When the words “Sustainable Design” are used, they have come to be closely associated with energy efficiency in buildings.  If pressed, the words might also be stretched to imply water efficiency.  Sustainability  has come to be synonymous with energy efficiency because energy efficiency  is easily predicted and measured.  However there are many other significant aspects of sustainable design and interior designers are important participants in these aspects.

If we define sustainability as improved global and human health, and if we agree that the built environment contributes greatly to the improvement of global and human health, then we can suggest that building interiors if designed appropriately, will contribute positively to a sustainable workplace..

At the beginning of a project interior designers select a palate of products that form the basis of the design concept that is intended to accommodate the facility users’ program.  Selecting products that are also good for the planet and for people adds a new dimention.  Products should meet the minimum codes requirements (CALGreen in California, the International Green Construction Code and ASHRAE 189.1.2009 in jurisdictions where it has been adopted), and  green building rating system requirements (LEED® Indoor Environmental Quality credits; and the newer Living Building Challenge Materials Petal that requires the reduction of “red list” chemicals from products).  Good design practice should supersede these requirements. Interior design professionals should select products that are low emitting (volatile organic compounds [VOCs],formaldehyde, semi-volatile organic compounds [SVOCs], particulate matter, other inorganic compounds), and products that have low environmental impact as evidenced by their life cycle assessment.  Requesting Health Product Declarations (HPDs) and Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs0 will provide interior designers with good information on which to base product selections.

Design like it really matters; improve global and human health.

Anthony Bernheim, FAIA, LEED Fellow
Director of Sustainability, AECOM, Architecture