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July 2008

NeoCon 2008

The sustainability evolution used to be a whisper, a few professionals and die-hard environmentalists from the 60's and 70's clinging to what the mainstream culture saw as a time gone by and idealistic notions that clashed with industry. But just since NeoCon 2007, the sheer volume of green has really been cranked up. It's almost deafening, hard to avoid and impossible to ignore while it shouts out for our attention. Starting with the building itself, the Merchandise Mart achieved LEED for Existing Building (EB) certification. And, as for the show, many more companies were making green claims. Some were making simple claims of low emitting materials while others are seeking C2C certification for their entire product line. The green educational track in 2007 had 10 sessions explicitly labeled as environmental while there were 21 environmental sessions this year. Of course we know the environmental category is only a part of the sustainability picture, so many of the sessions in the Health, Safety, and Welfare category would also apply to sustainability. Any social equity issues addressed at NeoCon were either woven into sessions or are probably in need of more attention from the design community. That said, all in all, NeoCon 2008 upped the decible of green.

Evidence of a greener NeoCon could also be found in the NeoCon show directory published by Interior Design®. It had two sections each orienting a different way. The first section contains the traditional ads, schedules, and articles. Then you flip it over, turn it around, and voila, you have the Green Pages section. The evidence for a greener NeoCon is explicitly stated with the opening short article: Welcome to a Greener NeoCon from Mark Strauss, Publisher/VP of Interior Design® magazine and Rich Fedrizzi, President, CEO & Founding Chairman of the USGBC. The green section wasn't on its own, it was attached as a flip side to the standard directory. That's progress since year's past when the Green directory was a magazine of its own. But, sustainability isn't yet integrated into NeoCon. It's literally an add on to the directory, just as it is an add on in many people's minds and practices. Fortunately, it's a loud add on and that's a good thing.

The next stage of the sustainability evolution needs to be integrating it into our minds, practices, and tradeshows. Someday sustainability will be as obvious and/or as inconspicuous as every other attribute we consider when assessing products, processes, and companies. Currently we all look at factors such as the durability of products, the time needed for the process of installation, and the service we receive from companies. We don't have a special section at NeoCon for service companies, durable products, or quick processes even though these can all be valuable attributes. But, the standard way we make decisions is the status quo and sustainability is the new kid on the block, it still doesn't completely have a home and isn't really a part of the neighborhood yet. Hopefully it won't be long before the NeoCon guide is one guide with each product, company, and process demonstrating all its attributes including its sustainable ones in an integrated manner. Hopefully this will be a reflection of the design community integrating sustainability into our hearts, minds, and practices, giving sustainability a fully integrated place of its own in our neighborhood. A place where it won't have to be so loud just to get our attention and we can tend to it as naturally as we do all of our traditional design concerns. The signs of hope were abundant and we are on a greener path.

Joyfully, Sue Norman
Sue Norman, Managing Editor
Associate IIDA
Allied Member ASID