Category Archives: Sustainability

Mind the Gap

Julie Hiromoto

Continuing our series on the intersection of beauty and sustainability, Julie Hiromoto of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill reflects on her retreat with Interface and fellow architects when these thought leaders discussed how to close the gap between sustainable design and beautiful design. This is the second blog in the series.

In March, Interface, working with Nadav Malin of BuildingGreen, invited a group of architects from small and large practices across the U.S. to warm and sunny San Diego. Our task was to explore the question of why green buildings are not usually considered beautiful, and conversely, why the sexiest buildings are often not very sustainable. What is good green design and why isn’t there more of it? Unlike a typical conference center, our meeting room was enclosed on two sides with floor to ceiling windows facing the water, with a covered boardwalk as breakout space. While we talked, the sky changed colors, and the sun beckoned us outside after a long and relentless winter. Our hotel was located on a private, man-made island, landscaped to resemble a lush Southeast Asian paradise. Despite the irony of it all, or perhaps because of it, the discussions were lively, and we powered through the two and a half days. What an appropriate location to tease out our collective thoughts on this complex topic, as we earnestly worked together to close the gap.

As designers, we craft a vision for the environments in which we live, work, and play. Good design is mindful of the sensory experience in and around these spaces, whether visual, aural, or tactile; old or new; high tech or natural. The decisions we make range from broad sweeping concepts to minute details. We specify products that are included in systems that, in turn, complement other systems. They serve a particular use and group of people in a particular environment. Our intentions are constrained by time, cost, codes and other feasibility questions. On each project, these choices are based on our own values, those of the client, and the communities the project will serve. Our success depends on aligning the project goals with these values.

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Green must be a part of good design. As architects, we have a responsibility for the health and well-being of building occupants, the community and the environment. Greater energy and water efficiency requirements are making their way into building codes and design criteria. Owners are gaining awareness of financial incentives and savings. Health concerns are gaining traction as architects advocate for product transparency through grass roots initiatives like the Health Product Declaration or more established advocacy and education through the AIA’s Design & Health Leadership Group. But along the way, in our scientific pursuit to validate high performance design strategies, did we lose sight of beauty? Are we mired in the myriad charts, graphs, facts and figures used to justify and validate our ideas? Will we have better results realizing our sustainable strategies if instead we promote beautifully integrated solutions with narrative?

How do you define beauty? Countless philosophical and scientific treaties have been written on this topic, but design sensibility is difficult to validate. Beauty, pleasure, and inspiration are subjective; to one person a space may be ideal, to others it may fall short, but aesthetics cannot be cast aside as a frivolous amenity. This is the soul and life-blood of our work. The delight and experience of a space causes us to linger or smile. A unique sense of place makes a building special and memorable. These feelings motivate us to maintain and restore our homes, workplaces, community centers, schools and cultural spaces. The longevity of our architecture is the real lasting sustainable impact of the watts/square foot and liters/day savings. Even if technical advances help us achieve better performance metrics, demonstrated improvements in the buildings we construct and cherish today will build a foundation for further advancement in the next projects. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it’s still there!

Editor’s note: This blog was originally written before the Living Future unConference in May when the definition of design values continued with an interactive discussion between Julie, Joann Gonchar (Architectural Record), Nadav Malin (BuildingGreen), and Susan S. Szenasy (Metropolis) on the topic of Connecting the Dots: Beauty, Sustainability, and the Occupant Experience. It was held for publishing to be included with our blog series on the intersection of beauty and sustainability.

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The Intersection of Beauty and Sustainability: Twitter Chat Recap

To kick off our latest blog series on the intersection of beauty and sustainability, design and sustainability gurus Lance Hosey of RTKL Associates and Julie Hiromoto of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill joined our own Vicki deVuono, VP of Creative, and Lindsay James, VP of Restorative Enterprise, in a live Twitter chat. What unfolded was a thought provoking discussion in bite-sized nuggets – 140 characters or less, of course.

@Julie_Hiromoto began the chat by addressing the balance of sustainability and beauty. She tweeted:

  • Design excellence has always been a part of our practice, our ethos.
  • As a Designer you must always remain true to aesthetics.
  • We work to integrate green building performance criteria within the design intent. Sometimes this is a challenge.

The conversation later evolved to address the core concept of Interface’s Human Nature collection – the belief that where we create inspires what we create. @LanceHosey chimed in to answer the question: Should designers focus on the mental, emotional and physiological impact end users experience vs. their own style?

  • Designers often design exclusively for vision, not for the other senses.
  • Architects aren’t trained in visual literacy. Courses such color theory aren’t required in most design schools.
  • We think of great design as art, not science or something that results from diligent study.
  • The more we learn about the mathematics of attraction, the mechanics of affection, the better design can become.

