|Eco Design Matters|
From the private sector to the public domain, the population of the
"green world" is happily growing.
by Penny Bonda, FASID
It seems to me that every year I write a column about the proliferation of green. I continue to be amazed—and delighted—by its growing presence in our everyday lives and by the diversity of those who are unswerving in their dedication to further the cause. A good example is—um—me! I switched careers four years ago and went from being an interior designer to an environmental advocate and writer and since that time I've discovered that I'm far from alone.
We're everywhere: in industry, the corporate boardroom, education, government, agriculture, the services sector, healthcare, retail, products and the home. One of the cool things about my job is that I get to intermingle with the growing numbers of folks who are populating the "green world." Sometimes I interview them for articles in Interiors & Sources and green@work magazines. Elsewhere in the pages of this issue you'll find my article featuring Dr. Richard Jackson, senior advisor to the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Read it and I think you'll agree that it's comforting to know that a prominent figure from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is focusing on the effects of our environment on human health. I've heard Dr. Jackson speak and his is a powerful message that he delivers with fervent urgency. (You can hear him as well when he keynotes at the upcoming EnvironDesign®8 conference in Minneapolis.)
Also in the healthcare realm, I recently wrote an article on Kaiser Permanente, the largest non-profit healthcare organization in the United States, that has at its core a commitment to provide healthcare services in a manner that protects and enhances the environment and health of its patients, employees and the communities in which they do business now and in the future. I happened upon them through the Healthy Building Network (HBN), which recognized Kaiser for its decision in early 1999 to begin to phase out the use of PVC in medical products and building materials. HBN has also transformed the pressure-treated wood industry to end consumer sales of arsenic-treated wood that was commonly used in decks, picnic tables and playgrounds—an example of an advocacy group that has alerted the public to a real danger, especially for children.
There are many such examples of NGOs, the non-profit, non-government organizations that are leading the environmental charge. The Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES) has begun an initiative of urgent importance: the Investor Summit on Climate Risk. Citing the risks to pension fund investments associated with climate change, CERES has rallied state and city treasurers to demand more disclosure from the companies in their portfolios. The collective clout of these major investors will go a long way toward exposing and mitigating climate risk.
Some of these activist organizations are well-known, almost household names such as Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, Environmental Defense and the Natural Resources Defense Council or NRDC, but the extent of their contributions isn't always appreciated. Case in point: Rob Watson is a senior analyst with the NRDC's International Program, and I know from conversations with him that he's been involved in utility issues and sustainable building issues in a dozen countries including Russia and China for over a decade. At the same time, he's been leading the group of very dedicated volunteers who have written and produced the LEED Green Building Rating System for the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). As the chair of the LEED Steering Committee, Rob, fondly nicknamed "Daddy LEED," has devoted thousands of hours to the rating system's development with the support and encouragement of NRDC—the folks who write his paycheck. Many others who devote pro bono hours to various causes do so with similar backing from our employers, myself included.
Speaking of USGBC—and isn't it amazing how they've grown?—several founding members have recently rotated off the Board of Directors, including Bill Browning, Rocky Mountain Institute; Lynn Simon, Global Green; Alan Traugott, Flack + Kurtz Engineering; and Kath Williams, Montana State University. Their contributions cannot be overstated, not only in the growth of green buildings, but also in the numbers of others they've inspired over all these years—once again, myself included.
ASID, another organization with which I'm actively involved, has recently placed green design high on its priority list. Identified as one of its top three strategic initiatives for 2004—the others are universal design and security—ASID will promote sustainability to its members through research, education and outreach. With this action they are acknowledging not only the growing significance of green design, but also the increasingly important role of the interior designer in guiding environmental stewardship to all aspects of the built environment.
Our industry—all industries—is buzzing with green. Professional firms are building their practices around environmental expertise. By the time you read this there will be more than 6,000 LEED Accredited Professionals who are designing and constructing high-performance buildings. The carpet wars continue unabated as each of the major manufacturers insists on bragging rights to the greenest product. Retailers such as Ben & Jerry's, Aveda and The Body Shop have built their reputations on their sustainability records while other companies are incorporating green surely and steadily. Toyota, arguably the greenest of all the auto manufacturers, recently replaced Ford as the number two automaker in the U.S., and I've been told has cut back on ads for its hybrid car, the Prius, because production cannot keep up with vehicle demand. Its new Torrance, CA, headquarters complex with 624,000 square feet of office space has also received a LEED™ gold rating.
All of this is terrific news. While George W. Bush didn't deem it worthy to even mention the environment in his State of the Union address, the rest of us persist. Studies show that the public cares deeply about environmental issues and from my viewpoint I certainly concur. Next year, when I write my annual column listing positive examples of green proliferation it would be nice to include the President of the United States.