Being Green Makes me Bitchy – Why Beige isn’t Green

If it Looks and Acts Like an Elephant, you can’t call it a Turtle.

So did you get my color reference in there? Yeah… I learned all my primary colors in Kindergarten. Well most of them anyway, still not a fan of mauve and what the hell is greige? Anyway, lets not get too off topic today.

I figured something this size would be hurled at me. Courtesy of

First, I have to say I’m so glad the post from this morning (remember, me being bitchy?) took off like a storm and got a few of you to actually think about sustainable design. Personally I thought that I might be akin to a stoning whereby you all took sustainably harvested pebbles and aimed for my head (or my typing fingers… whichever you prefer).

So far the post has been up about 9 hours and I’ve only gotten one stone.  I’m OK with that.  I expected that I’d get at least one.  Luckily it is a stone from someone I respect in the Twitter-sphere so I’m good. No bruises or concussions just yet. (Though I may still need a morning vodka & soda to get this post going)

The stone related to whether or not I’m trying to force feed sustainable design to my clients and whether or not you as designers should do the same.  Let me preface by saying that I would never force feed  my clients (most of them are hungry enough because their kitchens have been in a state of disarray for a month and they’ve been eating take out for waaaay too long!).  Should you be telling them to use the Vetrazzo recycled glass slab in lieu of the totally awesome Onxy they’ve been swooning over since they saw it in AD three months ago?  NO.  Not at all.  Give your clients what they want.

HOWEVER, I can assure you that your clients are not telling you they don’t want recycled cotton denim insulation, drywall made of natural materials, or a caulking material that is low in VOC.  I can also say that unless your client is a Sheik or Lord of something or other they’re probably not telling that they don’t want to save a few dollars on their energy bills and maybe might want to get that Federal tax rebate and stick it to the Proverbial Man (Wanna hear my JFK conspiracy theory?).  And if you do have clients telling you no then more power to them because they actually pay attention to details and give a damn about something more than aesthetics. I praise you for finding them.

What's in your wall?

So here’s the 411. I happened to mention in a tweet that first, you as a designer must define what it means to be green. Simple enough right?  But here’s the deal… if you do nothing more than recycle the cardboard from your appliance shipment and you repurpose a couch you’re about as green as I am Canadian.  (The point there was that I’ve tracked my heritage to the 1400’s and still no Canadian in my blood as much as I’d love be distantly related to one Ms. Meredith Heron @meredithheron, she’s awesomeness x 10) So therein lies my title.  You can’t design for beige and call it green. It just doesn’t work that way.

Remember that saying from yore that God is in the Details? So is green.  Big Time. Seriously. HUGE. I’m not kidding you.  As designers you have to question your decisions.  Show of hands: how many of you have picked a freight company because their trucks ran on bio-diesel?  How many of you thought to ask? (FYI: use of biodiesel in lieu of Petroleum results in a 78.5% reduction in CO2 emissions; source: US Department of Energy) Ok so that’s a hard one and I won’t fault you for asking.  So an easy one then.  When working on a remodel and a new wall goes up… where is the wood harvested and is it FSC certified?  Better yet, did you look at cold rolled steel studs as an alternative?  Did you know that steel studs typically contain a minimum of 25% recycled content and that there are actually mills that can reach 50 to 60% recycled content?  I know it’s boring stuff. I doesn’t relate to what kind of marble on the counter or the cool hardware or the awesomesauce light fixture. BUT THIS IS REAL. This is what I’m talking about.  It’s about applying sustainable tactics in areas where it isn’t necessarily visible. About asking questions and making real time determinations based on the whole story and not just what has been advertised.  It’s about integrating eco-friendly practices into your designs wherever and whenever you can.  It’s about making green beige.


8 thoughts on “Being Green Makes me Bitchy – Why Beige isn’t Green

  1. It’s official, I’m swooning!

  2. Jamesbedell says:

    I wrote two posts along a similar vein last week.


    What we need to get to as an industry isn’t whether or not something is “green” or not. What we need to get to is that good design is always as efficient on resources as possible. It’s not that it’s good and also happens to be green. It’s that good design has “green” baked in.

    I believe that when you value something in a society you define it. The truth is most folks cannot define green design, but they can define better design.

