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Why going green on the inside makes perfect sense

Why going green on the inside makes perfect sense

Gerard F.X. Geier, II

When designers refer to a “green interior,” rarely are they describing the color of the paint on the walls. To date, most sustainable design solutions focus on using products made of recycled materials or with low volatile organic compounds (VOCs). At Fox & Fowle, sustainable interior architecture is about integrating environmentally conscious solutions with aesthetics and operational function.

Clients want to project their individual business identity throughout their office space. Whether designing for a Wall Street law firm, Soho advertising agency or Midtown corporate office, each interior has the ability to not only reflect the company’s vision, but also be environmentally responsible, increase worker productivity and achieve long-term cost savings. By incorporating cost-effective techniques like optimized layouts to increase the day lighting through out the office floor, specifying re-used materials, considering alternative office configurations and unitized construction, plus purchasing high quality flexible furnishings, green elements can be incorporated into the overall design.

Often, solutions for carving out more storage or office space can be solved by reconfiguring existing space into a more efficient lay out. By simply reconsidering space needs and increasing density, an under utilized office can be turned into a high demand conference room or shared office for junior staff. Maximizing office efficiencies eliminates the need to demolish or reconstruct office space. Reallocating space is one of the most environmentally friendly and economic tactics that can be used in designing interiors.

If it is deemed that construction is necessary, there are several cost saving and eco-friendly techniques to consider including unitized construction. This approach utilizes pre-manufactured, modular components that have been designed for the specific user requirements and can be easily reconfigured as the organization changes. In addition to contributing to a cleaner construction site than standard drywall construction for instance, modular walls are both reusable and highly recyclable. By using prefabricated walls or mobile partitions, the interiors can be built with future uses in mind.

Although the structural aspects of office space provide opportunities to implement sustainable design, an often over looked feature to incorporate earth-friendly elements is in the actual office furniture. The easiest way to determine if a product is sustainable is to consider its lifecycle–origin of materials, length of use and whether discarded products can be re-claimed. There are hundreds of companies that offer products made from recycled materials, renewable resources or that are made of materials that have a high recycle level. For instance, in lieu using particle board, which can contribute pollutants into the air from the adhesives used to make it, wheatboard, which is nontoxic, utilizes an agricultural waste product and is safely biodegradable, can be substituted as a substrate for casegoods and built-ins.

In addition to purchasing furniture manufactured from sustainable materials, companies can increase their sustainability and cost saving by purchasing products that will fit their needs over the long term. The cost savings and sustainability can be measured by the difference between buying one good office chair as opposed to buying two to three lower quality products over the same period of time.

Buying high quality furniture may require a more substantial initial investment but provides long-term benefits by reducing the introduction of furniture and components into the waste stream.

The construction process itself should also be green. When renovating space, the design and construction team must take responsibility for the disposition of demolished materials. If construction materials can be reused instead of dumped, it not only achieves a level of sustainability but also a significant cost savings. About 40% of the municipal solid waste stream comes from construction, demolition and land-clearing debris. The environmental impact is significantly reduced if extracting resources, transportation of those resources, manufacturing new products and disposal of the old products are avoided. In addition, project costs are reduced by eliminating disposal costs and by reducing the need to purchase new materials.

Today the question is rarely … why go green on the inside but rather what is the best way to attain a level of sustainability? Due to the variety of products and materials available in a spectrum of price points, every client has the opportunity to achieve the right mix of environmentally friendly products and techniques to meet their goals in the design of their office space.

GERARD F.X. GEIER, II, AIA, IIDA PRINCIPAL, FOX & FOWLE ARCHITECTS

COPYRIGHT 2005 Hagedorn Publication

COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group