Our articles this month examine three decision making tools, the Precautionary Principle, LCAs, and Green Screen. And the review of Making Better Environmental Decisions: an alternative to Risk Assessment brings to light the value of alternatives assessment as yet another tool. Now, we have the task of digesting this information and seeing how it can be woven into our interior design practices.
I was first introduced to the concept of the Precautionary Principle when I was researching the "Vinyl in a nutshell" article for our inaugural month of Easy to be Green. I read the report submitted on behalf of Healthcare Without Harm that explains the Green Screen method and references the Precautionary Principle. This immediately made sense to me and felt like a light bulb moment when my intuition and natural inclinations in decision making were being supported in formal terms as well as being used by groups of people around the world in a variety of ways. I was thrilled to see the Precautionary Approach as a seminar offering at Green Build 2007. I jumped at the chance to learn more.
The bottom line goal of the Precautionary Principle and Green Screen to avoid and minimize harm just seems like a no brainer. And freeing ourselves of the arguments over the relative harm of individual products or chemicals and instead seeking the safest alternatives seems the obvious choice as well. Of course we can and should continue to use the scientific information in risk assessments and LCAs to inform our knowledge base about the safest choices; this is acknowledged with both the Precautionary Principle and Green Screen. But, many of the complexities of the estimates and assumptions in risk assessments can actually be clarified and rendered unnecessary when using the Precautionary Principle or a Green Screen because these two approaches allow for excluding known harmful and potentially harmful components regardless of the estimates of their low rates of harm. These two methods give us a structured way to "Just say No".
In the case of PVC for example, as interior designers, if we use a precautionary approach and a green screen we could easily say we have safer alternatives for flooring than vinyl. We don't have to figure out exactly how harmful it would be or is. We can just say, "Hey, there is an abundance of evidence that it can cause harm at several stages of its life cycle and there are other alternatives for flooring that are known to be safer". Designers love alternatives, but we already narrow them by design parameters like concept, price, and functional attributes. Now, we're narrowing our options by adding environmental impacts to the list of criteria in the design process.
Of course, the initial investment of time and energy to learn about and compare the relative risks and positive attributes of products and processes is a daunting task. But, once we all have a baseline and it becomes business as usual it will only get easier and clearer to make responsible decisions. And, you're not alone. We're here to support you as are many other resources. We can all use the Green Screen developed by Health Care Without Harm as a foundation and then create our own hierarchy of screens based on a combination of our values and concerns as well as our clients'. We can keep the Precautionary Principle as a fundamental guiding force for all our decisions. And we can add technical scientific information to our knowledge base at a pace we are able to manage.
Changing our way of thinking and deciding is a fundamental piece of the whole process of moving toward more sustainability. We can't think and decide in the same ways that created our current problems and expect to solve them. As designers, we know the value of process for a successful final design. That's why we can see and value the changes we need to consider in the methods we're using for decision making so that we're truly in control of the outcomes. We know when any change happens slowly over time, it 's called evolution. And when it happens quickly, it's a revolution. Change is happening but the pace is up to us.
I was inspired as together I and thousands of people left the US Green Building Council's fall GreenBuild conference, the Beatles' song, "Revolution", was playing over the sound system. "You say you want a revolution. Well, you know... We all want to change the world....(add the tune and keep singing)...
It's exciting to be a part of a revolution.Joyfully, Sue Norman
Sue Norman, Managing Editor
Allied Member ASID