In today's business environment shareholders, employees and customers all have higher expectations of a business' ability to demonstrate responsible behaviour across the triple bottom line of economic, social and environmental management that goes beyond philanthropy. The integration of responsible business into every level of a business operation will enhance reputation and improve market share and position. A sustainable design industry is good for business.
Sustainable design can be achieved by minimizing negative impacts and maximizing positive impacts on environmental, economic, and social systems over the life cycle of the building. Thoughtfully executed interiors result in spaces that reduce the use of resources (such as gas, water and electricity), make the most of sustainable materials, improve indoor air quality and human comfort, and encourage the use of recycled materials and recycling.
LEED™ for Commercial Interiors (CI) rating system, intended for tenant improvement projects in existing buildings, has proven to be effective in reducing energy use, reducing waste, and providing a healthier work environment.
The following are some sustainable design practices specific to commercial projects:
- Design flexible floor plans for multiple uses and easy future reconfiguration. Arrange spaces to maximize the penetration of natural daylight and allow views to the outdoors from all occupied spaces.
- Anticipate future renovations and attempt to avoid them. Interior spaces are often renovated because they have become outdated, even though the materials are not worn. Discarded materials add unnecessarily to landfills.
- Provide adequate space for inhabitants to recycle paper, glass, metals and plastics. Locate the recycling spaces in easy-to-use areas.
- Specify materials that are manufactured locally or within a 500-mile radius to reduce the embodied energy costs of using fossil fuels.
- Specify carpeting manufactured from wool or recycled fibers. Consider woven carpeting with minimal backing material and avoid petroleum-based backing materials.
- Recycle existing carpet through the Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE).
- Work closely with the electrical engineer to select high-quality, energy-efficient lighting. Coordinate lighting controls with operable window coverings to optimize lighting quality, minimize glare and save energy.
- Recommend using office equipment such as computers, copiers and printers with the EnergyStar™ rating.
- Specify products with low VOC ratings. Patronize companies that have submitted their products for testing by GreenGuard™ or other testing agencies.
- Require a flush-out period prior to building occupancy.
- Research materials in advance, including a review of Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) and require submittals of the MSDS by the contractor particularly on product substitutions..
Studies have shown that sustainable design, though it may add to construction costs initially, results in lower operational and life cycle costs over time. While some systems like renewable energy (building integrated photovoltaics, bio-fuels, hydrogen fuel cells, etc.) and gray water systems do still carry a first-cost premium, many basic sustainable design strategies — those everyday systems and materials that many architects and designers are now employing on a regular basis — don't add one penny more to construction costs over conventionally designed buildings.
A number of interior design firms now specialize in sustainable design, and many designers have fulfilled education and examination requirements to earn LEED accreditation, signified by the LEED AP designation.