Reviewing Sustainability and Green Design

by WOHe

Not long ago I found myself attending a board meeting of the
U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) at Chico Hot Springs. While
soaking with several board members in the naturally occurring
geothermal setting or, in simpler terms, the baths created by the
hot springs I commented on the seeming lack of direction or
progress in green design, particularly in kitchen and bath spaces.
Following is an update from the discussion that engendered.

Defining ‘Green’
We know sustainable or green design and building is important and
growing in popularity, and we know we want to practice it. But, do
we know just what it is?
The vision statement of the USGBC is “green buildings for a healthy
and prosperous planet.” The United Nations defines sustainability
as design and development that meet the needs of the present
without compromising the ability of the future generation to meet
their own needs.

Along with preserving the planet, green design looks at energy
efficiency, the health and comfort of the space, and a harmony
between nature and technology.
I also believe that green and universal design have much in common.
First, I hear that cost remains the number one obstacle to using
green products and materials more extensively, which is also
arguably true with universal design. In both cases we seem to be
educating to establish new economic value for the products and
concepts. Second, the need to balance green with aesthetics is just
as important as the same balance between access or universal design
and beauty in a space or product.

As Alesdair McGregor of Arup Engineering said in an issue of
Metropolis Magazine, “People will never want to have an
aesthetically inferior building, no matter how well stocked it is
with cutting-edge [materials] If you end up creating a building
that nobody likes or enjoys, no matter how intelligently it’s
designed, it’s not a sustainable building.”
Another common element is

our need to rethink or adjust our approach to think more in the
long term. In order for a space to stand the test of time, it must
be both green and universal, well maintained and preserved,
adaptable and aesthetically pleasing.

What does this mean to us as kitchen and bath designers? It
requires each of us to look at our company’s philosophy and actions
regarding sustainability. Do we actively support smart growth
locally? Do we work to recycle and decrease debris from
construction, which today makes up 35% of U.S. landfills? Do we
stay informed regarding renewable material, energy-saving
appliances and environmental quality controls? We can and should
become informed as to the specific kitchen and bath products and
concepts that will help a home move toward the goal.

Concepts & Products
Among the common green guidelines, a few that relate directly to
the kitchen and bath include: designing a space that is as small
and energy efficient as possible; minimizing ozone-depleting
chemicals; improving indoor air, sound and water quality;
conserving energy and resources; and efficiently using and
recycling materials, including waste management.
One problem with this is the idea of “as small as possible.” While
The Not So Big House may be a best seller, I don’t see kitchens and
baths coming down in size. What I do see, and what we as designers
can influence, is how our spaces are used. For instance,
“multitask” kitchens may be flexible enough to reduce overall
needed space. When our bathrooms are also used as exercise rooms,
dressing rooms or just private spaces, we may help again to meet
the household’s needs in less space.

Regarding energy-efficiency, the Energy-Star rating system makes
it easy for us to evaluate appliances. Other products and materials
may be tougher to evaluate but there are sources to help us learn.
To further assist us, a new program, “Leadership in Energy and
Environmental Design (LEED),” is under development for residential
spaces. LEED Homes will focus on information and training related
to residential and interior design.

Beyond the basic design concepts and products, a few new
products seem noteworthy. Dual-flush toilets, popular in Europe for
a long time, allow the user to opt for a half-flush (.8 gallon) for
liquids and a full-flush (1.6 gallons) for solids. Ventilation
systems that cycle on/off throughout their life improve air quality
and reduce moisture, mold and odor problems, as do air filtration
systems. Appliances that use less energy and water have more
options for specific uses and systems to monitor usage and reduce
our energy use, particularly at peak times.

For the floor linoleum, cork and bamboo are all renewable,
meaning that the sources of material used to make the product
regenerate. Carpeting can be wool or plant fiber, which is
renewable, or it may be recycled. For hardwood, wood sourced from
managed forests or salvage can be used. Glass and other recycled
tiles are available for the wall and floor.

There’s even a solid surface counter material made from recycled

Regarding cabinetry, Neil Kelly is a company known for its
respect of the environment, using wood certified by the Forest
Stewardship Council (FSC). The FSC can refer you to manufacturers
that use wood certified by the council and environmentally friendly
finishes and case materials. Growing numbers of retailers are
requiring the use of certified product, which may compel
manufacturers to move in this direction.

For additional information about green design and renewable
resources, contact the following:

  • Building for Health Materials Center, Cedar Rose Guelberth,
    800-292-4838 (source for green building materials and
  • U.S. Green Building Council (source for green
    building resources).
  • Environmental Home Center,
    (information, products, services).
  • (information, products, services).

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