Environmentally Responsible Design & Sustainability
January 17, 2019
New year, new goals for Board & Vellum!
As the New Year unfolds, we are all setting goals for how we can improve ourselves and make a positive impact on the world around us. Board & Vellum is taking this reflective time to seriously think about the year ahead and identify what our company can do to better the lives of our employees, clients, partners, and our community.
One area we are passionate about and want to do even better, is incorporating more sustainable practices into our everyday work and into our projects. We recognize that the building industry is one of the largest contributors to climate change, and the recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) places even more emphasis on transforming our role. To be the change we need, even more is expected of us than before. We can’t wait for someone else to fix it for us.
“Sustainability” is a buzzword that has a lot of different meanings. It is important for us to not fall into “greenwashing” — i.e. pretending to be more green than we are. At the same time, we aren’t a firm practicing solely green building, or requiring green certifications for our projects. So what does sustainability mean to us?
Turns out, it’s pretty simple. We place a high value on the health of our clients. Creating awesomely-designed spaces is only one part of the work we do. What makes those spaces so much better is the thought and attention to our clients’ needs. That is what drives our design. We consider the health and well-being to be critical needs of the people who inhabit spaces we design. Accounting for these needs is a huge component of sustainable design, addressed through healthy material choices, attention to indoor air quality, efficient heating and cooling practices, and so much more.
Equally important to the well-being of our clients is aesthetics. With the eye of designers, we aim to create spaces that put equal value in beauty and delight, as well as on the technical aspects of the design process.
While the animals stood transfixed and helpless in front of a forest fire they see a small hummingbird working to put out the fire. They ask it: “What do you think you can do? You are too little. This fire is too big. Your wings are too little and your beak is so small that you can only bring a small drop of water at a time.” But as they continue to discourage it, it turns to them without wasting any time and it tells them, “I am doing the best I can.” The Story of the Hummingbird by Wangari Maathai.
We also place a high value on the amazing environment we are blessed with in the Pacific Northwest. From the Puget Sound, the Cascade and Olympic Mountains; to our rivers, streams, and estuaries; to the lowlands that support our local farms — it all creates a scenic environment with diverse ecologies that appeal to all our senses. Protecting these ecosystems is paramount to our love for the region.
It’s the love of place and its natural wonders that lead many of us to focus our design efforts on projects that are urban and already developed, rather than disrupting undisturbed natural spaces. Where feasible, we choose to work on existing developed lots, to remodel existing structures and maximize the embodied energy of existing buildings as much as possible. We source local, durable and nontoxic materials, and establish safeguards during construction to protect our soil and water resources from contamination.
To us, “sustainable design” is really Environmentally Responsible Design. When we design, we are taking responsibility for the environment, both in the broader sense and in the sense of home and our immediate surroundings. We aim to improve health and well-being, sustain beauty, and protect the environment. There is a temporal consideration to our work as well. While we design for our immediate clients in the near term, we are also planning for the future. What efforts can we invest in today that will benefit future generations? Choosing durable materials and lasting designs means less waste diverted to our landfills in the future. Improving air quality protects our kids and grandkids’ health so they have long and healthy lives, and making smart decisions when it comes to water and energy use, will greatly impact our climate in generations to come.
We take a lot of responsibility for our work and its impact and it is paramount to us to invest in more efforts that make even greater impacts. We’re kinda into walking the talk over here, so we developed a manifesto to guide us into the New Year.
The Board & Vellum Environmentally Responsible Design Manifesto
- At Board & Vellum, we make design approachable and accessible. Therefore, it is our duty to make environmentally responsible design readily available to our clients, contractors, and staff.
- Board & Vellum will have the knowledge and experience to guide our clients towards design solutions that incorporate sustainable materials and practices and minimize adverse impacts to health and the environment.
- No greenwashing.
- We will prioritize vendors, contractors and partners who have established sustainable practices, sources and materials and will work with existing vendors, contractors and partners to incorporate sustainability into their products and practices. Our go-to materials will be sustainable and we will work with our clients and staff to understand their importance and why we prioritize them.
- All the while, we will maintain our commitment to beautiful design. We don’t want to be a firm that pushes certification on clients just to receive awards or media attention. We want to advocate for sustainability in a way that improves the lives of our clients and the spaces they reside.
- A lot of people say, “Life is short, why should I care?” But, it’s not just about us as individuals, but us as humanity. The effects of climate change are upon us now, and we need to design buildings that are built well with materials that cause less harm, so that future generations and ecosystems have the ability to thrive.
Over the year, we’ll provide updates on our progress to improve our environmentally responsible design goals, and provide some tips to help you stay environmentally focused. Stay tuned, and by all means, think about how you can contribute to a healthier planet!