By Reginald Tucker On Dec. 9 Shaw Industries kicked off a virtual symposium focused on several key factors of importance to the commercial design specification community—the most critical being the impact of product selection for the built environment. The half-day virtual symposium featured representatives from some of the top A&D firms in the country, along with leaders within Shaw Industries who work hand in hand with those firms as well as buyers and material specifiers.
One of the highlights from the virtual event was a session titled, “The Best and Brightest Ideas for Creating Healthy, Inspiring, Safe Places.” Participants included members of three leading design firms: Lisa Adams, associate principal and senior vice president at HKS; Lydia Brown, interior designer at Boulder Associates; and Yure Suarez, sustainable building advisor at Perkins + Will. Speakers covered a range of topics, including shifting design trends and increasing demand for spaces that support and promote occupant well-being. Participants also provided their perspectives on the various certification programs and tools they use to find products that meet the health, safety and functionality requirements of their clients. Tim Conway, Shaw’s vice president of sustainability, moderated the discussion.
Following are excerpts from the presentation:
Conway: Part of my role at Shaw is to translate what we do as a manufacturer to help our customers achieve their goals. Another part of that role is to listen to our customers and take that information from the market back to our company so that we can reformulate a product or re-engineer the supply chain. When I think about how we try to help our customers meet our goals, it’s by changing the way we’ve made things. How are you changing the way you’re communicating with manufacturers?
Brown: We have this rating system that uses metrics, so it takes emotion out of it. It’s very clear and concise. We have discussions where we might say, ‘You have this, but you’re not doing that.’ Or, ‘You’re doing great in this area, but not so great here.’ Having that dialog sometimes make us and our industry partners realize where the deficits are and where there’s opportunity for improvement. But it’s also about listening—hearing back from the manufacturers on what’s feasible in the five-,10- or 15-year spectrum of what is doable.”
Conway: When presenting options to clients, how do you have conversations when it comes to considering different materials? For example, good, better, best, PVC-free vs. PVC. How do you have those conversations?
Suarez: A big part of that involves education of the client and even conversations when we make presentations to the [general contractor] when it’s time to get them involved so they understand why we’re specifying what we’re specifying. We really try to start with understanding the objective the client has with a particular project. In other words, what is the story? Do they have their own climate pledge and what does that say? Then we show them how that relates to the built environment and to their buildings. Sometimes they don’t see that connection right away, but knowing they have a climate pledge or a sustainability plan, looking at that and understanding their vision and values allows to show them how that translates into our projects.
Conway: The choices we make in the materials and the ingredients that we use in our materials, and the choices that we make on how buildings are designed using these materials have an impact on people. How do you think about those impacts in your own company?
Adams: For me personally, it’s so important that the decisions that I make as a consumer, that I’m building awareness, that every single touchpoint, every point of decision has either a positive or negative impact on making the world a better place. And I’m trying to carry that same attitude into the work that we’re doing as a firm as we communicate the importance to all of our designers of every point of decision that we make on a project. We may come to the table thinking that we want to create beautiful buildings, and that we want to meet a budget, and we want to be on schedule and meet all of the parameters of a project. All of that is absolutely true; we need to do those things. But if we’re not making decisions that will positively impact the built environment and the impact on the planet, then all of that good work to do incredible designs and accomplish great things on a project is for nothing.
Conway: In past presentations about the impacts of the choices we make, they’ve been about the “why.” Let’s shift the focus to “how” we do this work.
Brown: I really felt like we saw a significant shift in the industry in the form of material transparency and information sharing—part of it from mindful materials, the accessibility of HPDs and APDS, and third-party certifications like Declare Red List, Cradle to Cradle, GreenGuard—all of those. There were these mountains of information that we could go through and make really informed decisions, but we were overwhelmed with information. We’ve been working on a way to kind of distill and navigate all of this great information into a more analytical and quick way to access it. From this need my team developed a digital material database for our firm that organizes and grades materials with a foundation of using these third-party certificates and information. It’s been a really great springboard to have these conversations about how to continually do better and where we can improve.
Suarez: Lately I’ve been mostly involved with drawing down carbon initiatives at my firm. (Not that the other areas or aspects in the sustainability realm are not important.) Based on information that we have been seeing this year from the COP26 and the EPA and all the new sustainability deals that the current administration is working on, it’s definitely clear that it is an important part and aspect in our practice. It’s our responsibility to specify and work with manufacturers and clients and other teams to involve these areas in every project.
Adams: In 30 years, if the decisions that we’re making aren’t putting the world in a better position to support quality of life and the survival of the planet, then it doesn’t matter how beautiful your designs are, and it doesn’t matter if you met the budget or all the goals on a project. It has to be the foundation of how we’re making decisions as a design firm.
(For more coverage on this virtual event, look for Dec. 20/27 edition of FCNews.)