Having Designs on Environmental Performance: IIDEX/NeoCon 2010

This past week, I spent some time at the IIDEX/NeoCon show at the Direct Energy Centre here in Toronto.

Well that was different.

It was unlike any other show I had been to, I mean, it’s not often I feel underdressed at a trade show while girls that look a little young to be there walk around decked out like it’s their second prom.

Photo credit: EraPhernalia Vintage

Kind of like a night club…

I even overheard someone say that it made the Green Living Show look like a trailer park. I, for one, am not about to sneeze at the GLS; however compared to the rest of the immaculately put together displays, the Green Building Festival looked like a bit of a shanty town. I’m just going to happily assume that the minimalist wooden structures that housed most of the GBF’s booths were made from reclaimed wood and leave it at that.

I’m used to trade shows where I can swoop by a booth, snag some literature and scurry away to review it before deciding whether or not to actually engage the company reps. No sir, not at IIDEX/NeoCon. Many companies had laid elaborate traps by leaving few entry/exit points to their displays and no literature available in plain view. You apparently have to talk to someone if you have a question.

Talk to someone! The horror…the horror!

But aside from the conversation traps that house the best looking/smelling trade show participants around, the IIDEX/NeoCon show yielded a few interesting observations about the extent to which the design industry has embraced all things ‘green’.

At first glance, there seemed to be a definite segregation between the Green Building Festival and the rest of the show. Aside from the obvious appearance and scale of the booths, there was also a sense of glitz and glamour to the rest of the show and I didn’t expect to see any green themes beyond the green carpet that marked the border between the events. However, after perusing the isles, it became evident that environmental values have wormed their way into the prominent claims of at least a few of the participating companies.

More surprising is that these claims were not as evident in places where you might expect to see them. Though the Light Canada section was practically dedicated to LEDs, there was not much signage about the environmental benefits. LEDs are a staple in contemporary design so the benefits are a given. In addition, there were major displays by companies like Teknion and InterfaceFLOR, who have been featured quite prominently in the past due to their environmental performance, but in this case, they stuck to the basics with their booths. (Though admittedly InterfaceFLOR did play both sides of the room, with a second booth in the GBF section…)

So it would seem that the environment has become well-established in the world of interior design. Or is it just that designers are being trendy?

Operating in a context that is closer to the whims and trends of the fashion world than most industries, it would be understandable that designers are just reflecting what is de rigueur in their client markets. With a common expectation that the environment be considered in contemporary business decisions, one can assume designers would give their customers what they want in terms of environmental performance.

While this is true, I also believe it goes deeper than that. For one, the GBF has been around since 2005 and for those keeping track of environmental milestones, this predates the release of ‘An Inconvenient Truth’. While I’m not sure whether the GBF has always been a part of the IIDEX/NeoCon show, it has at least been on the radar of the design industry for several years.

Furthermore, there are many contributing factors to what is considered “good design” and the inclusion and emphasis of these factors varies across industries as well as from company to company. One fairly common notion, however, is that good design will do more with less. This sense of increased functionality and efficiency is a pillar of the business case for sustainability.

I look forward to seeing how the Green Building Festival will evolve and how it will fit in with the IIDEX/NeoCon shows. Even more so, I look forward to the day when the GBF isn’t really needed since environmental stewardship will be inherent in the industry and it will only be notable when a company performs badly.

I look forward to that day, but in the meantime, we’ll see how it goes. We’ve got some work to do.

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About Daniel Caunter

Who is Daniel Caunter? Daniel is a series of contrasts – Environmentalist MBA, anglo Montrealer, landlocked surfer, serious about fun, and creatively practical. He has lofty ideals, but is focused on finding veritable solutions that will work in reality. He is a work in progress, building a career in environmental business with a focus on stakeholder engagement, project management and corporate communications. Daniel can be reached via Twitter (@danielcaunter), or by commenting here on this site. If you’d like a real-time update on this work in progress, he may even be persuaded to come out for a pint or a cuppa. (Please note: the views expressed in Daniel’s posts are his personally - though sometimes satirical - and are not necessarily those of his employer or other affiliations...so don’t be silly.)
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