The Current State of Green Building Standards and Interior Materials; Are These Processes Leading to Stronger Selections of Sustainable Materials?
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The environmental impacts of buildings include energy and land use, greenhouse gas emissions, natural resource depletion, and solid waste. And while a building‘s envelope and operational energy use are often considered the most important in the context of sustainable design, a building’s interior materials also play a large role in a buildings’ adverse environmental impacts. Although the architecture and design communities have begun to recognize the environmental burdens of buildings, as evidenced within the last 20 years by the creation of green building rating systems (GBRS) and ecolabeled, or certified green, interior materials, there still remains uncertainty and conflicting approaches to environmentally responsible design and material specification. An increasing number of architects and interior designers have accreditation and experience working with GBRS, yet only a small percentage of interior materials used in buildings today meet some criteria of being environmentally preferable. Given the need to build buildings more sustainably (to help mitigate climate change), and the importance of environmentally preferable interior materials in meeting that need, the question of why and how these materials are or are not specified is an important one to answer. It is also of value to understand the influences current decision making tools have on architects and interior designers. In recognizing both the influences and challenges with the current decision making processes, this study aims to explore the current use of GBRS, adoption of environmentally preferable interior materials through ecolabels and certification standards, and the connection between the two. Primary data were collected through a web survey of architects and interior designers practicing in Ontario. The results of the analysis of the systems and labels and academic research on this topic identify and support some of the benefits of, and existing barriers to, environmentally preferable interior materials. The survey results indicate that, although participating architects and interior designers rate sustainable design and environmentally preferable interior materials as important, green interior materials specified by architects and interior designers was low, and rarely requested by clients. Further, although almost half of survey participants have a recognized green training or designation, there is little connection between; a) these accreditations and the use of tools and resources available to assist with selecting green materials, and b) the amount of certified green materials being specified. The results of this research help to bridge the gap between the ideals of building councils, building material manufacturers and certifications organizations, with the practicing realities of architects and interior designers, leading to higher rates of environmentally preferable materials specifications.