IIDA Notes: Designing to Make a Difference

July 1, 2007

By Pam Light, FIIDA

Now more than ever, design firms need to commit to more sustainable practices.

Interior designers are expert problem solvers and critical advocates for change. It's proven time and again in our corporate practices how workspaces that are designed for collaboration and efficiency help companies change their workplace cultures, improve business strategies, and encourage employee satisfaction and effectiveness.

And it's been consistently proven in healthcare environments that projects designed for individual health and community stewardship lessen healing time, decrease in-facility accidents and reduce employee turnover. Now, interior designers need to step up and use their expertise as change agents and take a critical role in leading professionals in the built environment toward sustainable responsibility.

We have very little time to make a difference. According to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and as supported by AIA, USGBC and ASHRAE, society needs to reach zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 to stop global warming-and that is not a lot of time. 

Every firm should make a commitment to sustainability. Since establishing it as a core value in the early 1990s, my firm, HOK has worked toward integrating sustainability into the entire practice. HOK wants sustainable design for every building type, geographic region, and budget point-and this comes from every level of the organization. For example, by adding a simple spec on how to recycle construction waste, the firm has made a difference in hundreds of projects. Did you know that 40 percent of what goes into landfills comes from our industry and that by changing a simple design specification this number could significantly decrease? HOK has 28 offices worldwide and 2,000 people writing specs, which is why Bill Valentine, HOK CEO, is so passionate about making sustainability a central focus. HOK believes it has a moral responsibility to reduce the environmental impact of its designs.

And one need not be working in a large firm to make a difference. IIDA's Sustainability Forum, led by Ken Wilson, LEED AP, and his task force of industry leaders are all well-versed in designing sustainable spaces. They are also taking an active role in providing tools for IIDA members. The Association's Green Track of CEU opportunities and industry resource links has been an invaluable tool. The IIDA Foundation, through its Sustainable Design Education Fund, created through the generosity of textile manufacturer Maharam, serves as a vehicle to advance the awareness and knowledge on the topic of sustainable design. Through this important fund, IIDA professional and associate members who take and pass the LEED® Accreditation Exam may apply for consideration for tuition reimbursement. 

Throughout all activities, IIDA seeks to promote awareness and knowledge of interior design strategies that reduce negative impacts on our natural environment and improve the health and well-being of all people. An important tool in the fight has been the Association's work to benchmark best practices in sustainable design through three
important competitions: Smart Environments Awards (acknowledging top sustainable design projects); the Sustainable Design Student Competition (acknowledging the great work by IIDA student members in this arena); and the Sustainable Design Leadership Awards, in partnership with AIA and CoreNet and through the support of Haworth, Johnson Controls and Tandus (honoring individuals and entities for their leadership).

IIDA Chapters have been leaders in this effort as well. For instance, the Northern Pacific Chapter's GreenWorld® program is in its ninth year and still successfully brings together designers, architects, manufacturers and suppliers in support of sustainable design. GreenWorld07 presents another opportunity to support sustainable education and awareness.

No matter what your area of practice is or what type of firm you work with, it's important to remember the responsibility we each have as interior designers. By elevating problem solving to an art form, we create spaces that enrich how people live. Sustainable practices and products must be a component of our practice-for the good of the profession, and the good of the world.

Pam Light, FIIDA, LEED AP, is the 2006-2007 president of IIDA and a senior vice president with HOK in Culver City, CA. IIDA is headquartered in Ste. 13-500 at The Merchandise Mart, Chicago, and can be reached at (888) 799-IIDA; www.iida.org; or [email protected].

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