    • dcoopsd says:

      YES! Your post totally hits the nail on the head. I think the biggest objection I hear all the time is that “my client’s don’t want green/sustainable/eco-friendly design” and although I totally understand where the objectives are coming from, I believe it be a cop-out to take it at face value. Are your clients truly saying that they don’t want you to give them the best possible design/end-result? I doubt that to be the truth. It all starts with us, with the designers/architects/fill-in-the-blank and as long as we turn a blind eye to better, more efficient practices that just so happen to be eco-viable (because our clients think they don’t want it) then our clients will adapt to that same ambivalence and the cycle will continue.

  3. Basic Source says:

    Talk about leaving no stone unturned! Part II is even better, IMO.
    So, here’s a question for you and @jamesbedell (future guest blogger?): Where does legislation like CA Title 24 fit into all of this? Those of us in CA have no choice and, in 2012 the rest of the country will be faced with the reality of EISA.
    If we want to remodel our kitchens (and, to a lesser extent because of the work-arounds, bathrooms) Title 24 drags many of us kicking and screaming into the energy-efficient reality. If the client has a permit, she has to comply. Period.
    That’s why lighting almost has to be a parallel conversation. No one is legislating the composition of your client’s new sofa.

    • dcoopsd says:

      I love that you tied into the stone in my photo 😀 Awesomeness!
      So with that being said… Let me get back to you on answering your question. I do have a little bit of work to do today and can’t blog all day. I will say this, however, little may you know, but even that sofa you purchased, is directed in some part by some sort of sustainable standard be it something the SCAQMD or ANSI or the EPA or…. Especially true in California where we have very stringent professional practices that govern air quality, employee health concerns, waste management, the list goes on.

  4. Ok, since it’s near impossible to have a really in depth conversation on Twitter, as much as I LOVE my Tweeps and love the interaction, this is a better venue, so thanks Brandon for letting me lob a couple of stones to get the conversation going (you must admit, they were rather soft lobs!).

    First, in principle, I agree with you. Sort of. I would love to be able to be persuasive enough to get my clients to really adopt a green mindset. I would love to have the time to research only green products and services, but money is almost ALWAYS a big issue and time is also often a factor. Many, if not most, truly green products are more expensive and I don’t know about your world, but in my world, the budget is always smaller than the list of clients’ desires. They also don’t want to pay for my time to do the research to find the very greenest product in its category. Some of it I know already from taking courses, seminars and reading on my own time (and I’ve spent thousands of hours doing this), but product specs and manufacturers change over time, so research time is always needed, and sometimes the project deadline doesn’t allow for that luxury of time.

    Second, the whole issue of sustainable materials is absolutely noble and worthy and I would buy in whole-heartedly, except that it’s not that simple. In my work designing high-end kitchens, I happend to personally love cork as a flooring material. It’s renewable, sustainable and re-cyclable as well as being soft and forgiving underfoot, beautiful ( there are SO many more color variations and patterns as well as factory applied colors other than bulletin-board brown — my own floor at home is cranberry red cork). So far so good. BUT. And there usually is one “but”, if not a bazillion.

    How does the cork get to me from the Mediterranean areas where cork oak trees are most plentiful? It comes by ship. Probably not operated by hybrid power. I’m just sayin’. How does the cork get from the trees into tile form? In factories. Do they all have the most up to date green manufacturing practices? Perhaps, but I’m thinkin’….probably not. But can we really know for sure even if they say so? Many countries are somewhat lax in their regulations, so we don’t know how much of the manufacturer’s marketing materials is green-washing. How do the finished floor tiles get packaged to be shipped to us eco-chic-sters? Boxes, dozens of them, in piles, shrink-wrapped with plastic on pallettes of wood that are mostly not recycled or recyclable — shockingly, most palletes are discarded after one only shipment equalling thousands of tons of wasted wood… but that’s a whole other rant. How do those pallettes get loaded onto ships? Electric-operated forklifts? Umm…have you ever been on a loading dock? The deisel fumes would choke an inanimate object.. How do the pallettes get unloaded at the other end, how do they get shipped to the distributor warehouse and how do they get delivered to the retailer? I, as the designer can choose to only deal with a delivery company that runs their trucks on bio-diesel (whose services come at a premium cost), so now, can I call cork a green product?

