Green By Design Podcast Episode 4: Mindful Materials with Kim Lombardozzi



In This episode I'm the only one with video but you can certainly watch me interview the lovely voice of Kim and learn about the super-cool database Mindful Materials.

For those of you that don't want to watch a single-sided video interview, here's a transcript of our conversation below!

"Erica:

You've just tuned in to the green by design podcast, which must mean you're an interior designer, decorator home stager furnishings maker, or just a fan of going green inside. So thank you so much for tuning in today. The goal of this podcast is to help the interior design professionals and the industry as a whole go green through education, discussion and connection. I'm your host, Erica Reiner from eco method interiors and today's guest is Kim Lombardozzi. So no shortage of experience and certifications and expertise. So I was very excited to get the chance to speak with you today, Kim and I would love to know how you basically got into what you're doing now, how you got started and what drew you to this field.

Kim:

Thanks so much for having me on your podcast today. I really appreciate it. And I love telling the story and I love spreading the word of green. So thank you for the opportunity. I first started getting involved with, I don't know, if you want to call it a movement, but I guess it is; When in 2004, when the United States green building council, Illinois chapter was formed. So I was very interested in helping promote greener and healthier buildings. And before that I was involved with the Illinois recycling association as a board member and a past administrator. So I had been involved on the garbage end of things for a long time. It was nice to be involved on the building end of things. And how can we, how can we take those discards and make them more than that? So promoting, reducing, reusing recycling in the built environment.

Erica:

I see. Okay. So kind of started with waste and then into Greenville, doing green buildings as a whole, and then a more holistic approach, I guess,

Kim:

Right. More about the ingredients kind of down to the nanoparticles, so to speak, right?

Erica:

Yeah, absolutely. And so maybe tell us a little bit about mindful materials, your involvement there, and maybe why this sort of up and coming organization is.

Kim:

So I'm mindful materials grew out of the idea that a few folks at HKS, Nancy helsley being one of them and Jasmine Mets and being another. And I'm sure there were other folks involved as well, but they realized that we needed a tool or a better way to aggregate data promoting products, transparency. And what I mean by that is that every manufacturer has a different setup to their and a different way. They categorize their transparency efforts and materials and technical data. And it's very, very time-consuming to do research, to find products that fit your clients' needs and the needs of, of the health for the building that you're designing. So they came up with this idea of mindful materials as being a data aggregation tool that could be easily searched to help you find products that met whatever sustainability criteria were important to you and your client.

Kim:

So they came up with that. I want to say probably in 2010 or 11, and basically it was a number of Google sheets and a gold Google folder. And it was really hard and chunky to kinda navigate because you had all these spreadsheets open up. And the other challenge with the data is that it would expire and it wouldn't be current because as you know, manufacturers are creating new products and new styles and new certifications are coming out. And just keeping that all organized and collected is, is a challenge in itself for manufacturers let alone for specifiers who want to find those products. So they partnered with origin, who is a data aggregation provider already, and origin hosted the space for mindful materials to curate the data. They were already collecting into a library that would promote manufacturer's transparency efforts. So the mindful materials library grew from Google sheets and everybody's efforts to get the data collected to something that is somewhat automated, not as automated as you think it would be, but I'm sure the future will hold some, some really great exponential growth. But it also helped, you know, create an online platform that everyone in the world who has access to a computer can have access to the data. So I think it's a really important tool for manufacturers to utilize and then for specifiers to help create libraries of products that they want to use.

Erica:

Absolutely. So I'm hoping I haven't spent too much time in mindful materials, although I intend to, and with your background as an interior designer, would you say that that is a helpful tool for interior designers? And can you maybe give an example of how I might use it or something you see valuable in it for us?

Kim:

Sure. it's really easy to sign up. You can just go to www.mindfulmaterials.com and on the sign up page, create your own account. You'll get an activation link from support@origin.build. Sometimes that goes into your spam folder. So check there to make sure it hasn't disappeared somewhere. And if you're having difficulty, just email support at origin debt build, and they can straighten out any log in issues that you might have, but once you've created an, a login and have an account, you can sort materials by many different avenues. You can sort by CSI division, you can sort by manufacturer name. If you think, you know the name, you can start by an item like chair or concrete or adhesive. So there's many. I, the reason why I like the tool is that you, you can go in there with an idea and sort based on the idea that you have once you've put in your search criteria basically it's populated by a number of manufacturer products that can be sorted by what they call different buckets.

