Selling Green,” “Beyond Interior Design,” “Materials and Products” and “Reference Guide.”

In these guides, we strive to give interior designers a framework for how to think about sustainable design and then provide practical advice. For example, in “Materials and Products,” the practical information includes everything from advice to working with Life-Cycle Assessments (popularly known as LCAs), to assessing and selecting materials, to finding reliable information and keeping a green library.

In 2011, ASID, in conjunction with our national Sustainable Design Council, created and published “The Guide to Ecolabels” to help designers understand and make use of ecolabels and certifications for building materials, interior finishes, furniture, fixtures and equipment. It offers detailed information, including links, regarding certification and evaluation programs from the American Tree Farm System® (which aims to hold family-owned forests to “rigorous standards”) to WaterSense® (which covers bathroom faucets and accessories, showerheads, toilets and flushing urinals).

the sustainable design trifecta
ASID realizes that when it comes to producing green buildings and sustainable products, the breakthrough bet is a trifecta: buildings and products that are well-designed, sustainable and affordable.

We can often get two out of three: a building that’s sustainable through energy efficiency and is well designed—but then affordability becomes an issue. When we sacrifice affordability to achieve the other two, we are abandoning the lower socioeconomic communities that are the most vulnerable to unhealthy living and work spaces. When healthy, sustainable buildings are available only to those who can afford them, that’s just plain wrong.

But there’s an alternative to sacrificing affordability. We can employ the same spirit of innovation that created ever-faster computers, vast social networks and smaller, smarter phones that do everything except cook your breakfast (although there might be an app for that). A variety of organizations, such as Make It Right, are applying that kind of innovation to building homes for communities in need—homes that are energy efficient, beautifully designed and sustainable, from the materials used in the foundations to the solar panels on their roofs.

I’m proud to say that ASID is pushing for that same kind of innovation in the materials, training and philosophy we offer interior designers. When properly equipped, our designers can help educate consumers to create the demand that will drive manufacturers to produce green and sustainable products. And that gets us closer to our ultimate goal of designing healthy, affordable spaces for everyone.


Randy Fiser is executive vice president and CEO for the American Society of Interior Designers. The organization can be reached at (202) 546-3480 or asid@asid.org, and on the web at asid.org.