Challenge Accepted! Greening our Cushing Terrell Materials Libraries

Senior Interior Designer Kaare Sola

The backstory…

As a senior interior designer with Cushing Terrell and someone who’s passionate about making eco-conscious choices when it comes to our work, I was struck by an “aha” moment during a Greenbuild seminar two years ago. While soaking up a presentation from mindful MATERIALS (mM), I was inspired to make a difference at our firm.

The mM database is a free, online resource that helps people make informed decisions about the products and materials they select. Hearing about the mM mission and other firms moving toward greener specification practices, I had visions of a Cushing Terrell materials library transformation. However, changing the way an 80-year-old firm approaches source materials would be no small feat. With the inspiration came big questions. Where do you start when you have 430+ design professionals working on an array of projects across 13 offices in seven states?

The first step was to contact volunteers with mM to get a better understanding of how many manufacturers were already in the database. This turned out to be a much larger number than expected — a great sign. This was the beginning of my research, along with vetting ideas in collaboration with my colleagues and industry peers. I found the key was to keep socializing the idea and stay persistent.

With support from our firm’s Green Advocacy Council (GAC), and in partnership with the members of our newly created Sustainable Interiors Group, I was tasked with launching the materials library project. It was the perfect time to dive in: People were excited and wanted to be part of the transformation to align with our firm’s commitment to a more sustainable built environment.

Making it real

Tackling the process office by office, we started in Seattle, Washington. With that transformation recently complete (see story below), we’re now working on materials libraries in Boise, Idaho, and Missoula, Montana. From there, we’ll transform our library in Austin, Texas (pictured above), which is not only our firm’s largest, but the largest in Austin. Our goal is to have all of our libraries revamped by the end of 2020.

It’s been incredibly rewarding to go from being overwhelmed with data, research, and information to working with a team of dedicated individuals, earning the support of leadership, and now, being a progressive leader when it comes to providing our clients with responsible materials choices. We’re committed to diving deeper, past function and aesthetics, to design and specify for the greater good.

Lastly, I’m thrilled to join the mM Architecture and Design Working Group to share information and success stories, present lunch-and-learns to firms and manufacturers, and to keep the effort growing!

We’ll be telling the story of our materials library transformation on social media. Follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook to get the updates: #MindfulTransformation

The Seattle story from Jessica Earp, interior designer

The greening of our materials libraries is a huge undertaking, and it took some time to figure out where to start. Our Seattle office had a small, disorganized library in need of a refresh, creating the perfect opportunity to experiment and implement sustainable guidelines.

While many manufacturers are familiar with mindful MATERIALS (mM), we had to educate others on the importance of sustainable specifying and why mM is a great resource. Naturally, we encountered some resistance along the way, but feel this mission is too important to ignore. The majority of our reps have been open and excited to partner with mM. We’ve even had product reps reach out saying they heard what we’re doing and are pleased to be included in our libraries.

While we may not be able to get every product on mM, that doesn’t mean we can’t specify these products. But we should take the time to learn about the sustainable practices of those lines, and make judgment calls on a case-by-case basis. The most important thing is to educate ourselves about what we’re providing our clients and to think responsibly about the impact of our specifications.

A final note: When cleaning out our Seattle materials library, we partnered with nonprofit groups such as Save a Sample and the IIDA’s ZeroLandfill initiative to divert materials from the landfill. A win-win situation for all!

Seattle materials library: BEFORE and AFTER