By Ramya Ramachandran
“Sustainable” is a term used often in a designer’s vocabulary, but what is the true concept behind it? Webster’s dictionary defines sustainable as “relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged.” Its three R’s rule the concept of recycling, reusing and reclaiming. There many unanswered questions within the design industry and I’m investigating further into the marketing and business side of the practice. Talking with Kelly Laplante, Suzi Connoe, and Valerie Morris, we’ll take a look at the positive impacts of practicing with sustainable design.
Is sustainable design a savvy business move for the average designer?
“Sustainability is an added value, it is something you should be offering to your client, and you should know how to execute it well, and as cost-effectively as possible in order to keep a competitive edge.” -Kelly LaPlante, Business owner
“For residential design, the onus lies on the designer to specify and lead the client to sustainable choices and procedures. My experience has proven that it is not on my typical client’s radar, nor is it prevalent in the vendors’ products I use and specify. Commercial projects tend to lead the way with sustainable projects and products. I would love to see a shift towards sustainable and life cycle analysis in all projects-commercial, residential, industrial design, etc.” -Suzanne Connor, Business owner
“Presenting sustainability at the forefront of any project is fundamental. Clients are concerned with sustainability, but the major impact is still highly price-driven. In my experience, successful green projects have a 5-10% margin above the traditional cost, but cost becomes a major issue at the 15% mark. Hence, it’s crucial for designers to present sustainability at the beginning of a project; to illustrate the benefits, as well as a future return on investment.” -Valerie Morris, Design Project Manager
Clients are interested in sustainability
Is there a broader industry-wide shift towards sustainable projects?
“Savvy builders, developers, and manufacturers recognize that there is intrinsic value to providing sustainable products. Consumers are demanding it, so if you’re not providing it, you’re going to find yourself running to catch up with the rest of the industry.” -Kelly LaPlante, Business Owner
“I have not seen any increased interest in sustainability in Florida. However, Arizona is entirely different. The harshness of the desert forces humans to think through the longevity of their building systems, material selections, etc. There is an obvious awareness and forward thinking towards energy efficiency, life-cycle costs, sustainable or more natural product offerings, and even more organic and natural food offerings. I believe this to be directly linked to the proximity to CA, the most “green” state by building code standards.” -Suzanne Connor, Business Owner
“Absolutely, but it’s more common in the Architecture and Design industry. LEED certified projects have numerous benefits, but it’s rare to see it within the design furniture industry. In times today, there is a strong focus towards the philosophy of Cradle to Cradle. However, I also think the shift towards sustainability differs regionally. Austin, Portland, Oregon, California, New York have embedded sustainability practices, but Florida is far behind in time.” -Valerie Morris, Design Project Manager
The trend maybe Regional
Are clients more interested in sustainability than they generally were in the past?
“In the mid-aughts, there was a very big spike in awareness, especially in progressive parts of the country but the choice to purchase products that were sustainable came with a huge price tag. In 2008, when the recession hit, consumers who wanted to design sustainably found themselves in a position of not being able to afford it. It became a back-burner concern for the consumer, but, fortunately, the wheels had been set in motion for manufacturers and they continued to pursue development that would make their products more environmentally friendly. Today, I’d say that there is less active interest in sustainability, on the consumer, but it’s become a baseline standard. It is something they expect to have in a cost-effective way; hence, the bar is raised on a consistent basis, so manufacturers have to continue to innovate.” -Kelly LaPlante, Business Owner
“Florida is more concerned with wind and water damage from hurricanes and weather events. Flooding and mold are also high on the list. With storm preparation, comes the added layering of chemicals to prevent water penetration, need for bug repellents, and need for water run-off and drainage. No water is ever harvested for building systems use, despite the mass quantities that fall every day. Every house installs whole-house generators to run air conditioners and refrigerators on propane or natural gas so mold doesn’t start to grow. It may be the most unsustainable place in this country.” -Suzanne Connor, Business Owner
“I believe there is strong awareness towards of our environment as a whole, but at the end of the day, the key decision comes to price. If a designer can present the financial benefits of sustainability, it’s an easy sell.” -Valerie Morris, Design Project Manager
Hope for the future
What are some ways that an Interior design project can become more sustainable while being cost-effective?
“Re-use is the most cost-effective and the most sustainable thing one can do in design. If you have something existing that functions properly, continuing to keep it in use means that you are using no new resources. You are contributing nothing towards the landfill or to the environmental footprint that comes from packaging and shipping. You are also spending no new dollars.” -Kelly LaPlante, Business Owner
“Little changes go a long way, for example; using natural materials in lieu of manmade, low VOC paints, materials with little to no off-gassing, specifying partially recycled product and repurposing all make a difference.” -Valerie Morris, Design Project Manager
As the research above suggests, sustainability is at the forefront of Interior design and is making unbelievable waves within the industry. Yet, for many designers, project decisions are primarily driven through finances. State to state design practices vary, however, education is still a powerful tool. Striving to implement sustainable design at the pinnacle of a project will not only provide a reduction in harmful environmental impacts but offer a financial, psychological and productive working environment for the future.