Posted on 10/25/2011 5:34 PM by Debbie Designer

“Going green.” Just the mention of that phrase is enough to make your stomach turn, right?

In the 21st Century “Green” is god, and every sales and marketing head under the sun has jumped on the (solar powered) bandwagon.

The A+D industry has been an admitted frontrunner in the movement, and that’s great. But that doesn’t mean it’s genuine.  In fact, the majority of architects and designers think it’s not.
Like a wave of panicked McCarthy supporters seeking out The Red, members of the architecture and design industry have latched on to “The Green” in far-reaching and often times discomfiting ways.
While sustainability has been the battle cry of many a sales campaign, the buyers, however hopeful, have been slow to rejoice. This is 2011, boys and girls. We get the schtick, and we’re not convinced just yet.
Enter a study released earlier this month by ASID and AIA in conjunction with IMRE, showing just how skeptical we all are about the sustainable design movement. (I knew I had cynical compatriots!)
According to survey results, “the majority of architects and interior designers, 87% and 86% respectively, acknowledge that they are concerned with how products are manufactured with regard to sustainability.”
Ok, so we’ve established the base fact that yes, sustainability is important to us. Great news. We can save the big finger wag at that 13 to14 percent of gas guzzling, Styrofoam cup using earth-ravagers for another day. For now, let’s march on with an analysis of our enlightened masses.
The study continues, “only 2% of architects and 3% of interior designers are ‘completely confident’ in manufacturers’ claims that products are actually sustainable.”
Do you hear that? It’s our next big rally cry: “We! Are! The 97 to 98 percent!”
Looks like architects and designers are sticking it to the manufacturing man, and not buying into the marketing powers that be. Thank you, IMRE, ASID, and AIA for giving us this formative chance to speak out.
The information was well timed for Greenbuild, where I had a chance to be slapped in the face with every form of eco-marketing under the sun. Here, like nowhere else, it is apparent that any brand even peripherally tied to sustainable practices will try to get a piece of the (organic, grass-fed) pie.
Like all things in this industry, there is the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to execution.
The bad? Hordes of misplaced plant-life around software company and service provider booths, some of which I suspected to be plastic, none of which seemed to make a logical statement. These sorry displays marred the reputation of more than a few brands aimed at real positive impact.
The good? Kohler’s warm and inviting booth of distressed, possibly reclaimed wood, nicely juxtaposed with their shiny ceramic and metal fixtures. Their sustainability story, however, left me with more questions than answers.
The point? In a wide spectrum of green marketing tactics, there is an equally wide spectrum of truth and untruth, believers and non-believers.
So how to sift through all the propaganda and get to what’s real, and what’s really good?
The answer, I’m afraid, is a lot of work.
To start, we can look to certification organizations. After a good amount of time speaking with a rep from MBDC about Cradle to Cradle certification, for example, I was thoroughly impressed with the amount of transparency, accountability, and ongoing environmental effort they require from the manufacturers who participate in the program.
Right now, the MBDC has certified about 500 products. Not a lot! There are probably many companies who could get products certified, but for whatever reason—time, manpower, money, initiative—they’re not jumping on board. The Cradle to Cradle roster, like any certification list, is incomplete at best. At least, unlike some other poser programs hell-bent on making money off the movement, it is legitimately here to verify some good. We must give credit where credit is due.

But the question remains: is there any way to paint a full and honest picture when it comes to sustainable manufacturing? My answer is yes, I believe there is. So I’m about to set off on a wild experiment. “Put on your lab coats, kids. We’re going to prove some eco-theory!”

Over the next couple of weeks, along with the help of my good friends here at I&S, I’ll be contacting a random sampling of Greenbuild exhibitors who have all touted their ability to save Mother Earth, whether it be by improving air quality, diminishing landfill waste, or making baby pandas materialize out of  100% post-consumer recycled, low-VOC polyester.  And we’ll be putting their claims to the test.

Right now, Pebbles has his paw up to the corner of his mouth and just broke out into the Dr. Evil laugh.

“Meowuah ha ha ha!!!!”

Getting an ear up against the truth in the midst of all the noise is not a fast process so please bear with us. And keep in mind that in the end, it is up to us as individuals, the skeptical 98 percent, to sift through the propaganda and find a set of manufacturers that can actually contribute to our sustainable cause, in the best way they possibly can given the nature of the products they create. We must educate ourselves about the certification systems that are in place to monitor these manufacturers, and make some sound judgments of our own—on an ad hoc basis, for every product, and every project.

It is work, plain and simple. We’re not doing it to make money. We’re not doing it to prove to anyone else we’re doing good. We’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do. And that’s what a great movement is all about.

So stay tuned to see what our findings are.