Friday, January 21, 2011

Greenwash and Commercial Interiors

I have yet to put my hands on any cubicle, desk, chair, accessory, copier, coffee maker, trashcan, table or whatever else you can find inside an office and find something that is TRULY sustainable. These are all manufactured products that are incapable of the definition. So why is it that supplier of such items label them as sustainable? Ignorance! If you want people to trust what you are preaching you have to live the words that come out of your mouth. But more important, you have to understand what they mean. Labeling something sustainable or green to fool people will only in the end discredit your brand. Now, you can apply sustainable to some of the processes that filter into products. You can claim that you only supply products that implement sustainable practices in their manufacturing.

Green. Green. Green. PLEASE STOP USING THE WORD!!!! It is like hearing the same song on the radio 3 times in an hour., or as my kids say, I obsess about a song on my Ipod and kill it. The only things that should be labeled Green are all natural or 100% biodegradable products. That is it. Everything else is not.

When considering new construction for a commercial building there should be no doubt that every ounce of design should be poured into making that building as tuned into nature as possible. So the phrase I choose to use is "responsible sustainability". This term means that every decision made in the design process was focused on nature. That does not however, mean that the project goes bankrupt to meet those goals. Here are my non-negotiable point in new construction.

  1. Solar, wind, Geo Thermal. Some form of self sustaining energy solution. Whatever the cost is, the ROI will be faster than the models and the building will carry more inherent value on the market.
  2. Passive solar design combined with as much natural light as possible. A tricky design element, but one that could have tremendous impact on both the population of tenants and operational cost of the building. Remember, natural light makes us happy, do you want happy people working for you or miserable?
  3. As little as possible interior drywall construction. I can not stress this enough. The only areas that need "hard" walls are mechanical, lavatories. Everything else should be a pre-manufactured wall. (modular wall, move able wall, floor to ceiling panel) Why? There are so many reasons that I have learned over the years. I will dedicate another post just to walls but to summarize, it is the right thing to do for now and the future. If you need proof just consider the cost and landfill space to demo an existing office for a new tenant. I myself have at least sent 300-400 30 yard dumpsters to landfills filled with construction waste. I was not in construction. Enough said.
  4. The dollars spent on FF&E(Furniture, Fixtures and Equipment) should be dedicated to products that are the byproduct of sustainable manufacturing processes. Secondary to that are the service history of those products. When the project is done, all that support disappears and you better have clear expectations on how to get things repaired. What is covered under warranty and who is paying for the labor to fix it. Get it in writing!!!! Don't be sold on sales green wash. At the end of the day it really isn't about the sale as it is the service. Believe me you can have both.
  5. Raised Floor. Most new construction going in these days is incorporating raised flooring. Not the old style metal computer floors, but concrete filled tiles that act like a slab. Again, I will have another post dedicated to just that. It's not the floor that matters, its how you leverage it to help your operations that matter. The simple example I always use is the ladder. Would you rather have someone up on a ladder to service something or on a solid floor?
The industry of commercial construction and interiors has been bloated for quite some time. It is moving slowly to correct itself but if you arm yourself with information you can push your resource in the right direction. We as a society have been negligent in our approach and design of commercial building, therefore, they are not very forgiving back. Awareness will prevail.

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