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Monday, May 2, 2011

It Ain't Easy Bein' Green

There are many considerations for those incorporating “green” design into their kitchens, baths, and residential and commercial interiors. Some of the concerns relate to potentially conflicting “green” practices. Some conflict with local laws and ordinances or building department and public works practices. Others relate to conflicts in the hearts and minds of property owners and users.

“Green” covers a lot of ground. It means using readily replaceable, commonly available materials that require low output to manufacture or harvest. It means using low VOC products, particularly in adhesives and finishes. It means minimizing use of natural resources and carbon output as well as excess landfill material. It means considering the potential impact of the built environment on the local water table both in terms of water usage and run-off. It means considering the carbon footprint of items that have to be shipped halfway around the world to become part of our living spaces. It also means the way we live.

To be fully informed on each of these issues with each and every purchase or change we make regarding our living spaces would require extraordinary dedication on the part of consumers. Not to mention that some of the criteria are at odds. Which to choose?

Recently published articles reveal that the daunting task of being informed is left to consumers who are only moderately interested in minimizing their personal environmental impact. An article in the 2010 issue of Kitchen & Bath Design News refers to a study by Harris Interactive, done on behalf of Whirlpool Corporation which reveals that little more than half of us would be willing to spend more up front on appliances to save energy costs over the long term, although two-thirds said they would search for the “right”’ product at the “right” price. A May 2011 article in Details covers our attachment to incandescent lighting. Many will confess they are willing to adopt “greener” practices as long as it poses no inconvenience to them. In contrast to media reports of enthusiasm for the environment the personal threshold for inconvenience can be surprisingly low.

One danger of neglecting personal environmental action is that our values may not be reflected in the actions (or rules) of others. Recent legislative proposals and policy decisions made locally, nationally and internationally will have an impact on all of our lives. The question is whether they will have the impact we desire. I prefer to take a personal and pro-active approach to reduce my use of fossil fuels (including the carbon footprint of purchases), reduce waste and VOC’s, use locally grown, minimally manufactured materials and protect the local water table. A good beginning is to turn the thermostat down in the winter, up in the summer and to use fluorescent lamps wherever possible.

The design community is doing back-flips to make the built environment friendly to the natural environment. Are you willing to take a few simple steps toward that end as well?

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