The Five Elements of Green Design

Successful sustainable construction begins with a design that addresses each of the following five central elements of green building design. 

  • Sustainable Site Design
  • Water Conservation and Quality
  • Energy and Environment
  • Indoor Environmental Quality
  • Conservation of Materials and Resources 

To assure the integrity of the design and the eventual sustainable outcome, integration of green technology within each of those core design elements is critical. For example, the interrelationship between the site orientation, the water conservancy program, the use of natural energy sources, the quality of natural sunlight inside the building all affect the building’s need for materials and energy sources. In fact, the ideal design brings all the elements together over and over again.  

Integrating the design elements requires recognition of several principles of sustainability and the application of these principles to the site analysis: 

  • Reduce urban sprawl and destruction of land
  • Promote higher density urban development
  • Pursue brownfield development to save exiting green space
  • Minimize site disturbance and restore natural habitat 

Below are hints for consideration with each element. 

Sustainable Site Design 

  • Only select a new site when necessary
  • When a new site is necessary, do not chose a site that is critical to the local eco-system
  • Orient the building to on the site to utilize natural resources like solar energy
  • Select a site that allows access to mass transit
  • Minimize the building’s footprint by using existing surfaces, lightening roof color and using natural shading 

Water Conservation and Quality 

  • Realize that orientation of the proposed building that allows for natural drainage is often the least expensive way to improve the location
  • Be certain that the site assessment captures the natural hydrological attributes
  • Allow for the use of low-impact storm water retention
  • Set a water budget and implement features that help achieve the budget
  • Improve water conservation and quality by utilizing indigenous trees, plants and turf that do not require irrigation, fertilizers or pesticides 

Energy and Environment 

  • Maximize passive solar orientation
  • Reduce the need for artificial lighting by planning to use natural sunlight whenever possible
  • Use exterior insulation to maximize the performance of the exterior envelope
  • Use natural ventilation
  • Use Energy Star energy efficient appliances
  • Use new-age lighting products and settings
  • Research all the new energy technologies 

Indoor Environmental Quality 

  • Protect the building’s interior during the construction process
  • Make the building smoke-free
  • Maximize the used of daylight sunlight
  • Make sure that all interior finishes are environmentally friendly and safe
  • Design a healthy heating, cooling and ventilating system 

Materials and Resources 

  • Use engineer designed high stress materials whose strength reduces the quantity of used materials
  • Use recycled materials whenever possible
  • Use materials that can be recycled when their functional life has elapsed
  • Support the local economy and reduce the transportation of materials by using local providers of local products 

The five major elements, from sustainable sites to materials and resources are also considered in the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED building certification. Whether considering that certification or just interested in green building, the above points to consider can make a huge difference in returns, cost and the environment.

Bamboo Furnishings – Smart Green Design

For those who find the incessant green barrage tiresome and overwhelming, but still want to take environmental considerations into their decorating and building options, there is an answer: look into sustainable design. That concept consists essentially of choosing materials that balance use of renewable materials with minimization of pollutants.

Why use Bamboo?

Bamboo is a grass, not a tree. This means that when the top is cut off, the bottom grows up to replace it (much like the grass in a freshly-mowed lawn) – the whole plant does not have to be destroyed in the harvesting process. Also consider that bamboo typically reaches a harvestable age in under ten years (compared to decades for most trees). As an added bonus for the crowd intent on lowering carbon-dioxide levels in our atmosphere, per square mile, bamboo process CO2 more aggressively than trees.


Many may be inclined to shy away from bamboo out of belief that bamboo furnishings can only look like the came straight from the set of a movie based on a deserted island. Bamboo is, however, far more versatile than that. While beautifully crafted pieces can be made by connecting individual poles, bamboo can also be treated in such a way that it can be worked exactly like ordinary wood. That means all sorts of bamboo furnishings are available, including chairs, tables, sofas, dressers, bookcases, flooring pieces, and even sinks. These can be made from solid bamboo, or be created from something like MDF and covered in a bamboo veneer.

There is even variety to be had in the more raw-looking furniture. With the longevity of bamboo furnishings as a whole, there is a huge variety in what is available – particularly considering that bamboo has been used in furniture construction by native cultures around the world. A bamboo chair made by an Ethiopian will undoubtedly look different from one made in Thailand, which will certainly not match one made in the United States. Not to mention that bamboo can be baked to change its color. When exposed to heat, the sugars in the bamboo caramelize, changing the color from the customary yellow to a rich shade of brown.


Bamboo furnishings, particularly those not constructed from bamboo poles, are no longer just a specialized niche items, and are now available at a wide range of stores. They can be purchased locally in many areas, or found online.


Furniture made from bamboo can be cared for much like any other hardwood. Dust it, keep it clean, and apply a coat of wax for longest life. Raw bamboo should not be exposed to the elements on a regular basis (any more than you’d want to leave untreated wood furniture exposed).


That’s not to say bamboo is perfect. It seems unlikely that most consumers would want deforestation for the sake of growing more bamboo. However, this does need to be monitored, as some corporations will respond to the immediate demand without considering long-term consequences. Also, hardwood-style bamboo products may contain large amounts of formaldehyde. It may be reasonable to assume that an increased demand for the product will result in greater research into cleaner processing options.

Selecting a Green Design Material – 12 Questions to Ask First

A green interior design material, finish or fixture must first be a good product. Here’s what to look for even before considering a product’s green claims.

Selecting the right eco-friendly finishes and materials is one of the most important challenges you will face in building your green home. Manufacturers have given us so many new choices and options to choose from that it now becomes a question of what is right for MY home?

As an interior designer committed to green interior design, this is something I deal with on a daily basis. There is a huge gray area between materials and products that are cutting edge technology and the risk of whether they will hold up over time as promised. You might feel that by building an eco-friendly home and you will have to sacrifice something like style, luxury, comfort or saving money. Fortunately, if you do your homework that doesn’t have to be the case. Quality green building products will give you a home that is comfortable and functions well – without problems or extra expense.

“Green interior design is always about making choices, compromise, and setting priorities,” is what I tell my clients. “It’s never going to be ‘perfectly green’, so you have to decide what matters to you.” You want to feel confidence in your decisions and have the information you need to weigh the trade-offs associated with them. Still, how do you know what is the best choice for you?

Here are 12 questions I recommend you ask your builder and designer about any green design product you’re considering-before you make your selection:

  1. How well will it perform its basic function as a building material or product?
  2. How does it compare with products I am considering or have used before?
  3. Does it meet code for my intended use?
  4. Is it third-party certified, or is it just a claim by the manufacturer of being eco-friendly?
  5. Will it contribute toward project certification, i.e. LEED, Green Build, etc.?
  6. Is it available now (or will it be when I need it)?
  7. How will it affect my budget?
  8. Is there any question about it’s safety or performance?
  9. Will it improve the level of energy efficiency, water conservation or indoor air quality of my home?
  10. How will it contribute toward sustainability?
  11. Will it require special installation skills or adaptations to the building?
  12. Is it worth the investment for the benefits?

After answering these 12 questions and talking with your building team, you should be able to determine if the material, finish, product or fixture fits within your comfort zone and meets the your environmental goals for the project. You should also ask, “What makes this a green design product?” and “Can you verify the manufacturers’ performance claims?” Then you can focus on the product’s green attributes and how they will integrate with the other elements of your green home.

Building a green home can be very rewarding, once you work through the layers of documentation and research to determine the best solutions. Working with a knowledgeable, experienced design and building team will make it much easier and more enjoyable.