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McLennan Leaves His Handprint on Sustainable Design

Oct. 1, 2018

interiors+sources’ 2018 Design Connections keynote speaker, Jason F. McLennan, has made a lasting impact on the world of design.

Jason F. McLennan is a force to be reckoned with and seems larger than life. But his legacy doesn’t live in monuments or great skyline-changing superstructures – it began as a grassroots movement which has expanded the awareness and implementation of vital sustainability measures.

As partner and CEO of McLennan Design and founder of the International Living Future Institute, McLennan began his career as an architect, focusing on sustainability from the very start.

“I’ve always had a passion for the environment, good design and trying to show that we can create a better world for designs of buildings, products and systems that are beautiful and elegant,” McLennan says. “Sustainability was not a very big movement in architecture and not taken very seriously by most in the industry. There was very little definition around what ‘green design’ even meant.”

Mohawk Group’s Lichen uses biomimicry to copy the natural texture of lichen found in nature.

Today, his reach has extended through his creation of the International Living Future Institute (ILFI), which includes the Living Building Challenge and Pharos—a rating system that brings transparency to the manufacturing and product design process.

interiors+sources is proud and honored to have McLennan as our keynote speaker during Design Connections 2018.

“What if every act of design made the world a better place?”

This is the question McLennan poses to the design industry. Understanding the difficulty in implementing sustainable and health-centered design, as well as the need for an easy-to-understand standard, the ILFI has three labels that are utilized within the design industry. Taking its inspiration from nutrition labels found on food, these give a clear and concise view of the ways in which companies are working towards a better world:

  • Declare: The Declare label is one most commonly seen at tradeshows. It seeks to answer three questions—where a product comes from, what it’s made of and what happens to it at the end of its life. Taking into consideration the lifecycle of a product from beginning to end, the Declare label includes Life Expectancy, End of Life Options, an ingredient list with sourcing information and check boxes to allow simple understanding of whether a product fulfills the Living Building Challenge Criteria—including whether a product is Red List Free.
  • JUST: A voluntary disclosure tool, JUST gives transparency regarding an organization’s social equity and employee engagement in a time when who is making our goods—and their treatment—is becoming just as important as what is in the product. Using a one-to-three Star Level rating system, the JUST label showcases an organization’s diversity, equity, safety, worker benefits, local benefits and stewardship.
  • Reveal: The newly updated Reveal label gives a comprehensive view of a building’s energy efficiency and renewable product and procurement. Including in its metrics whether a project meets the 2030 Challenge energy use reduction targets established by Architecture 2030, one can easily see a building’s energy use intensity, the zero energy performance index and reduction in energy use from baseline.
Of the importance of such labels, McLennan says, “I realized that the industry needed tools it didn’t have that would help focus its energy on the right direction for sustainability and design. [The Living Building Challenge, Product Challenge, and JUST and Declare labels] were all born out of that need to see the building industry move forward.”

Overcoming Skepticism

Although the Living Building and Product Challenges are making headway today, the initial reception was turbulent.

“There were a lot of preconceptions and myths about our programs,” he says. In standing behind his programs, he needed to challenge the ways in which the industry thinks about design, manufacturing and the goods we consume. “We had to fight against the inertia of how the industry wants to do things.”

[Read also: 2020 Design Trends: Color, Materials + Finish]

Several manufacturers stood behind McLennan’s new green way of thinking, including Mohawk Group who has collaborated with McLennan on a number of projects, including the award-winning Lichen carpet tile inspired by nature.

Jackie Dettmar, vice president of design and product development at Mohawk Group, will be presenting McLennan during Design Connections, speaking about his impact on their organization as well as the industry as a whole.

Leaving a Handprint

Despite any initial skepticism, products like Declare have led to long-term success for initiatives that look towards creating better products through transparency.

Today, the focus has shifted from decreasing one’s “footprint”—impact on the world—to understanding one’s “handprint”—not only minimizing impact, but actually leaving things better than when they began. Understanding those measures are only possible when the individual can make educated decisions on the products they choose.

“If you can shine a light on the truth, many people—at least the leaders—will respond to that information and create further change,” explained McLennan. “That’s really why we’ve had the success with Declare; leading companies making good products have this platform to show leadership that’s more honest.”

For more information on Jason F. McLennan’s work, interiors+sources will be posting the entirety of his keynote online.

[More on McLennan: The Best Kind of Troublemaker]

About the Author

Kadie Yale | Former Editor-in-Chief

Kadie Yale holds a BA in Industrial Design from San Francisco State University and a MA in Decorative Art History and Theory from Parsons the New School. In her role as editor-in-chief from 2015-2018, she led the interiors+sources team in creating relevant content that touches on sustainability, universal design, science, and the role of design in society.

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