Editorial: Deeply Green

May 1, 2008

Every year at the NeoCon® World's Trade Fair in Chicago, it seems there is a greater emphasis on sustainable design, with more and more green products flooding The Merchandise Mart. This year will be no different—except for one enormous change from years past. To the thousands of attendees walking The Mart floors, it may not be very obvious, but its significance cannot be overstated.

For those of you who haven't heard, I'll spare you the suspense. In November 2007, The Merchandise Mart became the world's largest commercial building to attain LEED® certification. The 4.2 million-square-foot property was awarded LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance (LEED-EB O&M) Silver certification from the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program.

In an exclusive interview with Merchandise Mart Properties Inc. (MMPI), Linda Monroe, editorial director of our sister
publication, Buildings magazine, reports that MMPI is no novice to the idea or practice of sustainability, and that the decision to go for LEED certification, according to Christopher Kennedy, president of MMPI, was prompted both professionally and personally.

"Mart tenants like Haworth, Steelcase and Herman Miller, all providing environmental leadership, wanted to see it also reflected in their supply chain; as landlord, we were in that supply chain," Kennedy tells Monroe. "In addition, daily visitors to The Mart—designers, architects, etc. who represent the early adopters of the environmental movement—expected us to walk the walk."

The Chicago Merchandise Mart

In case you didn't catch that, let me reiterate an important point of that last statement. You, as an interior designer, have a tremendous influence on the suppliers of the products you specify. If sustainability is a priority for you (which I hope it is), you can help make it a priority for the manufacturers who you work with and the clients you serve.

If you're not sure where to begin, start by picking up a copy of the 2008 Green Guide to NeoCon (copies will also be available at The Merchandise Mart during NeoCon, which takes place June 9-11). In it, you will find information that will both inspire you to big-picture thinking and help you understand, at a very practical level, the tools that are available to help you make more informed decisions regarding product specifications and the impact that those choices have on the environment.

In partnership with The Green Standard, we have updated some pieces of information you may have read in previous Green Guides that are critical to understanding sustainable design issues. We have enhanced and streamlined our EcoList of manufacturers whose products have met third-party certifications by adding a new category that lists which LEED protocols are met by which products-making it easier for you to determine how a product you specify can help earn LEED points. And we have improved our EcoLibrary Matrix of third-party certification programs that serves as an entry point for posting in the EcoList and explains the transparency, scope and life-cycle considerations of the major certification programs used in North America.

While making sustainability a priority in your practice is vital, Keri Luly reminds us in this issue's EnvironDesign Notebook that it is easy to overlook the smaller, more personal decisions that play an equally important role in reducing our environmental footprints. While many of us make conscious decisions about the "large, smart purchases," as she calls them, Luly suggests that the "small, ordinary purchases we make can be another important part of the sustainability solution. They are the things we buy and toss out with little thought to the chain of impacts tied to them."

Indeed, our chain of impacts is far reaching. Deborah Dunning and Rosamund Zander, both of The Green Standard, suggest in their article in The Green Guide to NeoCon, "As a massive transformation takes place in how production and consumption are handled in our society, architects and interior designers are positioned to take the lead in advancing a sustainable future," the authors write. "If you approach your clientele with this big, bright picture in mind, how might you want to use your influence?"

If you haven't already answered that question, it's time to start thinking.

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