Carnegie Takes Designers on 'Green' Tour

January 17, 2003

Briarcliff Manor, N.Y. (USA) - The demand for environmentally friendly textiles has grown. Unfortunately the stream of promotional materials, some of which make false claims about ''green-ness'' or ''sustainability'' has grown proportionately. The marketing of these products can be overwhelming.

''It is pretty scary. There is a lot of misleading information in product advertising,'' said Patricia Whempner, a senior designer who specializes in corporate interiors for the Seattle, Washington-based Callison design firm.

The provider of high-end textiles for office and healthcare installations, Carnegie, took 20 interior designers on a tour of three ''green'' Swiss mills in May. Carnegie was introducing designers to its own sources, but the six-day trip also served as a lesson in sustainability. ''Environmental textile tour 2002,'' as it was dubbed, was sponsored by mills Creation Baumann (Langenthal), Rohner Textil (Bregenz) and Ruckstuhl (Langenthal). It included lectures, discussions with mill CEOs and entertainment.

The designers who took the trip called the experience enlightening - one said there was so much information it was like ''taking a drink from a fire hose'' - and they agreed you need to infuse the buying process with healthy doses of interrogation and research.

''It's a complex issue,'' said Donna Ford, a designer and associate partner at ZGF (Portland, Ore.). ''It makes you think more and question companies more carefully. You can't just take people's word as the final word. You have to do the research yourself. The more you're educated about what makes a product sustainable, the better equipped you are to do an analysis of your own.''

Interior designer Cindy Schmidt of Mithun (Seattle), stressed the importance of questioning the supplier. ''Some suppliers will tell you, 'Our stuff is green.' My question is, 'Is it only 5 percent green or is it each step in the process?' It's a much deeper issue than what's on the surface. It's how they procure their raw material, how it's manufactured. What effect does it have on the people picking it?'' said Schmidt.

''I walked away from that tour thinking about humanity and how we approach people who work for us to bring us the things that we specify.''

''Sustainable means no negative impact to humanity,'' said Tara Hill, a senior project designer at Atlanta, Georgia-based HOK. ''Twenty-five percent of the world's insecticides are made just so we can crop cotton. Meanwhile the person picking it has lost their fingers. So is cotton that sustainable?'' F&FI

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