    Virtually every single product on the planet has this kind of built-in contradiction — unless it’s hemp clothing manufactured by Woody Harrelson. I’m pretty secure in my belief that his stuff is pure. But I digress…. So should we blithely go about designing and decorating our clients’ houses without being concerned about the green content? Of course not, but what I’m saying is, that the way we have constructed our consumable, wasteful, greedy modern world, a lot of bigger things need to change before a sustainable home becomes a goal for most of our clients or even achievable. And when a tanker is set on its course, you can’t turn it around on a dime. If ever.

    Thank you for letting me vent. You can throw your own stones now.

    Cheers, Robin

    • dcoopsd says:

      Hey Robin – don’t make me write a part III now! I will, I’m warning you! Joking!

      So first I’m glad that you replied because I really want my blog to be about real conversation about real subjects and not just a bunch of big pink puffy clouds (stole that reference from The Bloggess… read her, she’s hilarious). As a result I’m happy to throw a few stones and hope they don’t hit some insanely expensive plate glass window (which I most certainly cannot afford to replace).

      ANYWAY, with all that being said, I have to disagree, sort of. Let me preface by saying that you’re already one step ahead by at least taking some time to do a little homework and not take a product on face value. You’re in the right direction and for that I offer a little pat on the back. But now to my stones…. they’re not too big and I’ve wrapped them in 100% recycled tissue paper.

      My first stone is with regards to the comment that your clients don’t want to pay for this research. I agree with that in its entirety. My own clients (unless I’m actually working on a LEED or similar project) don’t have money in their budgets to let me go off willy nilly asking what might appear to be silly questions. Gotcha there. HOWEVER, our jobs are not always about the clients (GASP!) but about continuing our education with regards to changes in our industry and the market, checking out the innovations, reading random silly blogs and watching South Park. This is where (in my post about selecting LEDs) you get to rely heavily on others to do the research for you. I’ve got one lighting rep who literally falls out of her chair to call me when a new LED product comes across her desk. And for that she’s the bestest. More so, things like Twitter are awesomesauce for stuff of this nature (there are actually a handful of truly knowledgeable people out there… I know right? Mind blowing) But I digress.

      So on to my second stone and that relates to sustainable practices. See this is where I’m not so nice. Why? Because so long as we continue to support companies who have not adopted more sustainable, efficient practices we continue to enable those companies and effectively hurt those companies that have. Point blank. And I’m being serious here. I know it’s hard to swallow but this is YOUR decision to make. If the ONLY thing eco-friendly about a product you specify is that it came blanket wrapped instead of shrink wrapped because you told the freight carrier to do it that way then you’re making a conscious effort to go above and beyond just taking something at face value. You made an effort to say “you know what, I know that the shrink wrap is going to end up in the landfill; if they blanket wrap that credenza from the East of Kalamazoo then the freight carrier will more than likely reuse the blanket because they’re too cheap to keep buying new ones even though they’ll probably charge the next guy for a new one”. I know it sounds silly but you know the simple act of sending your samples back to your reps when you’re done with them is a sustainable practice?

      So yeah, you’re right in that every product, and I mean EVERY product has an environmental footprint. Unless I’m raising alpacas and using their hair to make clothing (wait…. alpacas emit CO2 through their waste and well that’s not enviro-friendly… get my drift?) there is not a single thing in this world that doesn’t have a negative impact. I’m a realist… I know this much. But it comes down to how negative of an impact does that product make.

      Basically, the whole goal (and it worked) of these posts is get designers thinking more about how their decisions affect the sustainability of a project. I can’t tell you how many chats I’ve joined in on where I’ve heard that the only sustainable practice they incorporated was that they reused furniture. Hearing that is like hearing nails on a chalkboard. Not that I fault them for doing so but because there are so many other things they could have done that they left on the table.

      Ok… that was hell of a long comment!

  5. OMG! I JUST got my blog post done (I’m a techno doh-doh and blogger changed their format so it took me HOURS to find the way to get the post & photo uploaded, but that’s another rant) and now I have to reply to your reply!! Tomorrow…it’s just a stone’s throw away…

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