It’s looking more and more as though sustainable design has become about as mainstream as it can get. When I first started “The Green Column” department in this magazine nine years ago, in all honesty, I intended it as an obligatory nod to a newly emerging field that I thought readers needed to know more about. It wasn’t necessarily “must have” information for them to meet their day-to-day responsibilities. Of course, today it’s a different story. Design magazines and newsletters are awash with green projects, and the language of LEED is heard throughout the land.

What prompts this reflection? Well, for me, it was the sheer quantity of sustainability information hits that I experienced in one recent week! Summing up briefly:

Item 1:The New York Times publishes a pair of op-ed pieces on new ideas for disposal of trash and human waste, ideas ingeniously minimizing the land use, water use, and toxic emissions involved in today’s practices and saving billions in energy costs. The point? The technologies and ideas are there today, if not yet the political will.

Item 2: reports that the new healthcare reform law has set up hospitals for major reviews and possible penalties for medical errors and infections over the next few years; “a medium-sized general hospital could lose upward of $1 million a year from these penalties at a time when all providers are struggling to keep up with escalating healthcare costs,” the Web report notes. The obvious take-home message: the designers of healthcare environments are about to enjoy a captive audience among hospital clients wanting to survive this challenge.

Item 3: The copyright-free editorial Web site ARAcontent offers a piece describing a new senior housing complex in Bemidji, Minnesota, aimed at becoming a paragon of green design. Developed by the firm Ecumen, the project is on track to become the state’s first-ever LEED-certified senior housing community. Key elements focus on stormwater management, limitation of toxic emissions, low water-use plumbing, oversized windows to maximize natural light, use of local and recycled materials, and construction waste management. WoodsEdge, as it’s called, even uses furniture evoking local materials and settings. All this to create a senior housing complex…

Item 4: …and, taking sustainable senior housing to another level, results are announced for a Senior Housing Design Competition in California, with designers from around the world displaying amazing creativity in developing 19 units for low-income seniors on a donated tract of land in Novato, California. Nearly 200 architectural teams from as far away as Japan and Croatia answered a call last fall from northern California developer Northbay Family Homes and the Suburban Alternatives Land Trust, seeking ideas for maximizing all the tax incentives available these days for sustainable design. The result was an array of plans featuring off-the-grid wind power, solar heating, water conservation, independent transit, and use of local agriculture, all aimed at achieving a LEED Platinum rating and a healthy, self-sufficient lifestyle for occupants.

So, that was the week that was. And it left me convinced: green design is no longer bleeding edge-it isn’t even cutting edge. Rock ‘n’ roll legend Jim Morrison put it best: “The time to hesitate is through.” HD

Healthcare Design 2010 June;10(6):72