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Not Greenwashed: DIRTT Environmental's Upstart Sustainability

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Doing It Right This Time is a simple slogan that says so much; it's also the acronym that makes up green modular design firm, DIRTT Environmental. The company specializes in the creation of both residential and corporate interiors with sustainable materials that are completely customized (to eliminate error that leads to waste in the production phase) and reconfigurable. Despite its strides in design, DIRTT considers itself a tech company above all else. Their patented ICE Software program allows DIRTT to work with architects and clients to create 3D renderings, complete with material selection and price adjustments before production occurs. Owner and creator, Mogens Smed, has a background in modular design. DIRTT has one goal: to create a new level of sustainability within the real estate world.

We'd say that Mogens doing a pretty good job of achieving that goal: DIRTT was recognized in June 2012 by Fast Company magazine as a 'Rockstar of the New Economy' for the strides they've made in simultaneously growing their company and their social impact— they doubled revenue since 2007 and have recycled over 61 million pounds of gasoline, 34 million kwH of electricity, and 81,000 barrels of oil. Sarah Putnam, a member of the DIRTT team and recent design school grad, gave us a tour of the offices and explained, "'Custom' is DIRTT's standard, design wise. We have a small footprint. We don't have a warehouse of parts and pieces like Ikea."

The offices are across from the Merchandise Mart, ten flights above the river. We mused to ourselves during the tour that the office was "like the future", and for good reason. Sarah described the benefits of hospital units DIRTT is designing across the globe. A backbone of DIRTT's designs is the use of "Antlers", small hangers which have the ability to hold mass amounts of weight. From them, in this specific instance customized for optimization in health care, suites are outfitted with iPod docks, modular glass, touch operated systems, foldable bed systems, and medical gases implanted into the wall. DIRTT has a No Dry Wall rule, one we quite liked.

One of DIRTT's main priorities is to create spaces that are completely customized and have the ability to reconfigure to any of the client's requirements. As we walked around the offices she pointed out features like Living Walls featuring water-saving drip irrigation systems, DIRTT's patented power system, the use of modular paneling for art and murals, and a full service wine cellar incorporated into the walls (if that's not innovation, we don't know what is).

DIRTT is not operating on a LEED scale. Sarah explained that the LEED point scale is a system for profit and gives points based on initial elements of design but, ""LEED doesn't look at a building after the construction is finished," instead allowing developers to score points with small additions like bike racks. We learned that much landfill waste can be traced to the reconfiguration of buildings, making DIRTT's ICE Software and individualistic sustainable designs just the thing to tackle that problem. Sarah summed up DIRTT's objective as such: "We're hoping to change the whole perspective on construction. DIRTT hopes to look at sustainability from a different point of view, by creating solutions that don't need to be recycled and eliminate the waste from that." Pretty promising stuff.

—Arabella Watters

·Official Site: DIRTT Environmental Solutions