Sustainable design has entered the mainstream. though environmental issues, such as energy efficiency and global warming, have been concerns for over 50 years, the past decade in particular has seen increased "green" initiatives garner the general public's attention.

Public Education

Television and movie screens offer the most widespread, public vehicle for educating the masses about environmental issues. The film, An Inconvenient Truth, for example, is about former vice president Al Gore's campaign to bring global warming to the forefront of the international stage. In it, he not only presents evidence that global warming is happening, but helps viewers to understand that they and they alone can affect change. To date, it is the third-highest-grossing documentary in the United States. Similarly, MTV is using its popularity to reach millions of school-age individuals through a partnership with the Campus Climate Challenge, a campaign of the Energy Action Coalition, which is made up of more than 30 leading youth organizations throughout the U.S. and Canada. Together they launched "Break the Addiction Challenge," a nationwide competition challenging students to stop global warming, starting on their own campuses. The objective: to achieve 100 percent clean energy policies at their schools.

Rising energy costs and increasing concerns about the environment are also driving consumer interest in "green" homes, which, according to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), are 30 to 50 percent more energy efficient than traditional homes. In September 2006 at the Clinton Global Initiative Conference in New York, the USGBC, with support from San Diego-based developer Newland Communities, announced an online consumer education resource, the first program in its campaign to educate the public about the benefits of green design. Scheduled to launch January 1, 2007, this resource will provide consumers with information on how to make their homes more efficient. "This year alone there were 1.9 million homes being built using 20 percent of the energy in the U.S.," notes Rick Fedrizzi, president, CEO, and founding chair of the USGBC, in a prepared statement. Indeed, by educating consumers on green building, the potential for significant reduction of energy consumption is huge. Credibility Confirmed

The USGBC continues to develop its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system with LEED for Schools, LEED Retail for New Construction, and LEED for Healthcare, which are currently in development. Having already become a reputable certification metric amongst architects, designers, and building owners, a July 2006 Sustainable Building Rating Systems Summary by the U.S. General Services Administration may establish LEED as the de-facto industry standard. In the summary, LEED was evaluated against four other systems--Building Research Establishment's Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM); Comprehensive Assessment System for Building Environmental Efficiency (CASBEE); GBTool; and Green Globes U.S.--and was found to be the most credible.

The Big Picture

While lighting constitutes a substantial portion of consumption where energy conservation is concerned, many design community initiatives are focusing on the big picture, making changes to the building construction envelope as a whole, therefore generating integrated efficiency on a larger scale. One such program is the 2030 Challenge by Architecture 2030. Founded by Edward Mazria, senior principal at Mazria Inc. Odems Dzurec, an architecture and planning firm in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the challenge calls for all newly constructed buildings to be carbon neutral by 2030, meaning that no fossil fuel is used. Advocated by both the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, who were highlighted in a September speech at New York University by Al Gore, the challenge's purpose to eliminate fossil-fuel emissions from the construction and operation of buildings will, Gore says, help curb global warming. According to R.K. Stewart, president-elect (2007) of the AIA and chair of its Sustainability Summit Task Force, "The design, construction, and operation of buildings accounts for nearly half of all greenhouse gas emissions and accounts for three quarters of all U.S. electricity generation."

In addition to building construction and operation, governmental agencies are creating national plans to address the country's energy use, such as the National Action Plan for Energy Efficiency. Published in July 2006, it is funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy's (DOE) Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Division. Developed by more than 50 leading organizations, including gas and electric utilities, state agencies, energy service providers, and environmental/energy efficiency organizations, the plan aims to create "a sustainable, aggressive national commitment to energy efficiency" through gas and electric utilities, utility regulators, and partner organizations.

Focusing in on Lighting

While energy codes and regulations can reap great advantages, one concern among lighting designers is that of potential design limitations. As Mark Loeffler, member of the International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD) and Associate Director of Lighting Design at Atelier Ten, explains, "New energy codes are challenging, especially for retail and hospitality projects that have traditionally depended on accent lighting and other techniques that inherently require more energy than other applications." In order to convey this concern and to have an impact on how lighting codes are being adjusted, five members of the IALD's Energy and Sustainability Committee are representing the organization's interests to ASHRAE/IES Standard 90.1, the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), and the California Energy Commission. As Loeffler says, "By ensuring that we fit our concerns into the established appeal process for the major code-writing bodies, we will have leverage with 90.1 and IECC, which are the two most influential codes for states."

The Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA) and the Next Generation Lighting Industry Alliance (NGLIA) have joined forces with the DOE to address industry-specific issues. In July 2006 the IESNA and the DOE signed a Memorandum of Agreement to improve the efficient use of energy and minimize the impact of energy use on the environment. One of the agreement's five goals is the support and development of metrics and standards for solid-state lighting technology, which are foundations of the DOE Energy Star criteria for solid-state lighting. NGLIA worked with the DOE to establish Energy Star criteria for white solid-state lighting products, which will be split into two categories. Category A will cover a limited number of general illumination niche applications, such as task lighting, recessed downlights, and walkway lighting, while Category B includes LED systems for general illumination, and also serves the industry as a long-term efficacy and efficiency target which will exceed current Energy Star residential light fixture and compact fluorescent lighting thresholds (50 to 70 lumens per watt).

Raising the Bar

While architectural and engineering considerations, as well as lighting design schemes, must be taken into account for sustainable building, so too must green products. In the luminaire market, there has traditionally been a lack of aesthetically pleasing fixtures that adequately fit the needs of sustainable lighting design. Manufacturers often tout energy efficiency, but with no regard for sustainable materials or business practices, their so-called "green" products fall short. Enter Eleek and Vode Lighting, two recently founded companies whose idea of sustainability is fundamental to their designs and their business.

For Sattie Clark, principal of Portland-based Eleek, which was founded in 2000, a sustainable business model was a natural reflection of personal interests. "We didn't yet know that it would become such an asset in the marketplace," she says, "but we saw that in order to make people excited about putting energy-saving lighting in their homes, you have to offer them choices that look good and feel good." As a member of the Oregon Natural Step Network, formed to support Oregon business, governmental, and educational organizations in reducing their environmental impact while enhancing overall efficiency and effectiveness, Eleek is a first-rate example. The company operates on 100 percent green power; its products are made from recyclable, recycled, and salvaged materials with energy-saving lamps and electronics; 80 percent of the company's supplies are within 50 miles of its shop; fixtures are distributed with minimal packaging; and the company car is a Volkswagen Beetle that runs on B99, a biodiesel blend made from 99 percent non-petroleum sources. LEDs are the company's next step in sustainability, and will be incorporated into product designs.

For Sonoma, California-based Vode Lighting, launched in August 2006, its sustainable design philosophy was a core idea from day one. Inspired by McDonough and Braungart's Cradle-to-Cradle design paradigm, the company founders also looked to other like-minded companies, such as Patagonia and Interface Carpet, for inspiration. "We want Vode to be the aspiration in lighting," says chief creative officer Scott Yu. "'Good' design that is environmentally harmful is an oxymoron; equally, a 'green' product that is not attractive has only limited appeal." The company's first product is the Modular Light Rail System, which comprises a series of minimalist lighting components. Made of 97 percent recycled aluminum, the PVC-free system uses energy-efficient T5 fluorescent lamps and is designed with easily separable materials for simplified recycling. Because the components are shipped in compact cardboard tubes for on-site assembly, materials are kept to a minimum, reducing energy, cost, and waste. In addition, Vode is exploring ways to attain LEED points and Cradle-to-Cradle certification for luminaires, as well as developing an LED-based lighting system. Says Vode president Tom Warton, "The potential for LEDs is tremendous."

Both Eleek and Vode Lighting have seen an increasing interest in "green" luminaires. "For the most part, consumers are very savvy," Clark explains. "They want sustainability without sacrificing design and performance." Warton echoes that point. "Several years ago, I wouldn't have guessed the level to which designers and their clients value sustainability." For both, aesthetics are paramount, but, says Warton, "products as well as companies also have to perform."

Action Stations

Together, advancing architecture, design, and lighting techniques are creating dramatic new opportunities for substantial energy savings and reduction in pollution. Finding alternative ways to reduce load, increase efficiency, and develop renewable energy sources offers a chance to reverse the damage that we have done to the environment. Ensuring that the public is educated, aware of these new techniques, and ready to take responsibility for, and manage, our consumption, will only get us there faster.

Sallie Moffat is the former Associate Editor of ARCHITECTURAL LIGHTING. She is now working as a freelance writer in Brooklyn, New York.