URC

Environmentally Friendly Design and Construction:
Recent Mid-Michigan Adoption Practices

Lindsay A. Roderick-Church
Kristen L. Talbot
Jeanneane Wood-Nartker*
Central Michigan University


Abstract

A ten question survey, concerning sustainable design involvement in the mid-Michigan area, was sent via the internet to fourteen professionals, including architects, construction contractors, and interior designers. Once thought of as unconventional and nonstandard, both regulatory agencies and the public alike are accepting the need to incorporate green design as a socially responsible and logical outcome for environmental solutions. Contrary to a study conducted two years ago in the same area, current results have shown an increase in the practice of incorporating green design principles. Although the area has been slow to adapt “green innovation” in project work, the need to develop a grass-roots education of diverse people, e.g. manufacturers, design/build professionals, and end users, to name a few who should initiate a greater response to the hottest movement in architecture and design this decade.

Keywords: green design, sustainability, environmentally friendly design, green products

 

In a world that has finite resources, the United States cannot continue to produce and consume materials at the current rate of production and consumption (Cairns, 2003; Hirst, 1996). Although many people have agreed that sustainability is a worthy goal, proper implementation methods have not currently been agreed upon (Berke & Conroy, 2000). To that end, Finster, Eagan, & Hussey (2002) identified that it is important to advocate environmentally responsible design decisions by using reliable sources of information. Some of the steps to integrating “green practices” include recognizing and implementing the following: (1) educate clients regarding the value of selecting environmentally responsible products, (2) educate about the product choices available on the market, (3) match client needs to available products, (4) assess product life cycle issues so that manufacturers can develop products that reduce environmental harm, and (5) recognize diverse outcomes that can occur, e.g. increased customer loyalty and increased market share and profits for those who manufacture green products. From this list, it is clear that many people/manufacturers within the design/build industry must adopt new approaches to define what materials will contribute to quality of life and how those resources get distributed (Hirst, 1996). All will influence our future.

With designers and architects becoming more aware of the impact of solutions on the environment, green design has become a recent hot button issue. With little hesitation, designers and architects in larger cities have jumped on the eco-friendly bandwagon. This leaves people outside the big cities asking; “How important are green fundamentals to other areas?” To look at related issues to this question, a previous study was completed at Central Michigan University in 2005 using the mid-Michigan area as a sample test site. Diverse building/design firms were telephoned and questioned regarding eco-friendly design. That study concluded that in the Mid-Michigan area, there was little to no interest in green design. During this new study, the purpose was to determine whether there is a growing interest in green design in the mid-Michigan area. In addition, through an email survey of mid-Michigan based architectural and/or design firms, a prediction of adoption practices for the green design community will be made by asking questions related to the hypothesis: the number of current green design construction focused projects in the mid-Michigan area is less than 15%.

METHOD

Subjects involved in this research survey were architects, designers, and builders in the cities of Mt. Pleasant, Midland, and Bay City to measure current green practices. The companies surveyed included the companies who participated in Klein and Phillip’s study (2002). To expand the reliability of the results, additional agencies and individuals were added to the initial survey pool. The Internet was the main method of communication for distribution of the survey to participants. When email was nonexistent, a scheduled phone call was the method used for communication. Participation was voluntary and the subjects were asked to complete a ten-question survey, which took approximately 10-15 minutes to complete. An explanation and purpose of the study was included (See appendix).

RESULTS

From the fourteen professionals that were sent the electronic survey, only five responded within a four-week time span. As shown in Table 1, four interior designers, one architect, and no contractors responded to the survey.

Table 1

Comparison of surveys sent to surveys received

Profession

Number of Professionals Survey was Sent to

Number of Responses to Survey

Architects

4

1

Construction Contractors

4

0

Interior Designers

6

4

Professionals are incorporating more green design in project solutions than was originally hypothesized. As shown in Figure 1, 40% of respondents had worked on projects in the past year that were considered green design projects. Figure 2 demonstrates that all of these projects were new construction projects.

 

10%

20%

30%

40%

50%

60%

70%

80%

90%

100%

Yes

                   

No

                   

Figure 1. Participation efforts in green projects during the past year.

 

10%

20%

30%

40%

50%

60%

70%

80%

90%

100%

New Construction

                   

Renovation

                   

Commercial Interiors

                   

Core & Shell

                   

Neighborhoods

                   

Residential

                   

Figure 2. Project nature.

Figure 3 shows that professionals had taken steps to acquire Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification on 20% of their projects, showing support for the null hypothesis. The reason that LEED was identified specifically in this study is that LEED is the green building rating system for environmentally sustainable construction developed by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC), and is the most widely adopted system within the United States. Figure 4 explains that none who chose to participate in the LEED Certification process achieved status.

