Green design, particularly in the case of cabinetry, continues to open doors for both kitchen and bath design professionals and clients. Sustainably produced products not only offer new business opportunities and create healthier homes, they also allow for the creation of beautiful kitchens and baths that are equally beneficial to the environment at large.

Even cabinet interiors are getting a green overhaul, with environmentally friendly interior fittings becoming increasingly popular (see Intuitive Interiors).

As Jennifer Roberts, author of Good Green Kitchens, states: “Never have expectations been so high for the kitchen. It has to look terrific and hold up to the demands of our fast-paced lifestyles…we expect our kitchen to exude health and nurture body and soul. Increasingly, we’re coming to appreciate that creating a healthy home means taking care of people and the planet.”

The Green Spin

What this means to kitchen and bath designers is that they now have an opportunity – and some believe a responsibility – to educate themselves as well as their clients about design that’s good for the environment. That means asking themselves, “Am I up for the challenge of educating consumers and creating designs utilizing products that can help save the planet?”

While environmental concerns play an increasingly important role in every facet of people’s lives and the products they choose, the design community must be sure these concerns are incorporated into other compelling aspects of a brand or design. For that reason, designers must market environmentally friendly concepts as part of an overall package that includes the tried and true craftsmanship, value and warranty that consumers have come to expect when remodeling their kitchen or bath.

It’s important to note that consumers don’t expect perfection when it comes to green design. If sustainably produced cabinetry and energy-efficient appliances can be specified, that might be all that is needed to satisfy clients. What they want to know is that the companies they buy from, and their designer, understand the environmental challenges facing society, and that these parties are trying to do better. The key is to balance the conventional benefits with sustainability benefits.

A big question about eco-friendly products is whether consumers are willing to shell out green to get green. Since cabinetry is often the single biggest purchase in a kitchen remodel, this is an important consideration. However, there seems to be a certain level of industry consensus indicating that, increasingly, consumers are willing to pay extra for organic products, or products that promote personal health and well being. While the green seal of approval says a product is good for the environment, this can also translate to health benefits to the homeowner – something that can be used to help market green.

Additionally, the number of consumers weighing environmental concerns in making purchase decisions is trending upwards as green awareness increases.

Defining Sustainable

For every cabinet company, there is a different standard for the word “sustainable.” European manufacturers have had to meet more stringent manufacturing guidelines and so, for many years, have outpaced their U.S. counterparts.

But as the green movement has taken hold in the U.S., the cabinet industry has quickly jumped on board, working to produce more environmentally friendly products and tweaking business practices to reflect the national conscience.

Because cabinetry is such a major component of the kitchen, eco-conscious consumers are going to be concerned with how it was produced, the distance it traveled and from what materials it was constructed. Even cabinet interior fittings are receiving scrutiny for their eco-friendliness.

For green-conscious consumers, the concerns about cabinetry will also begin before the wood for their cabinets has even been cut. Eco-conscious clients want materials that they can be certain went through sustainable growing and harvesting before it even arrived at the factory.

Third-party certification helps to provide this assurance. The more self-evident a product’s attributes, the less it needs to be verified with certification. Lumber doesn’t need certification of its wood content, for example, but certification is helpful for distinguishing forest products that were sustainably harvested in responsibly managed forests, since their origin isn’t immediately evident.

When green products are visually indistinguishable from goods produced by standard manufacturing methods, the only way to understand their intricacies is by certification. Seals of approval have influenced purchasing decisions for decades but, more recently, the environmental movement has created a new market for certifications.

The success of major certification programs such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program or the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has increased public awareness of green issues and encouraged manufacturers to jump on board.

The Standard

Because of consumers’ inability to distinguish the nature of such things as air quality and product and process resource management in relation to cabinetry, the Environmental Stewardship Program (ESP) was introduced in 2006 to recognize manufacturers that demonstrate an ongoing commitment to environmental practices and sustainability. The Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association (KCMA), aligned with the NAHB Green Home Building Guidelines, created this certification program for cabinet manufacturers to ensure more than just the cabinets last.

This program, which is growing by leaps and bounds, recognizes companies that employ the use of environmentally responsible materials in cabinet products. It also rewards companies that seek to minimize the environmental impact on their local communities by ‘greening’ their practices.

Any manufacturer of prefinished, factory-engineered cabinets may participate. To demonstrate compliance with low-emission and sustainability requirements, manufacturers must submit documentation such as purchase orders, testing reports, confirmation of certification, copies of written policies for pollution reduction and energy conservation, verifiable records of quantities or materials recycled, awards, etc.

KCMA certification, awarded on an annual basis, looks at such factors as air quality, product resource management, process resource management, environmental stewardship and community relations.

After meeting certification requirements, companies are able to display the ESP seal on their products. The ESP seal is further assurance to a client or customer that a company is doing its part to help preserve the environment.

The Details

Green might be trendy, but green can also be timeless. From sleek European cabinetry with its veneers and metallic alternatives to warm, traditional and transitional styles, green traverses the design spectrum. As more cabinet manufacturers join the KCMA’s mission, the design and style choices for the eco-friendly client multiply.

But isn’t the heart of design in the details? The kitchen and bath industry has always prided itself on quality and craftsmanship, and now social responsibility can be the third ideal designers can be proud of. This shift starts in the showroom.

Designers looking to get greener need to learn more about the variety of green products available to them, and pass that knowledge on to their customers. They need to wow their clients with their in-depth knowledge of the topic.

Advocate green, even if a client doesn’t ask for it specifically. Suggest lighting cabinets with a strip of long-life LEDs to save energy – and money – instead of incandescent bulbs.

Because there is a lack of a coherent definition of green design, and because there is a wealth of conflicting claims, the design professional will often be the filter of all of the information for the client. What industry professionals can do is market green design choices and products in a way that helps consumers simplify green solutions in terms they can understand.

The most effective campaigns will be both informational and inspirational, combining the head and the heart, along with the fun of innovative design.

Sandra Luttchens, CKD, is director of design and training for Omega Cabinetry. She has been involved in the kitchen and bath industry for over 20 years, having worked in retail kitchen and bath design and as an instructor of art and architecture. She has been a member of the Color Marketing Group since 2000.

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