Subscribe main page


New Articles and Book Reviews are availble to subscribers each month. Product updates and additions are on going and available to subscribers on a continual basis.

IF you click on a members only link and receive a page with the message, "Authorization is Required", just click the back button in your browser and return to the preview section.
Reminder: purple text indicates a link available for preview.
May/June 2008

Environmentally Responsible Design

Choosing a book to review this issue was a difficult task. I needed a break from the heavy emphasis on environmentalism in general. I had taken a break last August when I reviewed The Power of Now. I figured it was part of the social piece of sustainability. Still, you could argue that it was a stretch for our mission, but each of us does need to sustain ourselves and for me, it helped revive my spirit. This time, I knew I wanted to focus more directly on Interior Design but just wasn't enthusiastic about any of the options I was considering. Then, when I was surfing Amazon, I stumbled on Environmentally Responsible Design. It turns out this book is a little jewel. I use the term "jewel" as only a true sustainable design geek like me could. It's principle intent is to be a textbook. And, no, not even I cuddle up with textbooks while hanging out in my lawn chair. But, as obviously well suited as this book is to the classroom, it's also a comprehensive reference resource for professional designers. A book you should know about.

Designers new to sustainability will find plenty of background and basic information. Those familiar with the concepts, processes, and product alternatives will find important reminders as well as more in depth technical information. Chapters six and seven regarding lighting design and HVAC are examples of important reference sections. The first two chapters give a global sustainability perspective and then an historic one. The timeline of human and environmental interactions is easy to scan and gave me new information as well as a better understanding of events relative to each other. The book concludes with two case studies. One, the renovation of a 376,000 square foot building used to house the Order of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The second, a 75,000 square foot building on the campus of Eastern Michigan University. Each gives detailed insights into environmentally repsonsible design decisions. Black and white photos throughout the book help tell the story and keep the cost of the book more affordable than the use of color photos.

I quickly noticed that the book was edited by Dr. Louise Jones of Eastern Michigan University. She's practically a neighbor of mine as I'm on the West side of the state just a couple of hours away. That simple fact somehow gave me the feeling that I could contact her and when I did, she was gracious enough to give me some time and help me understand the journey that culminated in Environmentally Responsible Design.

As it turns out, Dr. Jones and educators around the country were each creating their own sustainable design curriculums and that, along with accreditation requirements made it obvious that a sustainable design textbook was needed. So, a group of educators collaborated and together created Environmentally Responsible Design. Dr. Jones led the team which included Anna Marshall-Baker of the University of North Carolina, Linda Nussbaumer of South Dakota University, Dorothy Fowles of Iowa State University, Jeffrey Tiller and Jeanne Mercer-Ballard of Appalachian State University, Amanda Gale of Eastern Michigan University, and Helena Moussatache of Savannah College of Art and Design. Each took responsibility for a topic they were already researching and interested in pursuing. The result is a surprisingly cohesive reference guide to sustainable design.

Now, the book is titled Environmentally Responsible Design, and that was actually one of the things that drew me to it. I'm tired of all the green wash and hype and the title sounded like it was well grounded. But, as much as I appreciate the title, I still prefer the term "sustainable design". But, as is noted in the book and as Dr. Jones explained to me, through research for the book it was discovered that most people considered sustainable design to mean "a macro perspective that addresses the health and well being of the global ecosystems that support life for both current and future generations." And green design means "a micro perspective that addresses the health, safety, and well-being of people in the built environment." Environmentally Responsible Design (ERD...ugh, another acronym) means "a comprehensive perspective that addresses both the health and well-being of people in the built environment and the health and well-being of the global ecosystems that support life for both current and future generations." (p.4) So, the term "environmentally responsible design" (ERD) becomes the term used throughout the book and then in the classroom as the fundamental term covering this shift in the design paradigm. Still, I'll stick with "sustainable design" and continue to use it as I understand it's meaning: design that considers all kinds of impacts on people, the environment and economics at both the macro and micro levels, seeking to minimize harm and maximize benefits. But, regardless of what we name it, I'm thrilled we're all working to practice more responsible designing. .

Along with managing Easy to be Green, I also teach studio courses at Michigan State University and I gave a bit of advice to my internet dependent students, "Remember, there is this place, it's called a library and it's filled with things called books. Some of them are great resources. Some are called reference books because people keep them on their bookshelves and refer to them as needed." Maybe as professionals we can use a little reminder of something basic too; the value of a good reference book.

by: Sue Norman