The Latest Developments in Green Design

Published: May 17, 2024

Cradle to cradle. Circularity. Urban mining. Red list. Greenwashing. HERS. LEED. The vocabulary of green design is expanding beyond “Energy Star” and “WaterSense” as evidence of environmental degradation – both natural and manmade – continues to mount. Fortunately, this escalation also parallels ongoing improvements in sustainable product design and manufacturing. Here we look at some key developments in the field.

Shown above: With the LIGNOLOC Wooden Nail System, Beck rethinks fastening technology and designed the world’s first shootable wooden nail. Made of Central European beech from sustainable, FSC-certified forests, it is the only fastening system that fully supports the requirements of the circular economy in terms of recyclability. 

Sustainability Incentives

Knowing what motivates individuals or industries to pursue sustainability can increase a designer’s influence with their clients. Whether it’s based on conscience or compliance, tapping into the intentions of professional partners yields both immediate and long-term insight.

On the homeowner side, according to the recent State of the Building Industry Cognition Smart Data Survey, 39% of consumers report that they’re inclined to make their home more energy efficient, 35% plan to remodel rather than move, and 18% plan to convert their home to all electric.

The Boss Defrost mimics the USDA’s recommended running-water method of thawing (called “slacking”) while reducing water use by 98.5%. Approximately one hour of slacking is needed to thaw a pound of food, and in that time, up to 100 gallons of water go down the drain. Boss Defrost uses water agitation and a high flow rate to effectively defrost food and a recirculating pump to conserve water. Photo credit: Boss Defrost

From the perspective of builders and remodelers, the latest SmartMarket Brief from the National Association of Homebuilders and Dodge Construction Network polled single-family specialists on the most important reasons for building green. The top three responses were it’s the right thing to do (48%), creating healthier homes (38%) and code requirements (36%).

Of course, there are financial incentives to bolster sustainable practices, as well. As part of the Inflation Reduction Act, the federal government allocated $4.5 billion for homeowner rebates on qualifying purchases of energy-efficient goods and services. Ranging from $840 to $14,000 per household, rebate amounts vary depending on a household’s income, the total project cost and the technologies installed.

Material Sustainability

As many kitchen and bath designers can attest, it can be a challenge to identify materials – from surfacing to textiles to coatings and beyond – that have solid eco credentials. An Environmental Product Declaration is an invaluable tool to help source interior products that have a positive sustainability profile to support green design.

Without the need for screws and fittings, Threespine Core minimizes waste and promotes sustainable cabinet manufacturing. Its effortless disassembly and reassembly process enables versatile furniture designs that adapt to changing needs while extending product lifespan and promoting recyclability. Photo credit: Threespine

An EPD is an independently verified documentation of a product’s environmental performance throughout its lifecycle – from raw material extraction to end-of-life. It provides data on the materials that make up the product as well as the environmental impact that extraction, processing and transportation of the materials has had. This includes measures of pollution, energy consumption and associated greenhouse gas emissions in the value chain. Because all this information is presented in a standardized format, these documents allow designers to easily make comparisons between products.

It’s important to note that EPDs are not an endorsement of a product’s sustainability, but a fact-focused overview of what a product is made of and the environmental impact it will have over its complete lifecycle.

EPDs can be useful in projects that target green building certifications, such as LEED or WELL, as they can help designers meet quotas on recycled content and overall carbon emissions, as well as help reduce the use of products containing specific non-environmentally friendly materials.

The Block Toilet by Woodio is made of a mixture of wood chips and resin-based adhesives, designed to be a sustainable alternative to ceramics and other non-renewable materials with a high carbon footprint. Impact- and scratch-resistant and 100% waterproof, it requires no special cleaning agents. Photo credit: Woodio

Natural Resources Sustainability

The Environmental Protection Agency reports that the average home leaks about 10,000 gallons of water a year. From worn toilet flappers to dripping faucets, most of these conditions are maintenance issues that can be simply remedied. But for future-oriented designers interested is sustainability, there are products that act as more than a band-aid solution.

Featuring multiple smart products, the Moen Smart Water Network is an app-based whole-home water management system that allows homeowners to compare their water consumption to historical usage patterns and set and monitor conservation goals. The network is anchored by a smart water monitor and shutoff, which constantly measures the pressure and flow rate of the water flowing through the home’s pipes, allowing the system to track water usage and identify possible leaks.

An application focused on the bathroom, the Everstream Shower will be released to select markets by Grohe later this year. It features a recirculating mode, where water collected in the drain is pumped into a circuit that maintains the desired temperature and hygienically treats the water. After use, the shower self-cleans, preparing it for the next bather. This system allows the shower to utilize as little as a quarter of the water and a third of the energy typically expended in conventional designs.

Energy Sustainability

Underlying sustainable innovation in the appliance sector is a periodic review of performance by the U.S. Department of Energy. Energy efficiency standards are updated every six years to keep the guidelines abreast of the latest technological capabilities. The law requires that six years after a product’s standard is established or updated, DOE must evaluate whether an improved standard would be technologically feasible and economically justified, and if so, to propose one. If not, DOE can propose to keep the standard as it is.

The heat pump technology of the GE Profile UltraFast Combo delivers 50% more energy-efficient drying. The ventless design also supports installation flexibility. Instead of having to plan around exterior venting, the appliance can be located anywhere with a water hookup. Photo credit: GE

In the next few months, if DOE gives the go-ahead, six categories of appliances will see updated minimum energy efficiency standards, along with updated water efficiency standards for certain products. Here’s a summary of what quantitative changes to expect:

  • The recommended standards would reduce new refrigerator and freezer energy use by approximately 10-15%, effective in January 2029 or January 2030, depending on product type.
  • For beverage and wine chillers, the recommended standards, taking effect in 2029, would reduce energy use by 30% for the major product categories.
  • For clothes washers, approximately 11% energy savings and 28% water savings for top-load models and 9% energy savings and 17% water savings for front-load models would kick in beginning in 2028.
  • Clothes dryers meeting the recommended standards would use up to 40% less energy starting in 2028.
  • The recommended standards for dishwashers would reduce energy use by 15% and water use by 34% relative to the current standards, likely beginning in late 2027.
  • New efficiency standards for electric and gas cooking products, which would preserve the features and functionality consumers expect from their cooking products and have access to today, would take effect in 2028.

It’s worth noting that while implementing these improvements cans ometimes be a challenge to the brands, there is a solid market for eco-friendly appliances. A 2023 poll conducted by Beko indicated 83% of Americans are willing to invest in new appliances that reduce food waste, increase electricity and water efficiency or help them live healthier.

Sustainability isn’t just about the conserving natural resources; by a very short extension, it’s about the well-being and survival of humanity. As seen at KBIS 2024, new technologies and designs were noticeably focused on health and safety instead of novelty. If last year was all about craft ice and air fry, this year focused on clean water and air quality.

Tagged with: Sustainability, green

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