 

10%

20%

30%

40%

50%

60%

70%

80%

90%

100%

Yes

                   

No

                   

Figure 3. Company participation in projects that took steps toward acquiring LEED certification.

 

10%

20%

30%

40%

50%

60%

70%

80%

90%

100%

Yes

                   

No

                   

Figure 4. Number of projects that received LEED certification

Figure 5 illustrates that without client interest, an innovative design cannot happen. Also, the lack of resources and funds play a large role in the slow adoption rate of green design to environments in the mid-Michigan area. Future efforts by design professionals to educate clients about the merits of green design practices may influence client decisions related to budget, product knowledge, and their desire to adopt green practices for their design solutions.

 

10%

20%

30%

40%

50%

60%

70%

80%

90%

100%

Client Interest

                   

Product Knowledge

                   

Resources

                   

Budget

                   

Time

                   

Other:

                   

Figure 5. Things that prevent implementation of green design (all that apply)

Discussion
In the effort to address some of the future sustainability issues related to environments in the United States, the design/build community has the capability to create ecologically, economically, and socially balanced solutions that meet the needs of today’s society. It will, however, require involvement by diverse groups within the industry, e.g. manufacturers, specifiers, builders, and end users, to develop new approaches to problem solving and a balance between user needs and non-renewable resources (Hirst, 1996) if the needs of both present and future generations are to be considered (Berke & Conroy, 2000). This study shows that there are contractors, architects, and interior design firms in the mid-Michigan area that are knowledgeable about green design. However, due to limited responses the results are not generalizable to other locations. Even with such a small sample pool however, it is shown that there is currently more interest in green design than in 2002 (Klein & Phillips, 2002). The former study concluded that there was little to no knowledge of green issues in mid-Michigan, while surprisingly, Michigan was identified by the USGBC as one of the top 10 states for the number of green design projects since there are over 70 projects registered in the state of Michigan. Most of these projects are located in the Metropolitan-Detroit area and a select few on the west side of the state. In the current survey, one of the responding professionals stated, “There has not been a lot of interest in green design in this area until the last couple of months.” This statement reflects the increasing time that it takes less urban locations in mid-Michigan to adopt new trends as compared to larger cities, which are often known as design hubs and trend-setters. Additional evidence of the slower adoption rate is the fact that there are no LEED certified or registered projects in the Mid-Michigan area as of this writing. One respondent stated that “it is a common goal among designers and contractors to produce environments that are environmentally friendly. However, if the products or applications are not accessible, too costly, or are simply not promoted with enough information, they will not survive, especially in the mid-Michigan area where resources are sometimes limited to local distributors.” This statement demonstrates the need to take sustainability beyond a conceptual platform of discussion to a more concrete level of integration with local planning and resources. According to the United States Green Building Council Website, nationally green building materials average approximately 2% more than traditional building solutions. Over time, it is predicted that as more people are educated about the benefits of sustainability planning and the adoption of green products increases, this national average will come in line with the price of other standard products and be more readily available and affordable within rural areas. Typically in professional industries that have society/popularity-based opinions, e.g. the fashion industry, automotive likes/dislikes, entertainment venue decisions, and architecture/design, there is a common understanding that these trends begin in largely populated/urban settings and then take approximately two years for those trends to affect rural, less populated areas. Judging by the Michigan sites that have received LEED certification, adoption of green design practices are increasing in urban settings each day. It is predicted that based on industry trends, in another two years green design will become a large part of the building/architecture community in the mid-Michigan area as well. Future research could analyze whether adoption practices follow these forecasted trends.

As shown in Figure 6, 80% of design professionals feel that green design is relevant within today’s society. As these professionals educate their clients and the knowledge of benefits to our environment become more widespread, these influences should help advance industry growth opportunities in this area.

 

10%

20%

30%

40%

50%

60%

70%

80%

90%

100%

No

                   

Yes, company does
not promote green

                   

Yes, company does
promote green

                   

Figure 6. Relevance of the green design movement to today’s society

A limitation to this study was the lack of communication between the researchers and the surveyed professionals. Therefore, future research recommendations should include more diverse communication, e.g. sending surveys via fax instead of email to reach those professionals on job sites without Internet hookups. More flexible means of communicating will most likely expand the result pool and the timeliness of responses. As students, we need to be aware that we are used to using cutting-edge technology and need to be sensitive to long-time professionals who may not be as quick to integrate new technologies into their daily work practices.

Another recommendation involves the need for architects, designers, and builders to educate their clientele about the need to be environmentally responsible and to change perceptions related to the costs associated with utilizing green products. As stated, the differences between non-green and green products is on average only 2%, and the gap is growing smaller as more people are educated and adoption practices grow. Figure 7 shows how advertising has positively impacted designers/architects in adoption practices. It is possible that a grass-roots advertising focus on end users will increase their own interest and speed the rate of adoption by consumers as well, which has influenced the design/build community the most with implementation on projects, as shown in Figure 5.