Kim:

And the buckets look at environmental product declaration. So if you're interested in life cycle assessment, you can look at manufacturers who have products meeting that criteria. You can also use that as a search criteria by selecting EPDs as your search criteria or if VOC, emissions and content are important to you, you can look in that particular bucket for those particular certifications that apply to the products that you're interested in. So it probably would take days and days to explain to you how you could sort by the different criteria, cause there's so many different options and opportunities, but I think once you get in there, you'll start playing around with it and you'll be able to find what you're looking for. One thing I did notice is that it's, it's heavy in section nine, our division nine category of materials, so finishes. So there are less options of products outside of that category, but they're growing every day. And every time we have folks come into our office for an update or a meeting, that's the first question I ask, are you on mindful materials? And then I shoot them an email helping them to get them started.

Erica:

Yeah, absolutely. And I was really impressed by the mindful materials crew when I was in Chicago last year for the Greenbuild conference. And so I did a couple events with them. I went to the workshop and I was like, really gung ho because this is something that I have been looking for as a green interior designer, wishing and hoping that there'd be a great functional and easy to use database that I could just pop into because as a green designer for myself and for the other ones out there, that is the hardest part of what separates us from other designers. And so we spend a lot of the time researching, okay, not only what's going to look good and fits the style and budget, but can I find an alternative piece or finish that is going to be healthier either for the person living in the space.

Erica:

So toxicity wise or for the planet or both because they're not necessarily mutually exclusive; And so I have these fantasies about like, just being able to find this database and everything I could find out there was like kind of old and from the nineties and when green was starting to get going and half the links would be broken and it didn't tell you what was green about it. And so I have my own little database of makers and providers that are doing green in one way or another, but it doesn't, I don't even write in how I just kind of know by the name of the company. And then I put a mark whether they're green or not. So it's very rudimentary. So to find mindful materials and have watching it grow in, in this day and age and have it, you know, be founded in in, in data.

Erica:

And it really, as opposed to coming out at the other way around, I think is really valuable and is going to mean that it's robust. And hopefully you have some nice long longevity to it and be a resource to us all. So,this is why I contacted mindful materials and they recommended I speak with you because, 'm very excited about what's going on and I want all designers and makers and everyone listening to this to know about them and put in requests and put in requests to their favorite manufacturers or makers to be on there. Because I think if we all participate, it can grow and catch on. And I hope to see it being like in the forefront of, of, geen design. So, tht's basically it. Yeah, that tells our listeners how, I as introduced to you really, which is good.

Kim:

So we need all your help. Mindful materials is actually a free resource. So it's free for specifiers to use and it's free for manufacturers to populate, but we do need to get folks uploading their product data into the library so that we can all search for those great products that we want to use on our next project

Erica:

I think it's going to take the whole green design village on this one, but I'm really rooting for it. I think this is the answer that I have been looking for and probably a lot of other people have been looking for. That's how I feel about it. So very exciting. I would love to know how, so it looks like you got started in the interior design industry career-wise is that correct?

Kim:

Yeah, I did.

Erica:

And so tell me about your evolution. It's probably, you know, we all have different stories, but I'm going to guess that it's a little bit similar in what happened to me. And I would just love to know how you got started from being, say, , not to say it like this, but you know, just an interior designer into a green interior designer, what that evolution was like, and maybe how so, what was that leap that gap in your time period between designing and then getting into the waste. ,And then eventually the, and ingredients,,spect of, of your,amazing career.

Kim:

I think it probably started about 20 years ago, I was an interior designer and I got hired at a company called Collins and Aikman, which ended up being called Tandis and now charcat. And at the time that company offered a take back program for carpet recycled to be turned into, I think it was for every thousand yards you recycled, they would, they would give you a tree to plant somewhere for your clients. And I just love that story. And then based on that, that's how I got into the, into the refuse part of the thing. Then I was looking for places to recycle carpet and I got involved with the Illinois recycling association and, and those folks were passionate about the planet and doing the right thing. And they loved how this company would actually give you trees to plant. If you recycled your carpet, when you bought new carpet, they don't, I don't think they do. I don't think they do, but they recycle and divert thousands and thousands of pounds, of waste and discards now. So I'm really excited about, about the products they're offering and what they're doing to help alleviate some of that burden from, from our landfills.

