Going Green is Trendy — but is Green Design?

According to recent news, ecological concern is quite fashionable.

Sometimes literally. Newspapers and tabloids alike are buzzing about British designer Anya Hindmarch’s eco-friendly shopping tote, a $15 canvas bag with "I’m Not a Plastic Bag" printed on the side that is sold in grocery stores, said to be the must-have bag this season. Twenty thousand were sold in a matter of hours when the bag went on sale in April in England, after women lined up at 2 a.m. for the store’s 9 a.m. opening; near riots broke out in Taipei, Taiwan when the bag premiered in July. A mall had to be shut down in Hong Kong the same month because of bag crowds.

The limited-edition bag is an example of clever cause marketing, but it’s also a strong indication that green’s trendiness has hit a high note. The fact that Hindmarch could design something primarily for a practical environmental use — according to Time, 88 million plastic bags are used per year in the U.S., and they can take 1,000 years to decompose — that consumers elevated into a must-have social status marker (as so many purses are) shows how trendy aligning oneself with green design now is. (Because frankly, people aren’t buying this thing to enhance their wardrobe — the bag isn’t anything much to look at. It, in fact, looks very much like what I used to carry my piano books in to lessons as a child.)

Just as many women feel wearing a designer Prada bag sends a message of style and class, swinging an "I’m Not a Plastic Bag" tote on your arm says I’m thoughtful, I’m conscientious, I’m in the know. (And clearly, I don’t mind long lines.)

Yet fashion isn’t the only world in which going green is becoming a sign of status. Magazines such as Vanity Fair and Fortune have published green issues in the past year; even the Vatican plans to offset its emissions, The Christian Science Monitor reports.

And then … there is housing. Some industry analysts, including Harvey Bernstein, vice president of industry analytics and alliances of McGraw-Hill Construction, feel green design is about to become mainstream, New Jersey’s The Record reports. Bernstein claimed the move is imminent in the June Residential Green Building SmartMarket Report, a
joint National Association of Home Builders and McGraw-Hill study. (McGraw-Hill Construction also recently estimated green building will grow this year to a $12 billion industry.)

There are other signs in the industry that indicate green building is being embraced. For example, several companies have flourished in a down turned industry by focusing on green products, HGTVPro.com reports — including Honeywell International, which expanded from foam insulation and rose 20 percent in 2006, and Georgia-Pacific Corp., who with paperless wallboard doubled sales in 2006.

Developers are also acknowledging green building. For the first time ever, this year’s Southeast Builders Conference was held in mid-July in conjunction with the Florida Green Building Coalition’s trade show and educational conference at the same Florida convention center, allowing the groups to intermingle and giving local builders greater exposure to green design, the Palm Beach Post reported.

And recently, the statements in the 2006 Green Building Update, written by Jerry Yudelson, P.E., LEED AP, principal with Yudelson Associates, gave the green industry a public boost. Yudelson estimated that U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for New Construction (LEED-NC)  registrations will more than double during the next four years, from 1,122 in 2006 to more than 2,400 in 2010, CENews.com reported.

Green construction may not be as trendy as the I’m Not a Plastic Bag tote (rare versions of which are selling for as much as $1,000 on eBay, incidentally), but it’s picking up speed. And, as more cities encourage commercial use of green design and more homeowners learn its long-term cost benefits, sustainable design just may someday be the season’s must-have construction site accessory.