Being environmentally friendly is much more than a set of buzzwords such as going green, eco-chic, eco-savvy and eco-conscious. It is an emerged way of life, completely mainstreamed today into a genuinely ecologically and environmentally conscious society. At the same time, being eco-savvy is a well-integrated part of a world economy that is struggling for survival.
These two factors, societal consciousness and the frightening state of personal or national and world finances, are complementary driving factors in the green consumer movement. A third factor exists blended from the first two—it is self-preservation, or the desire to be healthy, to live life cleanly and fully.
Societal or cultural influences are complex. In our present culture, being eco-savvy includes an awakening desire to preserve what resources we have and to ensure a legacy of quality life for future generations. It is culturally and pragmatically desirable to become more energy-independent and thereby increase a sense of security and safety on every level—personal, community, state and national. As a society, there is a desire to free ourselves from the guilt of gluttony as we learn from and strive to emulate the actions of those who have become successfully judicious in their energy consumption, consumerism and personal lifestyle practices.
Many eco-savvy consumers expect products to be obtained from renewable resources, which means that an increased demand will justify the development of new sustainable materials and products. It is taking a look at the environmental bigger picture rather than being absorbed in one’s micro-world. New furnishings are being introduced that require less energy to produce, install or operate. These, in-turn are appealing to the consumer because they save energy. Today we have sustainable products that did not exist even 10 years ago, and 10 years from now products will be marketed that today we might not even dream could exist—all with the guiding philosophy of being eco-savvy. Research and development have yielded efficient products that will assist us in reaching these societal goals.
Many Web sites have been developed to encourage these design trends. These are often focused on two areas: being in fashion and being smart consumers. They are often loaded with tips that are both aesthetic and eco-smart. There is immense satisfaction in knowing that your lights are compact fluorescents, that your dishwasher and refrigerator use less water, that your toilets are low-flow, that your furnace operates at over 90 percent efficiency, that you have automatic shut-off for appliances and movement sensors for lighting. Becoming eco-savvy also results in a sense of being in control of how much energy and resources you consume. In an unpredictable world, being in control of something feels right. As a society, we do want to do the right thing and feel good about it, and as individual consumers, these are things within our grasps.
As design professionals, we must have a basic understanding of some technical aspects of the green movement in order to communicate to our customers the meaning of certifications and claims. This will build their confidence in the product and in us as providers of those products. Knowledge is an important sales tool.
To assure the eco-safety of a product, it must be tested. For example, Lutron has introduced a line of roller shade fabrics that are PVC-free, 100 percent recycled, GreenGuard® certified, Oeko-Tex® Standard 100 certified, or a combination. This means that the fabrics are considered sustainable, as they are certified free of polyvinyl chloride, which is known to emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in some products and applications. VOCs are harmful if breathed.
Certifications assure us that the product is what it claims to be. Two certifications are mentioned above: GreenGuard and Oeko-Tex. Following is a brief explanation of both, followed ANSI and LEED.
• The GreenGuard Certification ProgramSM is an industry-independent, third-party testing program for low-emitting products and materials. The first GreenGuard Certification was awarded in the fall of 2002. To date, more than 170 manufacturers across various industries offer GreenGuard Indoor Air Quality Certified products, which are regularly tested to ensure that their chemical and particle emissions meet acceptable indoor air quality (IAQ) pollutant guidelines and standards. This is a valuable tool for architects, designers, product specifiers and purchasing organizations that want to locate, specify and purchase off-the-shelf, low-emitting products for indoor environments. GreenGuard Certification is a voluntary program available to all manufacturers and their suppliers.
• Oeko-Tex Standard 100, developed in 1992, is an international testing and certification system for textiles, limiting the use of certain chemicals. Responsibility for the Oeko-Tex Standard 100 is shared between the 17 test institutes that make up the International Oeko-Tex Association, which has branch offices in more than 40 countries worldwide. The criteria catalog that forms the basis for the tests for harmful substances is based on the latest scientific findings and is continually updated, ensuring that the requirements for the human ecological safety of the textiles tested are increasingly far-reaching. The test criteria and the related test methods are standardized on an international level and are widely included as guidance in terms and conditions of purchase and delivery to the retail sector.
With a total of more than 51,000 certificates issued for millions of different individual products, and more than 6,500 companies involved worldwide, the Oeko-Tex Standard 100 has become the best known and most successful label for textiles tested for harmful substances.
Samples are tested by the independent Oeko-Tex institutes for their pH-value, formaldehyde content, the presence of pesticides, extractable heavy metals, chlorinated organic carriers and preservatives such as pentachlorophenol and tetrachlorophenol. The tests also include checks for any allergy-inducing dyestuffs.
The four classes for testing products are:
I Baby articles
II Articles that come into contact with large areas of the skin, or to which the skin is exposed for long periods
IV Furnishing fabrics
• American National Standards Institute (ANSI)—Its objective is to enhance both the global competitiveness of U.S. businesses and the quality of life in the United States by promoting and facilitating voluntary consensus standards and conformity assessment systems and safeguarding their integrity. ANSI oversees the creation, promulgation and use of thousands of norms and guidelines that directly impact U.S. businesses.
• Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)—Its Green Building Rating System™ is a third-party certification program and the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings. LEED promotes a whole-building approach to sustainability by recognizing performance in five key areas of human and environmental health:
1. Sustainable site development
2. Water savings
3. Energy efficiency
4. Materials selection
5. Indoor environmental quality
Architects, real estate professionals, facility managers, engineers, interior designers, landscape architects, construction managers, lenders and government officials all use LEED to help transform the built environment to sustainability.
Economic movements are just as real in forging the environmental movement. We all see the alarming effect of the shrinking or contracting economy, despite efforts to salvage it. The real bottom line for everyone is that we must each be responsible for our own micro-economics. This means that all products purchased must have a payback. Conserving energy has become not only psychologically important, but monetarily important as well.
Every time we present a window covering design, part of the sales equation should be to discuss how the treatment will pay for itself. The ways window coverings appeal to the pocketbook include:
• Lowering heating and cooling bills and enhancing the comfort of the interior spaces
• Protecting furnishings against UV damage to increase their lifespan both aesthetically and physically
• Consisting of quality materials and mechanisms that will withstand repeated use for many years
Savvy customers not only are aware of how to be smart, they also are aware of what looks great. Fashion is still a driving force behind textures and colors offered for products that are eco-friendly. The expression “fashion first” still holds true. So bring out the best and most beautiful of the product samples and create the most wonderful design. Then praise the customers for their eco-savvy intelligence as you explain all the benefits of going green. It’s a win-win!
Karla J. Nielson, Allied ASID, WCAA, is assistant professor of design at Brigham Young University. She has authored several books including Window Treatments, Understanding Fabrics and Interiors: An Introduction, 3rd Ed. Nielson is a regular correspondent for Draperies & Window Coverings addressing the areas of fashion, education and merchandising.