Erica:

Absolutely. Absolutely. And what I would say is, and you can speak to this as in recycling, I think a lot of us you know, I immediately think of the benefit of things not going into the landfill, which has a number of environmental problems itself, but I also love that when you recycle materials and you create a product from these old materials, you are not creating demand for Virgin resources or new resources. And depending on what those carpet fibers or carpet pad fibers are made out of, depending on what it's going to be recycled into, you basically get to reduce your resource use in terms of energy, in terms of water. And in terms of those Virgin materials, which depending on what it's made out of could be petroleum based products. So we never want to create more demand for those. We never want to, well, we don't usually want to put those into production, which is, you know, a very intense process and,,not that great for the environment. So there's all these levels that comes into recycling. So it's not just keeping things out of the landfill, which was great of itself, but it's energy, it's water, it's Virgin material, it's processing and chemicals. So recycling and reusing and upcycling is this whole like beautiful ecosystem that I think is so important that I just wanted to make sure our listeners were aware of.

Kim:

I agree, a hundred percent. I think we need to be more conscious of what of what our footprint is. And part of that is taking back the products or reusing or reinventing them to reduce the demand for, for new materials that put such a strain on, on our planet. So,

Erica:

Absolutely. So in your world, what does eco-friendly interior design look like to you? Because this is such a new field. Everyone calls it something different. Everyone defines it as something a little bit different. And so I would just love to hear how, you know, what that all looks like and means to you, or another way of thinking of it. You could also tell us a little bit about what are your top three favorite ways to go green when you are working on a space?

Kim:

Well, we already touched on it a bit with the reduce, reuse and recycle. So that's really the first strategy. Can we, can we reduce the items that we're going to use or somehow reuse them or re-invent them for another purpose on the project or even the same purpose? It doesn't have to be a different purpose, but I think looking at the three hours first off is where I would go. And then secondly, I'd like to look at the VOC emissions and content because we are conscious of what we're putting in our breathing space, right. You know, we spend 80, they say 80% of your time indoors, but I think in I'm from the Chicago area and we have some lung winters, I think I probably spent over 90% or so. I like to look at things that are, aren't going to be emitting any toxins into the, the breathing space. So that's my second thing I look for. And then the last thing I like to look for is things with low carbon footprint and that, that data is really hard to come by, but it's getting easier and easier every day. So it's hard just to pick a top three, because depending on what you're looking at, they might not have that criteria or they might have different criteria that you might want to look at.

Erica:

Absolutely. And you really touched on it. Green design is half science, half art. So it's this interesting melting pot of if this, then this kind of thing, but those are the, those are great. Tips, can you maybe give us an example of, of something you have found recently or a company may be that is showing you their carbon footprint and what that all would look like

Kim:

There let's see steel came up we use a lot of steel in some of the larger buildings that we design. So our company, not only designs,spaces, but we also build them. And sometimes we build spaces that we don't design that other people have designed. So,it, it's interesting to see how all the different facets work together, but we were just talking about steel and how you can exponentially reduce your carbon footprint just by picking, r, or engineering. You're building to use smaller members of steel because larger members come from China. So they have a higher carbon footprint regardless of the manufacturing process, just by the fact that they have somehow get here. So I think you could extrapolate that into many things. If they have to come over the ocean to get here, their carbon footprint is going to be much larger. So try to buy local, try to use your local makers, as you were saying, try to find things that are made in North America or at least on this continent. And we do have a lot of manufacturing here. So there's a lot of opportunity just to dig into that well for materials. So I think we could all reduce our carbon footprint and more ways than just the built environment, but just in the food and the clothing that you purchased.

Erica:

Oh, absolutely. I think that is the, the perfect tip or strategy to round out the top three local. So we hear this a lot in the agriculture industry, the food industry buy local, go to your farmer's market. And I wonder if people even realize environmentally what that means socioeconomically in the ag sense. And then when you take that into another industry, so in ours and interior design and home furnishings and finishes local would mean not only are you socio not economically helping to support the local economy and small business, which is fabulous, but environmentally when you buy local, no matter what it is, that part of the life cycle. So when we take a product, anything from its inception, through the raw materials, all the way through its end of life, when it's going into the waste stream, or hopefully not. But the transportation part is a big piece of that puzzle.

