IDC Bulletin: The Need to 'LEED.'

Sept. 1, 2008

LEED accreditation has set a new standard of professionalism for interior designers and provides knowledge to promote design solutions that go beyond aesthetics.

By Lisa Sandham, IDC

Interior Designers have the power to change the world. This revelation came to me last year as I spoke with a carpet representative regarding LEED® accreditation and the environment. I had a moment of clarity and it suddenly occurred to me that our industry was becoming LEED driven, with manufacturers, representatives and retailers all getting on board.

For years I had heard about this hot new industry term, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). LEED was gaining momentum within our profession, but in my ignorance I did not see the need to pursue a LEED professional accreditation when my practice circulated mainly around residential design. I had always viewed it
as a necessity for only commercial interior designers and architects, mainly since all the LEED-certified spaces I'd seen were commercial projects.

I have always been passionate about my profession. So passionate in fact that one of my close friends has been known to affectionately call me "the hardcore interior design girl." For several years I have been an active volunteer within my provincial association, the Association of Registered Interior Designers of Ontario (ARIDO), and I have shown my commitment to my profession by passing both the NCIDQ exam and the Ontario Building Code Qualification exams. Becoming LEED accredited seemed to be the next logical step in my evolution as a professional. I decided it was necessary to explore the benefits of LEED accreditation and how those benefits would transfer to the environment, my clients and my business. I asked myself this question: "Was there a need for this residential designer to LEED?"

LEED sets environmental performance criteria for a broad range of environmental impacts relating to buildings. The goal for a successful sustainable building includes: reducing greenhouse gases; reducing energy and water consumption; utilizing resources more efficiently; producing less waste; and improving air quality for its occupants.

"Green products" are now flooding the market, with manufacturers developing innovative materials, products and technologies that contribute toward LEED certification. Interior designers are able to educate themselves on new products and practices through publications, Webinars, Web sites, and magazines that are solely devoted to covering the practice of sustainable design.

Green design will assist us in safeguarding our planet for future generations. As interior designers we have the power to make positive changes in our world, and part of that change is setting a higher standard for those who practice interior design. If each of us can introduce small changes, we can make a substantial impact on the environment. The ability to bring forth change and inspire others to do so ... now that is powerful.

Through LEED accreditation interior designers have the opportunity to bring about a new understanding of interior design—one that represents not just the aesthetic, but also includes solutions that are environmentally friendly and holistic.

LEED offers many benefits to our clients: reduced life-cycle operating costs, improved corporate image, employee productivity gains, energy conservation, and government tax incentives. In the past, most clients would not have considered implementing a green product or technology for fear of increasing their initial construction costs. Today, rising energy costs and public awareness are encouraging home owners, corporations and building owners to reevaluate their position on "going green." Instead of just examining initial construction costs, clients are analyzing life-cycle costs and realizing that cost savings associated with green buildings can greatly outweigh capital cost increases.

My residential clients are now regularly requesting energy efficient alternatives to standard construction, such as: radiant heating, insulated concrete forms, geothermal heating, and structural insulated panels. Business owners have also recognized the public relations advantages of going green. Projecting a green image to the public indicates the environmental ethic of the organization. The image conveyed is one of a company that is environmentally responsible, profitable and a healthy place to work.

Sustainable design concepts such as access to daylight, improved air quality, and user-controllability of systems, contribute to the health and well-being of occupants. All of these strategies make for a healthy working environment in which both employers and employees benefit. The result is higher employee productivity, reduction in absenteeism due to illness, lower healthcare costs, reduced turnover, and improved morale.

Canadian governments are also encouraging change by offering various tax incentives to both owners of residential and commercial properties who have implemented energy saving measures into their new builds and retrofits. This helps offset the initial, additional expenses and makes it easier for clients to take that first step toward choosing to be green.

LEED accreditation has set a new standard of professionalism for interior designers. It does not matter whether you are a business owner or employee, LEED is just good business. As professional interior designers we must be able to provide our clients with a current body of knowledge and expertise. By way of LEED we demonstrate our continued commitment to our professional advancement. Education and testing allows us to satisfy the needs of a changing market in order to stay competitive and attract new clients who are increasingly growing more environmentally aware.

More than ever, the value of interior design and its contribution to sustainable solutions are recognized by clients and other industry professionals. LEED is changing the face of interior design and the way we have collaborated with other professionals in the past. A sustainable design process encourages the inclusion of interior designers from the start of a project, and encourages upfront collaboration between architects, engineers, interior designers, and specialists. This process ultimately contributes to the economic and career development of the interior designer, but also creates benefits for the client while adding to the overall success of a project.

The answer to my question is quite simple. There is a need for all residential designers to LEED! It is our future. LEED is a movement that continues to grow, inspire and create change. Currently the CaGBC (Canada Green Building Council) is developing a Canadian version of the LEED for Homes rating system and is scheduled to be launched in spring 2009. The public is demanding a residential version of LEED and a "green" rating system for housing. Clients are asking for green solutions, and designers must be capable of providing them. We are now living in a world where green strategies must be an essential part of any design. LEED is transforming the marketplace by placing a heightened level of importance on our environment, human well-being and economic profitability. I am reminded of a quote by Mahatma Gandhi: "You must be the change you want to see in the world." Interior designers do have the power to change the world. We can all start by LEED-ing by example.

Lisa Sandham is a registered interior designer who lives and works in Ontario, Canada. She is currently president of the Northern Chapter of the Association of Registered Interior Designers of Ontario (ARIDO). Her practice, Lisa Sandham Interior Design, specializes in full-service residential and commercial interior design consultation. More information about IDC is available at

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