In May, Plant Solutions accepted the coveted Living Product Challenge Petal Certification for its MossWallArt™—the first and only interior art offering to be granted petal certification. But what exactly does this certification represent, and how does it pave the way for the next frontier of design? Let’s dive in.
Pairing less harm with more good.
“We should be making buildings in a way that isn’t just a little less toxic, a little less problematic,” explains Alexandra Muller of International Living Future Institute (ILFI)—an organization that has long served as a catalyst for healthy and sustainable building design. “We know how to build them in a way that gives back and has a positive impact.”
Launched in 2014, the Living Product Challenge applies the International Living Future Institute’s holistic perspective on sustainable building design to individual products.
The rigorous certification program asks companies to first ensure that their products are free of red list ingredients—ones that have been shown to build up in the environment and cause harm over time. Then, they are to work with third-party verifiers to measure the net impact of the product across key areas. How much water goes into its creation? How are its materials sourced? How much energy does it require? Answering these questions with certainty is an involved process, made even trickier by the numerous supply chains often involved.
From there, The Living Product Challenge asks companies to develop something known as a “handprint”.
“We’ve been looking at footprints for so long and thinking we have to shrink them, but you can never get your footprint to zero. As you continue to shrink your footprint, you kind of have diminishing returns in some ways,” Muller explains of the handprint philosophy, which was inspired by the work of world-renowned lifecycle assessment specialist Greg Norris. “He thought we were leaving out this whole world of possibility: Handprints are what we give back.”
Introducing the concept of hand printing paves the way for companies to think creatively about how they can be real forces of good in the world. “It has inspired a lot of creativity, a lot of out-of-the-box thinking, a lot of different partnerships,” Muller says, citing examples like Mohawk Flooring’s recent installation of smartflower solar panels that move in tandem with the sun to boost energy creation. Mohawk strategically placed the panels in 10 impoverished cities across the U.S. and is using them as educational tools to further amplify impact. “You need to think about where to place these positive impacts—how can something be even more beneficial when you think about who will be affected by it?”
This notion of reducing negative impact while finding new ways to create a positive legacy is unique and exciting, and it could have far-reaching effects on the design industry.
“We want to flip the script on sustainability—I hope the program becomes the gold standard,” explains Muller, who has watched the certification grow and attract companies across a variety of categories, from building materials and textiles to electronics and cleaning products, since its founding in 2014. “We’re not letting anybody off the hook when we think about handprints. We still need to shrink our impact but if we can create a more inspiring framework, we could have so much more impact and collaboration over a shorter period of time.”
The story behind MossWallArt’s certification
Plant Solutions was an early supporter of the certification, and founder Joe Zazzera has shown an unwavering dedication to get MossWallArt up to the program’s advanced sustainability standards.
“There was no barrier that came up that was too big,” Muller says of Zazzera. “He said he wanted his product to be the best it could be, so if there was something that had to change, he said let’s just change it. Let’s just do it.”
First, Zazzera got Plant Solutions certified by the JUST program, another ILFI initiative that designates organizations showing a strong commitment to environmental stewardship and employee well-being. Then came time to dive deeper into each and every material used in the company’s signature MossWallArt, tracing them back to the source and ensuring that all production processes were not just easy on the environment—but ultimately beneficial for it.
Zazzera didn’t hesitate to make major changes to the art’s structure in the name of full transparency. He got all of the wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (meaning it was harvested using best practices that respect old-growth forests and rare species) and began using mycelium, a renewable mushroom material, in the board. He was even willing to swap his moss supplier in favor of one who had all of the necessary sourcing information.
“For a product that’s mostly bio-based, you would think that nothing would come up with materials but it’s pretty incredible how difficult it is to get information about different components from your supply chain,” Muller explains. “Sometimes when you have to purchase something from say Home Depot, and you don’t know where it’s coming from or how to get that information.”
To further expand its handprint, Plant Solutions now gives money to local organizations McDowell Sonoran Conservancy, a local environmental conservancy, and Free Arts Arizona, which gets homeless children involved with therapeutic arts, donates showerheads to those in need to offset water use, and prioritizes employee well-being with perks like in-office meditation spaces.
“I think the product really embodies the program in a number of ways,” Muller asserts.
In a world where more and more products are touting green accolades, MossWallArt’s Living Product Challenge label is truly the gold standard—an example of staunch dedication to craft in the name of nature.