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HOK’s Sustainable Material Tracking: A Journey Toward Healthier Space

Through an innovative, data-driven approach, a dedicated team within HOK's Interiors group is pioneering a new way to integrate human health and environmental impacts into every stage of the material selection process.

The interior design choices we make have profound implications that extend far beyond aesthetics. Toxic chemicals leach into our indoor environments, excessive carbon emissions exacerbate climate change and unethical sourcing practices enable human rights violations and ecosystem destruction. Yet, while the impacts of conventional material cycles are multidimensional and far-reaching, designers have often struggled to balance sustainability considerations against factors like cost, performance requirements and aesthetic vision.

In 2020, HOK launched a Sustainable Material Tracking initiative that challenges the status quo for interior design. Through rigorous analysis of a product’s embodied carbon, chemical hazards and circularity potential, this data-driven initiative empowers our designers to seamlessly integrate environmental and human health impacts into the design process.

At the heart of this initiative are proprietary digital tools that provide designers with a wealth of sustainability metrics, enabling us to make informed decisions. HOK also has forged strategic partnerships and open dialogues with dozens of major product manufacturers. Through this industry-wide collaboration, we share sustainability data, explore challenges and gain insights into product improvement roadmaps. This synergy allows us to continuously refine and strengthen our approach.

A dedicated team of 30 Sustainable Liaisons leads our efforts to educate and empower a firm-wide network of over 300 designers across HOK’s 26 global offices. Their mission: to champion healthy, ethically sourced materials on every project.

Tangible and Measurable Progress

The impact of this initiative is tangible and continues to gain momentum. Since 2021, the number of HOK projects using our Sustainable Material Tracking system has grown nearly 400% to encompass 134 projects in 2023, representing 46% of all our interior work.

Last year alone, we comprehensively assessed 5,886 materials against robust sustainability criteria:

  • 60% had rigorous Environmental Product Declarations disclosing embodied carbon impacts.
  • 42% achieved stringent third-party certifications as healthy materials.
  • 81% were certified as low-emitting to protect indoor air quality.
  • 40% contained recycled content from circular manufacturing.
  • An impressive 95% used FSC-certified wood from responsibly managed forests.
  • 20% were categorized as Re-Use or Bio-Based materials.

Our sophisticated digital dashboards continuously analyze this ever-growing dataset, identifying areas for improvement through targeted designer training and strategic engagement with manufacturers.

From Benchmarking to Leadership

Our transformation has been an iterative process of continuous learning and refinement. Even as we established initial benchmarks, we quickly learned to identify greenwashing—superficial sustainability claims made by some product manufacturers that failed to meet our elevated standards. This experience drove us to elevate our criteria further, equipping our teams to look beyond misleading marketing and demand genuine sustainability from them.

In 2024, HOK is amplifying our impact and advocacy efforts to catalyze positive change across the entire interior design profession. We’re presenting our work at major events, including the Metropolis Summit, Mindful Materials Forum and the Shaw Carpet Sustainability Leaders Workshop. Simultaneously, we’re forging partnerships with leading organizations, including the International Interior Design Association (IIDA), the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) and the Interior Design Council (IDC), to embed sustainability and ethics into the fundamental codes that guide interior design practice.

Driven by a hybrid approach combining strong executive leadership and a grassroots adoption strategy, this initiative demonstrates that responsible design can become the industry norm rather than an exception.

Ultimately, our vision extends beyond the present. We are proud to be one of the first signatories to the American Institute Architects’ 2030 Challenge, a commitment to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from new buildings. Our Sustainable Material Tracking initiative will help us achieve a zero-emissions portfolio by—or even before—2030.

In the face of escalating ecological crises and social injustices tightly intertwined with conventional production practices, we practice sustainable design as an ethical obligation. It’s also just good business for us and our clients. We want to shape a future where the spaces people inhabit actively contribute to the well-being of both planet and people—because sustainable design is not just the right thing to do, it’s the only way forward.

Let's Connect

For more information about HOK’s Sustainable Material Tracking program or how we design for human and environmental health, please reach out to:

Elizabeth Baxter
Senior Sustainable Design Specialist – Houston
Sustainable Initiative Leader

Christine Vandover
Principal / Senior Project Interior Designer – New York
Sustainable Initiative Leader

Candon Murphy
Firmwide Material Resource Manager – New York

Kelly Jordan
Senior Project Interior Designer – Toronto
Sustainable Liaison Leader

Merissa Reed
Interior Designer – Ottawa
Sustainable Liaison Leader

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