Erica:

And so when you are buying local, if it has a couple of miles to get to you or 50 or a thousand, that's definitely better than 4,006,000 miles. And it also changes the type of transportation. So we might be looking at ships and airplanes versus local trucks or natural gas trucks, or any number of types of transportation, as well as the distance. So transportation, carbon emissions is a sneaky part of the life cycle, especially of home furnishings and finishes because you don't even really think about that. Like, how is it getting to me? I ordered it on Wayfair and it showed up. So if you can avoid that and go to your local makers is such a big piece of the puzzle that is often overlooked. So I think that that is a really good point that you brought bring up

Kim:

Or just even asking where does this come from? And that might inform your next decision, right? Like maybe I can find that in the continental United States or North America.

Erica:

Absolutely. Yes. So here's the question for you? What would you personally like to see more of in the interior design industry, in its shift towards going green? And if you could have a say in what that will look like, and what's most important to focus on what would you want to see have happened?

Kim:

Well, I know that the AIA 2030 challenge has been out there for awhile and they've talked about lighting power reductions and just a 25% reduction can have such a great impact on the energy use intensity for all of our buildings. And by reducing that we can, we can actually reduce our carbon footprint as well. So I think I'd like to see more projects participating in AIA 2030 challenge and buildings, interior spaces be more conscious of the amount of energy intensity that they are using. So I think for the interiors industry that kind of flows along as well with net zero buildings and then healthier materials, right? Try to, and we need to ask manufacturers to do that for us because no one is going to protect us from bad actors or bad materials being in our spaces. It's going to be up to the consumers to ask for the products to be healthier

Erica:

100%. I couldn't agree with you more. I think you just hit on a topic that I'm very passionate about, which is nobody is looking out for the average consumer in terms of, well, quite a lot of things, to be honest, but in our context of the conversation, what we're bringing into our homes and our workplaces and our gyms and our daycares, there's no overarching gain government or a branch of government that is looking at everything from beds to tile, to couches, to lamps, to flooring and seeing, Oh, you can't bring that in here. You can't import that. Or you can't use that in the, in the production. Not, not 100%. There's about like five or 10 chemicals that are not allowed to be used because they're known percentage ends. And so they're outlawed in this country, but that's it out of about maybe a hundred thousand chemicals that have been invented since world war II. So

Kim:

They're creating more and more new chemicals every day that we don't know anything about. So we don't know anything

Erica:

About them. They're not tested and nobody cares if they're in any product that you bring into your home. So just from a health point of view and Joe go on a quick side, tangent health is something that everybody can relate to and get on board with good health for ourselves. Our kids, no matter who you are or what you believe everyone gets, that feels that that's a basic human right, is to want to be healthy and have the chance to be healthy. So that is a great way to get people who otherwise aren't so green or don't get it onboard is with the health aspect. And so going back to what we're bringing in, unfortunately no one is watching out for you. So you have to be your own best advocate or hire a pro who knows what they're doing in terms of bringing things into your home, because you would think that you go to the store, whether that's a grocery store or a home design store.

Erica:

And surely the thing on the shelf is safe because it would have had to go through some process, or this is the United States of America is truly like, we're not going to let any of these like bad things happen to us, but unfortunately there's just no resources or pressure on any sort of, you know, governmental system to do such a thing. So we're still fighting for things like transparency and understanding in the food industry and in some other industries. And so right now in the, the design, the furnishings the finishes industries, we have to definitely be our own advocates and make sure that we're doing the research and we're educating ourselves. You bringing that up is critical and something I'm really passionate about because I think it's one of the biggest misconceptions out there that someone's paying attention. I agree. Yeah.

Kim:

So you got to watch out for yourself and for your clients

Erica:

And you got to watch out. Yep. You got to, got to take that on board, do the research. You have to find awesome groups, like mindful materials, all those kinds of things that are going to help along the way. Okay. So this is a fun question. This is the happy, positive question, which is what positive green changes have you seen in the industry you've been doing into your design for a long time. You have done so many educational certifications along the way. You've had so much experience. So I think you've seen the industry go through a few phases and I'd love to know what you see within like the past few, five years. What kind of great changes you've seen?

Kim:

Well, I, I think not just to promote mindful materials again, but I think in general data aggregation so that we are more aware of the consequences of our decisions and the ingredients that we use in our products. I think just asking the question, where is it made? How is it made? Where does it come from? What is in that? Do you have flame, retardants are fallates or perfluorinated chemicals? I think the consumer's asking the manufacturers that, and the tools that we have to aggregate the data and actually find out what we are creating and how we can do it better and less, less with less toxicity, with more energy efficiency. There, there are just so many good computing tools out there to help us with that. And along with that there's better energy modeling software out there. That's I dunno if it's easier to use it doesn't it seems to always get a little harder, but there's better data coming out of it so that, you know, we can, we can figure out what our predicted energy use intensity is and how can we make that better.