The chat concluded with a discussion on biophilic design. Lance cited examples of historical buildings that employed biophilic principles, and Julie closed the discussion with the following question regarding implementation of green building practices:

  • How can we encourage our industry to continue striving towards these goals by positively encouraging all progress?

Find the entire chat, including all questions and responses, by searching #IFinHumanNature and scrolling to the tweets posted on July 10.

Lance and Julie, along with other sustainability leaders, will continue this discussion over the next few weeks. Stay tuned for more!

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Carbon Canopy

Announcing Carbon Canopy – How unlikely partners are coming together to save southern forests and address climate change.

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Interface announced at Greenbuild 2013 that it became a pioneer purchaser of forest carbon offsets for its Cool Carpet™ program from an exciting new source—Southern forests.

This simple announcement came after years of effort by conservation organizations like Dogwood Alliance, landowners and others to establish an innovative partnership called the Carbon Canopy.

Interface watched the project evolve from an idea supported by a grant from our Foundation and others to a successful model that protects Southern forests while reducing carbon.

This happens quite simply. Carbon credits that are generated from forest management are sold to companies like Interface and Staples, and landowners use this additional revenue to invest in FSC certification.

The partnership serves as a bridge that links these corporate buyers who want to balance their climate impacts with landowners allowing projects like the Balsam Mountain Preserve in Sylvia, NC to happen. Projects like this not only reduce carbon, but also:

  • Preserve a forest legacy for future generations
  • Support millions of forest land owners
  • Create wood and paper product options that come from responsibly managed forests

The Carbon Canopy shows what is possible when unlikely partners team up to address some of our larger sustainability challenges.

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Redesign Economy

Nadine Gudz

Interface collaborates with many organizations as it climbs Mount Sustainability. Our commitment to redesign commerce necessarily requires collaborations in communities across our value chain in order to effect the systems changes required for a sustainable society.

This year, Interface was proud to accept the invitation to join the Council for Clean Capitalism, an esteemed group of business leaders. The Council is a “think/do tank” for raising the policy bar to enable infrastructure changes for green growth. I had the pleasure of asking its founder, Toby Heaps, to elaborate on the evolution and vision of the Council.

What is the Council for Clean Capitalism and how did it start?

In 2007 I was working with some colleagues to build support for a sensible carbon price in Canada. As part of that effort, I asked a number of CEOs who had shown leadership on climate change to put their name to an editorial we were placing in “The Globe and Mail”. We were calling for an elegant carbon price as an initial supporting salvo for the 21st century moral imperative of reversing human-induced climate change. I couldn’t get a single major CEO to put his/her name to the op-ed (Every Tonne Hast Its Price).

Then in 2009, Apple, Exelon, Pacific Gas & Electric, Nike and Procter and Gamble all quit the US Chamber of Commerce to protest its retrograde climate policy. The problem is there wasn’t anywhere for these large companies to go—no home for raising the policy bar so that companies who create more value than they destroy are more valued in the marketplace.

We live in a world where the private sector plays a significant role in designing and influencing public policy. Unfortunately, the voice of business is often subsumed by traditional industry associations, which are often prisoner to the lowest common denominator of their membership.  Where things start to get interesting is when the leaders of significant corporations from across sectors bind together to articulate a stretch vision tailored to the highest common denominator, in which those who create more value are also more valued in the marketplace.

Creating this community of leaders with a high impact and pragmatic vision was and is the essence of the Council for Clean Capitalism.

The Council’s aim is to create a sustainable society by ensuring that the rules of the economy are supportive of this goal. This entails 4 I’s:

  • Information (ensuring that natural and social capital is included on core corporate and public economic financial documents)
  • Incentives (ensuring a clear path and level playing field for leaders)
  • Infrastructure (supporting enabling infrastructure for green growth)
  • Investment (unclogging the financial system so that capital can flow more readily to resource and social productivity enhancing investments)

In terms of impact we will continue to take a pragmatic high impact approach to advancing our core priorities: green buildings (speed for LEED, energy disclosure), green bonds (sovereign issues), green accounting (putting natural capital on the balance sheet), and subject to Council approval, adding green infrastructure (transmission lines to rescue stranded renewable energy assets). When we achieve success, we will seek to scale the success by writing up case studies to share with targeted forums via op-eds, The Council of the Federation, Federation of Canadian Municipalities/Big 5 Mayors Caucus, various governments in pre-budget consultations, Council of Environment Ministers, Council of Energy Ministers, the Privy Council, and significant corporate forums such as the Globe Conference.

Why was Interface Canada approached?

We specifically limited Council invitations to companies that are leading by example on sustainability.  From the spirit of Ray Anderson to the tangible progress the company has made on its Mission Zero® journey, Interface is recognized globally for blazing a trail to the gold standard for sustainable business.

