The Value of Sustainable Credentials: Practitioners’ Perceptions for Sustainable Design Knowledge

Presented by: Amanda Gale, Stephanie Sickler, Charles Ford

There is a clear demand for those practicing interior design, regardless of the design specialization, to be knowledgeable of sustainable design strategies. Sustainable design is continuing to grow as an industry with the expectation of achieving $132 billion in the commercial market and $115 billion in the residential market in 2016 (McGraw Hill, 2012). Sustainable design content is addressed in the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA) standards, the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) examination, and the Interior Design Profession’s Body of Knowledge (CIDA, 2014; Guerin & Martin, 2010). However, there is a lack of information regarding practitioners’ expectations of sustainable education of emerging professionals and those seeking internships. Therefore, the purpose of this exploratory study was 1) to determine what interior design practitioners’ value in regard to the sustainable education of emerging professionals and student interns and 2) to ascertain characteristics that affect the perceived level of worth of sustainability knowledge. Previous studies conducted include the importance of sustainable design to the profession (Sorrento, 2012), what practitioners deem as important influencers to sustainability (DesignIntelligence, 2015) and the interior designer’s role within the integrated design approach (Theodorson, 2014). According to DesignIntelligence (2015) the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Accredited Professional (AP) is considered the most important sustainability credential for practitioners. Furthermore, design for health and sustainability education were reported as the two most influential factors affecting sustainable design in the industry. As the profession continues to evolve, interior designers will be expected to have extensive, yet diverse knowledge, in order to participate on interdisciplinary sustainable projects (Theodorson, 2014). The cross-sectional survey utilized a purposive sample of interior designers who belonged to a southern chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID). The questionnaire was disseminated through the professional organization to members in August 2015. The 20- item instrument included the following factors: practitioner characteristics, firm characteristics, sustainability preparedness, and familiarity of sustainable achievements. Key findings indicate that practitioners value a well-rounded knowledge of sustainability, however, having obtained the LEED AP is not considered important. When looking at the differences between what practitioners value in regard to interns versus emerging professionals, 78% of respondents consider it either important or highly important for emerging professionals as oppose to 73% for interns. Practitioners also assign higher value to obtaining the LEED Green Associate for emerging professionals than interns at 30% versus 19%. These findings are an encouraging look into the value placed on sustainable design knowledge, especially as they represent viewpoints from practitioners in an area not generally regarded for its emphasis on sustainable design. This research supports the need for sustainable content to be covered in the curriculum. For educators, this means at a minimum upper levels students need to have a well-rounded understanding of sustainable design. Providing students with knowledge on practitioners’ expectations can reinforce the importance of sustainability credentialing. These findings may lead to establishing precedence to expand the CIDA standards to include greater specificity to sustainable content. It is hoped that this study will help to update sustainable design curriculum models and serve as a foundation for continued research in the field.


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