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Green Design

Aug. 28, 2007

April Heflich furnished samples of materials for the class to discuss, including pieces of carpet furnished from corn husk. The Pottsboro senior also provided reports on the latest in environmentally friendly design and lists of sources to prepare the other students to do their own research. It was a standard load for Heflich to bring -- especially since she was the one teaching the class.

Almost a quarter of Baylor's interior design department registered and regularly attended Heflich's eight-week course called "Think GREEN!" The 25 students and two professors came to learn about making interior design eco-friendly.

Heflich, an accredited professional of the U.S. Green Building Council's program for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), poured over dozens of PowerPoint slides and handouts for an hour each Monday for eight weeks last spring.

In each class, Heflich addressed issues such as land erosion, light pollution, water economy, and renewable energy sources. The course covered the benefits of and strategies for making an environmentally friendly building, as well as information about green materials and manufacturers and about taking the exam to become a LEED accredited professional (AP) -- all based on her experience studying to become a LEED AP and her experience with a professional LEED project.

Designing for environmental sustainability is "important to me because it's something that involves God's creation, and as designers we have a responsibility for the earth," Heflich says. "Considering that architecture and interior design (and buildings in general) consume so much of the United States' energy, if we can do our part to make it more efficient, then we've done a good job."

A Curriculum of Conservation

The class, purely voluntary, had no grades and was not for credit. Rather, it focused on making new construction (mostly commercial buildings) LEED-certified.

LEED gives points to a building project for implementing "credits" - elements of design that make the building environmentally sustainable, such as solar panels or low-flow water fixtures. A project receives a rating based on its point score; Basic or Bronze certification requires at least 26 out of 69 possible points, and the highest certification, Platinum, requires at least 52 points.

Heflich teaches that it is not only important to understand the general principles of sustainability, but to know how each element of design can affect the entire building. "Thinking green requires us to focus on the whole rather than the individual pieces," Heflich says. "We need to integrate the design."

A sample class exercise found students in small groups discussing the effects of a green roof (one which grows plants at the top of the building). The groups suggested that such a roof could filter and harness rain water, cool the building and provide an area for employee relaxation or recreation.

Overall, Heflich says, green design has a lot of environmental and individual human benefits. She mentions employee health, decreased worker absences and energy savings as a few of the positive outcomes.

The Road to LEED AP

Heflich first considered becoming a LEED AP when a guest speaker came to one of her interior design classes two years. Heflich shared her interest with one of her teachers, Adair Bowen.

"I told her to go for it," says Bowen, interior design program coordinator and faculty adviser for Baylor's chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID). "I had never had anyone that interested. She immediately pursued experience in that area."

More than 30,000 professionals are LEED-certified, ranging from designers to engineers to managers, but Heflich has found only one other student in Texas who is a LEED AP.

"This is a phenomenal thing, for an undergrad to be at this stage in the game," Bowen notes.

Heflich's studies helped her gain enough trust from her employers during an internship with HKS Inc. to work on a LEED project: getting LEED certification of the interior of two sections of a corporate building. Heflich researched the project and contacted professionals for the project team. She also wrote two innovation credits -- original ideas for green design forwarded to the USGBC for review.

"I have to stress work experience," Heflich says of LEED AP education. "There were things that I had no idea about before I started my LEED project." Heflich learned first-hand, for instance, the submission processes and other matters of paperwork procedure that are vital to understanding the LEED system.

Heflich's experience hasn't merely changed her portfolio; it has changed her mindset. "At first I thought it would look good on a resume," she says. "But once I got involved, I realized it's just about being responsible. Now I automatically incorporate green design into my projects."

Back to School

After her internship, Heflich offered to teach the class as a way to stay current on her knowledge of all things LEED. Bowen says that there had not been a class specifically for environmental sustainability and design.

"The concepts had been brought to the courses, but not to the extent that April has done," Bowen explains.

The teaching experience "benefited me in more ways than I thought at the beginning," Heflich says. For instance, while public speaking has never intimidated her, the class gave her a way to improve her public speaking, and through her intensive research during the Christmas break she broadened her professional network so that many of the green materials' suppliers now know her by name.

Heflich said she also benefitted from "seeing how I can come in and spark interest" by speaking to a broad range of students, from seniors to freshmen, as a student. "It made it seem more tangible to them," she says.

Lisa Sorenson, a San Antonio freshman who took the class, agreed. "Since it was a student teaching, she knew what we would listen to and what we would not listen to. She gave job information and tips about careers. She really knew what she was talking about."

Sorenson learned about Heflich's course through fliers and messages posted on Facebook.com. She had heard that it would give her information about LEED certification but soon found it to be more than she expected. "We got samples [of green design material], resources, things I had never heard of," she says.

Besides reminding students of the importance of being environmentally conscientious, Sorenson says the class was especially helpful from a professional perspective. "Anything that's going to help us in our career choice is a good idea and worthwhile," she says.

The class was not only helpful from a professional standpoint, but it also strengthened many of the students' convictions about being a responsible designer.

"I find interior design to be a way to help others without saying, 'Hey, I'm helping you,'" says Christie Poenitzsch, a senior from Columbus, Texas. "(Environmental responsibility) has always been important to me."

Since graduating in May, Heflich's own career is well underway thanks to her work with LEED certification. She is currently working for a design firm in Dallas that gave her a leadership role "right off the bat," she says.

Bowen says Heflich's passion for the subject affected even her.

"This class was a jump-start for me to think about getting my certification," Bowen says. She especially wants to learn about green design for residential buildings. "It goes to show how the passion of a peer can rub off."

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