The Council is currently at 10 members plus one special working group member. In the next two years we would like to grow core membership to 20 leading corporate leaders covering all sectors of the economy.

In terms of the progress reached so far, what are you most proud of? What excites you most going forward?

So far we have good reception in the corridors of power. Our first “win” was convincing the Premier of the government of Ontario to announce a significant green bonds program to be initiated in 2014. This will enable investors to direct billions of dollars toward valuable green infrastructure projects.

The 21st century Corporation is one of the most powerful forces our civilization has ever known. Initiatives like the Council and Richard Branson’s B-Team (a sort of international version of the Council) show that business leaders can shape a society where corporations are a force for good.

ABOUT TOBY HEAPS

tobymap small_webToby is the CEO and co-founder of Corporate Knights, CK Capital and the Council for Clean Capitalism. He spearheaded the first global ranking of the world’s 100 most sustainable corporations in 2005, and in 2007 coined the term “clean capitalism.” He sits on the Sustainability Accounting Standards Advisory Board and the University of Toronto’s Environment and Finance Committee. He also is a Director at the Natural Step Canada. Toby has been published in the “Financial Times”, “The Wall Street Journal” and “The Globe and Mail”, and is a regular guest speaker on CBC. In 1998, he played centrefield for the Yugoslav National Baseball Team.

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Counting Nature’s Services

Connie Hensler

Have you seen recent articles about Natural Capital Valuation (NCV), Environmental P&L and other financial measures of environmental impact like the one titled “When will your company begin accounting for nature?” on GreenBiz.com?

You should know that Interface has done this as well. Although this type of valuation is still in its infancy and is experimental in nature, it identifies which of our impacts are most important and the value to society of reducing those impacts.

So what is “natural capital” and why is it important?

Business and society freely use the services that nature provides in the form of water, land, air and others without including the cost of these services on their balance sheet. Externalizing the value of these services causes companies to under represent their financial risk if these services are interrupted through super storms, drought and other effects. Capturing the value of this natural capital on the balance sheet will help companies manage risks and drive innovation towards products and systems that are more resilient and that have reduced environmental impacts.  

The price we pay for materials is not the true cost. True cost is what Ray Anderson use to call “God’s currency.” We may pay $8 for a kg of yarn to extract the petroleum, crack and distill it, convert it to polymers, extrude it into yarn and transport that product to us, but along the way, there are environmental emissions and lost resources that are not included in the price we pay. These additional costs are borne by society. If we don’t consider the true cost of our products, we are externalizing the value of these services much like we once ignored our environmental impacts. Today we consider our impacts, work to reduce them and offset them where possible, but we don’t consider the costs to society. NCV converts environmental impacts into financial costs, which makes it more accessible to the corporate audience, other stakeholders and our customers. It’s hard to grasp the concept of a tonne of carbon, but it’s easy to understand the financial cost of the damage associated with emissions from that tonne of carbon.

How did we do it?

We partnered with TruCost to apply NCV to the impacts in two of our EPDs. Trucost calculated the natural capital cost of our products’ GWP, AP, POCP and water use based on the values and material production locations found in our third party verified EPDs. The methodology used by Trucost includes a combination of valuation techniques with things like direct market pricing, abatement cost, avoided cost, replacement cost, substitute cost, contingent valuation, hedonistic pricing method, site choice and travel cost model. You may have heard of the “social cost: of carbon. This is an example of the application of these valuation techniques to carbon emissions. While this is still a very new science in the field of economics with significant uncertainty, it is evolving, and it may soon become an accepted metric for off-the-balance-sheet risk.

What did we learn?

You know the old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?” It’s no surprise that it’s the same with environmental impacts. Five dollars for a tonne of prevention through carbon offsets prevents $120 per tonne of damage when considering the social cost of carbon. Our Cool Carpet™ program is a great investment. Last year it prevented the emission of over 344,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases, which represents over $41 million in natural capital cost. What a great investment in our environment.

We also learned the regional differences in some impacts. For instance smog emissions cause different levels of impacts in different locations. Our EPDs tell us how much those emissions are, but NCV tells us where those emissions do the most damage. This can help us with manufacturing location and supply chain decisions. We’re still studying the results of this complex valuation and figuring out how this information can help us on our journey up MountSustainability.

Who else is doing Natural Capital Valuation?

Some companies who are taking a leadership position by valuing natural capital include Puma, Unilever, Dow Chemical, Coca Cola, EKO, FEMSA, Nike, Weyerhauser, Dell and Alcoa.

Check out this report from the Corporate Ecoforum at http://corporateecoforum.com/valuingnaturalcapital/ to see how others are approaching NCV.

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