The Greening of Workplace Interiors

by Catherine Walsh

LEED for Commercial Interiors (LEED-CI) is the green benchmark for the tenant improvement market established by the United States Green Buildings Council (USGBC).  It is the recognized point system for certifying green interiors that are healthy, productive places to work, are less costly to operate and maintain, and have a reduced environmental footprint.  The time to begin the greening of a workplace is during new building design, existing building selection, or lease negotiations because when LEED-CI certification is treated as an afterthought, a project’s design and construction time can increase.

There are more LEED-approved product options than ever, so they are competitive in cost.  A workplace built-out to LEED-CI standards demonstrates a company’s commitment to environmental stewardship, which in today’s competitive culture is central to brand identity.  Green commercial interior design considers the long-term effects of material selections (sustainability), energy usage and indoor air quality, among other things.

Green Materials = Green Workplace

Material selections are important when designing a green workplace.  Using innovative materials (e.g. carpet, paint, floor tile) that are designed for decades-long durability is the name of the sustainability game.  Finished products like these – when made of renewable resources and recycled content, and are manufactured in plants that comply with the highest environmental standards – contribute to the environment rather than depleting it.

The right furniture can enhance the green workplace.  When selecting furniture, an interior designer can guide you towards products manufactured in green factories, fabricated of green materials and delivered in green trucks.  When it is time to dispose of furniture and materials no longer useful to your workplace, consider repurposing them as a charitable donation, or recycling them rather than disposing of them as trash.  Most commercial carpet companies now sponsor a reclamation program.  These companies will pick up your old carpet for recycling during the demolition phase of a project when arrangements are made through the interior designer, contractor etc.

Making the Connection

Energy usage is not a topic most people associate with interior designers.  However, designers have quite an impact on the utility bill by selecting the correct light fixtures.  The optimal lighting system for a green workplace harvests natural light.  This cuts the electric bill and eliminates pollution that accompanies electricity production.  However, natural lighting is not always a possibility.  There are many low-energy light fixtures that contribute to the bottom line, provide a well lit workplace and count towards LEED points.

Indoor air quality (IAQ) is critical to a green workplace.  It is synonymous with good health and is in large part dependent upon qualifying LEED HVAC systems.  The interior designer contributes to the IAQ by eliminating products that have severe off-gassing of toxic fumes from the workplace.  For example, at one time, paint produced toxic off-gasses, known as volatile organic compounds (VOC’s).  Today, low-emitting GREENGUARD Certified paints are readily available and commonly used in commercial interiors for a positive impact on indoor air quality.

That “new carpet” smell is generated by petroleum products and other chemicals that can be avoided.  Flooring adhesive historically emitted toxic fumes.  Today, there is GREENGUARD Certified adhesive for all types of flooring.  These products are available through your interior designer, architect or contractor.

Other Opportunities

The greening of the workplace includes changes in lighting, building systems, furniture and materials.  These changes enhance comfort and morale, reduce employee turnover and improve recruitment, all of which result in happier, healthier, and more efficient employees.

The interior design industry is changing; the design standards are being redefined.  The requirements of form and function are no longer enough.  There is a new, more demanding criterion that asks, “Does this design respect and protect our natural environment?”

The interior of the workplace must be attractive, functional and GREEN.