RESILIENT AND SUSTAINABLE DESIGN
Specifying Sample Sustainably
An interview with Rebecca Best, Vice President Sustainability at Material Bank.
BY STEPHANIE CASIMIRO
IT IS ESTIMATED THAT 10 PERCENT OF CONSTRUCTION MATERIALS GO TO WASTE, but that figure is likely much higher, and the American Institute of Architects says that building-related waste accounts for 25-40 percent of America’s solid waste. Aside from the costs incurred, this waste also has environmental consequences, including more landfills, greenhouse gas emissions and pollution.
A segment of the build process – samples that architects and designers show their customers – are another source of waste that adds to our landfills and CO2 emissions. A bright spot in this vertical is Material Bank who has put together the most sustainable program that delivers on their promise to reduce waste and efficiently and effectively deliver, re-use and recycle product samples.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Rebecca Best, Vice President Sustainability at Material Bank to discuss their company and its corporate initiative, the Carbon Impact Program. What I learned was incredible — Material Bank uses technology to streamline the ordering of samples for their customers integrating sustainability efforts seamlessly into the workflow.
The days of architects and designers having to call multiple sources for various samples and receive separate boxes from each are over. One order. One pack of samples. Delivered in a timely fashion. With a return process that is also streamlined in order to re-use and recycle materials.
Material Bank saw an opportunity, and they ran with it. They had this efficient technology system and saw it could also lend itself to an entirely sustainable sampling model that could help larger firms meet their lofty sustainability goals.
Now that the company has these manufacturers on their platform, they design custom filters so customers (architects and designers) can sort for sustainable products based on their own criteria. Now, it is easier for jobs that adhere to the AIA’s 2030 Commitment initiative to work toward this goal using the Material Bank platform.
STEPHANIE: Tell us about your programs.
REBECCA: Material Bank has done an incredible job of making sustainable sampling seamless. By aggregating samples from multiple brands into a single box, the company has established an inherently sustainable platform. deliver samples in separate packaging. This whole process amounts to excess time, unnecessary waste and emissions. With Material Bank, there is only one package, one order and fewer vehicles on the road delivering these samples. That's the magic of Material Bank, an incredibly efficient system that also lends itself to a sustainable sampling model.
This process has saved just over 2.4 million packages, an equivalent of around 930 tons of packaging. The number of carbon offsets we purchased is just over 2,200 carbon credits. We have a robust sample reclamation program that allows architects and designers to easily return samples for redistribution.
STEPHANIE: Can the built environment really make an impact regarding carbon emissions?
REBECCA: Yes, the built environment can significantly impact this problem. Almost 40 percent of worldwide carbon emissions are associated with the built environment.
If architects and designers approach their work without care for this inevitable impact, we will be in big trouble come 2050. Many firms recognize the climate crisis but struggle with knowing how to act. At Material Bank, we believe we have an inherent responsibility to support our members by empowering them and offering them tools to be climate change correctors.
VICE PRESIDENT SUSTAINABILITY,
STEPHANIE: So, carbon offsets are a big part of your platform?
REBECCA: Truthfully, carbon offsets are never going to be the answer. I think anyone entrenched in sustainability understands that, realistically, they are a good alternative when there is no other choice. Because we know that the industry is never going to go 100 percent digital for samples – people will always want to touch and feel the materials – we know there will always be shipping. So, our solution is to first minimize the shipping impact by consolidating sample packages and then shipping impact by consolidating sample packages and then to purchase carbon credits to offset the shipping emissions.
STEPHANIE: What is the goal of the Carbon Impact Program?
REBECCA: The goal here is to support any firm wherever they are on their sustainable design journey. A large percentage of top 100 firms are very advanced in their sustainable design efforts, but though they might be very progressive, that doesn't mean that every single designer or architect working at a given firm is as advanced in that sustainable design journey. So, it has been an incredible process working with the firm leadership from a sustainability perspective and saying, "Listen, let's really be genuine here. I know where your firm wants to be, but is that where your designers are? How can we help get your designers to engage, even down to ordering samples? How can we bridge that gap and help your designers connect better to where you want to be as a firm?"
"Material Bank is an incredibly efficient system that also lends itself to a sustainable sampling model. This process has saved just over 2.4 million packages, an equivalent of around 930 tons of packaging. The number of carbon offsets we purchased is just over 2,200 carbon credits.” REBECCA WEST
STEPHANIE: How have you helped these big firms bridge this gap?
REBECCA: We've created a series of custom menus that allow the designers within any given firm to access a custom sustainability-oriented filtering menu. When a designer from firm ABC logs into Material Bank, they will go directly to a company home page and see the custom filters that support the firm's sustainability goals. This helps everyone incorporate similar practices into their workflow.
STEPHANIE: Tell me more about the Carbon Impact
Program and how this is constantly evolving to assist the built community meet its sustainability goals.
REBECCA: The Carbon Impact Program has taken off. With this program, we strive to go beyond sustainable sampling to support the goals of our members surrounding education and creating peer connections. We believe we can achieve this by constantly evolving. For example, we launched a CEU series Design Your Impact led by our Carbon Impact program firms. We are now assisting some firms to re-think their physical library experience to ensure that sustainability is at the forefront of design inspiration. We are evaluating our search filters, which are currently labelled as environmental benefits, standards and certifications. We hope to soon be incorporating more common industry language with filters that reference climate health, human health and social health terminology. We know this is the vernacular that many industry professionals are leaning into for material selection to connect with AIA 2030 Commitment goals and we want to provide support for these goals.
We know that education is a critical part of the A&D profession. In the absence of travelling to industry events and regularly connecting with peers, we thought that peer led education would be an interesting added value to provide our members. So we partnered with seven of our CIP firms that were willing to share some of their research and corporate insights. By partnering with organizations that have incredible information and processes, we could share topics like, designing patient-centric healthcare, DEI and the future of design, specifying for public projects, etc. We were able to bring education to a broader member base that may not have the time and resources for such efforts.
STEPHANIE: What’s next for Material Bank?
REBECCA: As a company, we are deep diving into our various aspects of our business including our packaging and asking ourselves:
- "How can we make it 100 percent curbside recyclable?”
- "How do we still keep a beautiful aesthetic and functionality while also making things recyclable?"
- "How do we move towards a zero-waste facility and eliminate single-use plastics?"
- "How do we continuously assess every aspect of our
responsibility as a samples provider?"
After completing a thorough assessment of our corporate carbon footprint, we are reducing our scope 1 and 2 emissions by 38 percent by 2030 in line with Science Based Targets and will be signing the Climate Pledge.
It is in our DNA to ensure that we are being as thoughtful as possible, and action oriented from a climate perspective.
Stephanie is a Contributing Editor and the Social Media Manager for Technology Designer. She is
the Founder of Designer Marketing Solutions, a full-service social media and marketing agency.