Kim:

And then just the, the metrics that come out of the, the equipment that's supplied by the providers of, of our fans and our lighting and our HPAC, which tend to be the bigger energy users in our spaces, but, you know, how can we get those fans to operate more efficiently so that they use less energy? How can we insulate better so that we don't have to use as much air conditioning or heating depending on what kind of climate you're in. So there's just a lot of good data aggregation tools. Now we have to just figure out how to use them properly and efficiently and to the best end so that we can come up with what we predicted is what we're building, absolutely minimizing that, minimizing that gap. Right,

Erica:

Right. And so that's, again, a perfect point that you make, you can't fix what you don't track, or you can't see the problem. So in this day and age, it of course makes sense to apply all of these amazing softwares and tools and data aggregation and smart people who understand how to work these things and put that all together, to be able to identify the problem and then see the best way forward in terms of fixing those problems. And so being able to use the amazing tools that we have this day and age, I think is sums it up perfectly because you can't, you can't fix what you are not tracking right, right. Monitoring or paying attention to. So that is a great point. Is there anything else that we haven't covered that I didn't ask you, that you would love anyone listening to know about what you're working on and what's important to you that you'd like to share?

Kim:

Well, I think I'm reaching out to your local community and trying to have a positive impact where you live is important. And sometimes it feels like we don't have enough just to do our day jobs, but if you have any time and you want to give back to your community, could have exponential, local impact and, and the folks that, that you live with and that you that are part of your community. So I would strongly recommend it. It's thoroughly fulfilling and it's fun to watch things happen on a local level and right in your own backyard.

Erica:

Absolutely. Maybe you could tell us a little bit about what that looks like for you,

Kim:

With my involvement, with the Westmont environmental improvement commission. We, we sat down as a community group and we took a look at a number of impacts that we wanted to make for our community and being a B in volunteers as a challenge, because you only have so many hours, but we all had a bus. There were a lot of great minds in that room and they all had a lot of great ideas. We just need more bandwidth. So that's one of the bigger challenges, but we, we had some good outcomes. Some of we still have challenges with, we wanted to get higher recycling and diversion rates in our own community. We wanted to implement composting. And we just had a lot of negativity around that. And I thought, wow, that would be so easy to do. And other communities around us had done it, but for some reason maybe or more conservative group, we didn't want to do that.

Kim:

So, but I, I did see a survey come out this summer, asking folks if they were interested in composting against, so maybe it's just going to take some attrition for, for new people to move in or younger people to move in. And, and some of the others are hybrid or migrating to warmer climates. I don't know. Maybe we need some fresh blood to kind of influence that, but it's, it's just, it's interesting to see how, how your community works or doesn't work. We initiated a rain barrel program, native planting sale. We had it was pretty successful and helped raise money for the Richmond education garden, which had a number of beehives on it. So we're growing our own bees and the community, this, this particular center will teach children about their community and how water conservation and so forth native plants and things like that. So it's been a long process.

Erica:

Well, I think again, you've hit the nail on the head in terms of a great suggestion to start local. And so whether that is a broader environmental initiative, like the one that you are involved in, which I commend you for, or whether it is focused in the design and architecture and building industry here raise good points. And even being able to translate that to the industry, asking your local community, to do paint recycling, to have carpet recycling programs, to start coalitions for things like that, to start a local meetup of local interior designers that want to help green the industry and architects and builders. So we can bring a community of people together even health professionals that understand the importance of lowering toxicity and VOC. So I think you bring up again, such a great point, starting local, see what kind of shifts you can make. And the people that are out there that you can collaborate with, which is a big part of starting this podcast. So once again, you've totally hit the nail on the head. Thank you for sharing that with us. And lastly, I just want to know where one place is that our listeners can reach out to you if they have any questions or just want to say, Hey

Kim:

You can reach out to my email, which is K a L one hundred@comcast.net. And if you have any questions about mindful materials, I'd love to help you.

Erica:

Thank you so much for sharing. You are a wealth of knowledge and you're so right, and everything that you shared and you just have so much of it to share. So I was really excited to talk to you. Thank you for agreeing to do this with me, and we will have to catch you next time.

Kim:

All right. Thanks so much for the opportunity to hang out with you this afternoon."


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