The Ransom Everglades School in Miami was designed by Perkins&Will to push the boundaries in K-12 STEM education. COURTESY ROBIN HILL

Interior Solutions to the Climate Crisis

A Perspective: Sustainability panel examines how interior design can make an impact in a climate-conscious era.

“The time for action was yesterday,” said Ateli Iyalla, the keynote speaker at the September 27, 2021 Metropolis Perspective: Sustainability event. So, what effect can interior designers have on sustainability—as deadlines for reducing greenhouse gases by 2030 draw ever nearer? This was the topic of a discussion by a four-person panel moderated by Avinash Rajagopal, editor in chief of Metropolis.

Iyalla, managing director, Carbon Disclosure Project, North America, continued: “We’re witnessing the effects of global warming before our eyes—terrible wildfires in the west, horrific storms in both the south and northeast. Climate change requires all hands on deck.” Iyalla describes his organization as “the world’s environmental report card,” and indeed its website has a cornucopia of data from sources around the world.

“Interiors are not sufficiently part of the discussion.”

Jennifer Chen, principal, LMN Architects

As the panel discussion began, Rajagopal set the stage: “Interiors might seem like a small percentage of greenhouses gases, but every time a space is refurbished it brings in carbon-intensive materials. Interior designers have a huge role to play.”

Gabe Wing, director of sustainability for Herman Miller, stated that his company is working diligently to reduce carbon emissions in its iconic line of modernist furniture. “I remember doing our first life cycle analysis years ago and it was sort of a lonely pursuit,” he said. “Now we have life cycle professionals on staff.” Wing sliced and diced some interesting talking points about his products. “As for environmental effects, with our furniture, 55 percent comes from materials selection, 25 percent from production and the remaining 20 percent from the end-of-life impact. We’re pushing our vendors to be more sustainable. For example, a lot of our steel suppliers are using renewable energy to run their mills.”

Picking up the playbook from Iyalla’s CDP, Perkins&Will’s Jon Penndorf, senior associate and sustainability leader, said his firm has a website called Transparency which “documents chemicals and substances of concern” in interiors products. Penndorf averred that “there might be a premium for clients to pay if they want to get to net zero.” But he added that he encourages clients to do more with less, and in the process save money: “The idea is of recycling and refurbishment—lower your carbon footprint. Look at what you can reuse.”

“Interiors are not sufficiently part of the discussion,” said Jennifer Chen, principal, LMN Architects. Since products are made worldwide, she brought up the subject of social equity: “Who’s doing the manufacturing and how are they benefitting?”

Agreeing with this, and wrapping up the event, Rajagopal said: “Talk to vendors about transparency and disclosure. We can’t reduce what we can’t measure.”

The Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences (SAAS) was designed by LMN Architects, to mirror its lively urban setting. COURTESY LARA SWIMMER

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