Expert Interviews

Debbie Hindman
Name  Debbie Hindman 
Organization Name Colorado design
URL www.associates3.com

Position: Marketing director for an interior design firm, educator and author of interior design books

Years in the industry: 25

Location: Denver, Colorado

Website: www.associates3.com

Your book Sustainable Residential Interiors explains the basics of sustainable design to interior designers. Is there a great need for educating designers about sustainable practices?

Interior design students are now being exposed to classes and study about sustainability, but there is still a great need for education and a growing interest in professional practice. My book shares about numerous materials and how to discern if they are green and a good fit for a project. Understanding where products come from, their content, how to work with them and where they eventually will end up one day, after their useful life, is important to know. We are seeing a growing interest in products that are produced responsibly and are sold through fairtrade practices.

What is driving interior designers to shift their thinking?

First, for many designers it stems from something very personal. Choosing responsibly is a way to feel empowered, and helping your clients make good decisions becomes important?knowing your design and specifications will make a difference. I believe good design and sustainable design are one and the same. It’s just an added, enhanced criterion that a designer should look at. Consumers are thinking more about resource consumption, energy and water use and waste reduction, and we can help them select products and finishes that have the least impact on the Earth and on society—such as child-labor-free rugs.

How do you think the industry is responding to the socially responsible and green building movement?

Very well. For example, the U.S. Green Building Council created a product called LEED, which certifies buildings that have a high level of green standards incorporated into their design and construction. Plus, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) has adopted a position statement to promote sustainable design and resource conservation. They’ve issued a challenge to their members to try to achieve a minimum reduction of 50 percent of current consumption of fossil fuels by 2010. These are just two examples and the momentum is growing, challenging us even further. We can always do better.

How can designers think more critically about the products they select?

We can make a conscious effort to work with vendors who have an environmental leaning in terms of the materials they use or don’t use, and their business practices. In some industries it’s very difficult to make strides in terms of environmental sources, factories, etc. But there are definitely some that can be more socially responsible, pay better wages, take better care of their employees. We look at the source. Where did it come from? How was it made? Is it Earth friendly? We actually came up with a list of questions that we ask of the producer so we can get a better understanding of all this.

Does the carpet reflect Green Plus Standards, for example? Or GoodWeave’s? That kind of third-party validation and certification is critical as a designer, since you might not have the time to do all the research yourself for everything you specify on a project.

There is a myth that it takes small fingers to tie the knots in handmade rugs—what’s your opinion on this?

I personally haven’t heard people talk like this, but I know it’s a very real concern in the industry. A lot of hand-knotted rugs come from countries where small children make them. I know that as a fact, and that’s why an organization like GoodWeave is so important. In certain cultures, I wouldn’t want to presume that the way the family and society works shouldn’t allow children to work, as long as they’re supported and educated and paid well. So, it’s helpful to have an entity like GoodWeave watching the industry.

What’s your overall perspective on child labor in the carpet industry?

I’m thinking of it from the point of view of a child: Would it be good or bad? I probably wouldn’t have a lot of control and would look to the adults around me to protect me. You would hope that every child would have that protection and someone looking out for their best interests.

Our culture is very different. We go to school and we spend most of our life in school before we do anything. And the lifestyle is very different in other cultures. I wouldn’t want to dictate to another culture, but I like knowing that there is someone out there making sure that these things are happening so children are protected and treated well.

What’s your involvement with GoodWeave’s Campaign to End Child Labor?

We often recommend GoodWeave rugs to our design clients. One vendor we have worked with for 30 years carries a wide selection of GoodWeave child-labor-free certified rugs. Every time we purchase something from them, they make a donation on our behalf, so that’s a great win-win and we can be supportive in that way.

Who are some of the leaders in the green design movement?

One of the chapters in our book relates stories from some of our mentors, people who have inspired us. They include Hunter Lovins, who talks about “natural capitalism” in the business world and how this concept can work for the good of the planet; Paula Baker-Laporte, a New Mexico architect who builds “eco-nests”; Trudy Dujardin, an interior designer in Greenwich, Connecticut, whose own health issues led her to pursue green design; and Bert Gregory, an architect in Seattle whose firm of more than 200 employees is committed to environmental stewardship.

Where can people learn more?

As an educator, I recommend several books that are inspiring when you begin to learn about sustainability.

Ray Anderson of Interface floor covering is a great example on the commercial side of the carpet industry. He didn’t take an environmental position early on but read Paul Hawken’s book, The Ecology of Commerce, which changed his life. It’s documented in his own book, Mid-Course Correction, which I recommend often. William McDonough and Michael Braungart, MBDC (McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry), wrote Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. It’s a fantastic little book that talks about tenets, philosophies. It shifts your mind to look at things differently.

Janine Benyus, a biologist, has written Bio Mimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. She looks at the natural world and extracts information we can learn from it and can apply to our designs.

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