 

10%

20%

30%

40%

50%

60%

70%

80%

90%

100%

Advertising

                    

Product Exhibitions

                   

Product reps

                   

Professional Publications

                   

Professional Meetings

                   

Conscience & Market awareness

                    

Figure 7. Influences of the development of green design projects (all that apply)

In conclusion, design, like all things, is an evolutionary process. As humans discover new things about themselves, each other, and the world they live in, design requirements change and develop. For example, a few generations ago, buildings with only stair accessible entrances were very common. It was not until the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was adopted nationally that solutions addressing barrier-free guidelines within projects made universal design the norm. Although this paper looked at the current trends occurring in the design/build industry related to green design, if green design continues to be the emphasis by programs such as LEED and organizations such as the USGBC and Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC), the concept is likely to gain momentum, and efforts to adopt new ideas and products that are Earth-friendly will increase and become standard in the industry as well.

References

Berke, P. & Conroy, M. (2000). Are we planning for sustainable development? Journal of the American Planning Association, 66 (1), 21-33.

Cairns, J. (2003). Materialphilia, biophilia, and sustainable use of the planet. International Journal of Sustainable Development and World Ecology, 10 (1), 43-48.

Finster, M., Eagan, P., & Hussey, D. (2002). Linking industrial ecology with business strategy. Journal of Industrial Ecology 5 (3), 107-125.

Hirst, J. (1996). Values in design: “Existenzminimum,” “maximum quality,” and “optimal balance”. Massachusetts Institute of Technology , 12(1), 38-47.

Klein, P., & Phillips, S.E. (2002). The level of green design in three Eastern mid-Michigan communities. Unpublished manuscript.

United States Green Building Council, (n.d.) Home page. Retrieved Apr. 4, 2005 from www.usgbc.org.

APPENDIX 1

LETTER OF CONSENT FOR PROFESSIONALS

Interior Design- Central Michigan University

Dear Sir or Madam,

We are interior design students from Central Michigan University, and we are conducting a research study for our senior seminar course. As a part of our research we are conducting a survey regarding green building awareness and application in the Mid-Michigan area. We have chosen to contact multiple designers, architects, and contractors in the area. We would value your participation in this survey.

Please understand this is a voluntary survey and you are in no way obligated to complete it, however you cooperation would be greatly appreciated. The information collected is meant for educational use and will only be used for this study. We are hoping to create a sense of green building awareness in the Mid-Michigan area. This may be beneficial to your firm/company.

We thank you for your time and support. Due to time constraints and deadlines of our assignment, we graciously ask you to respond prior to Friday, March 11, 2005.

Please contact our group members by this email address with any questions or concerns (Lindsay.roderick@gmail.com). Thank you in advance.

Sincerely,
Kristen Talbot
Lindsay Roderick

Consent:
Please BOLD the statement that applies. Thank you.

  • My consent is given for the purpose of educational research involving green design in the Mid-Michigan area.
  • I do not give my consent.
APPENDIX 2- PAGE 1

SURVEY OF GREEN DESIGN INTEREST

(Please answer from a company standpoint)

1. Has your company every participated in efforts toward green building on a project that has been completed in the past year?

Yes
 No (if No, skip questions 2-4)

2. What was the nature of the project?

Renovation
New Construction
Interior
Exterior Structure/Core & Shell
Neighborhood Development
Homes and Kitchen & Bath
Other______________________

3. What was your company’s primary concern? (check one)

Sustainable Design
Water Efficiency
Energy Efficiency
Materials & Resources
Indoor Air Quality
Innovation & Design Process
Other___________________________

4. Has your company ever participated in a project that took steps toward acquiring LEED certification?

No
Yes

5. Was LEED certification achieved?

No
Yes. What level of certification was achieved?

  • Certified
  • Silver
  • Gold
  • Platinum

6. What prevents you from implementing green building design (check all which apply)

Client interest
Product knowledge
Resources
Budget
Time
Other ________________


APPENDIX 2- PAGE 2

SURVEY OF GREEN DESIGN INTEREST

7. What has influenced the development of green design projects use within your company?

Advertising
Product Exhibitions
Product Representatives
Professional Publications
Professional Meetings
Other______________

8. Is your company affiliated with an environmental advocacy group?

No
Yes. Please list. ____________________

9. Do you feel green design movement is relevant to today’s society?

No
Yes, but we have no promoted green solutions
Yes, and we are beginning to/do promote green solutions
Other (please explain)
If yes, why? (Check all that apply)

  • Conserve earth’s resources
  • Promote healthy living
  • Save money over time
  • Other

10. Comments:

 


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