Expert Interview: Candon Murphy


A determined and enthusiastic design professional with a background in industrial design and interior architecture, Candon Murphy delivers exceptional work across a variety of markets including healthcare and corporate interiors. She is currently a LEED® Green Associate™ professional pursuing more certifications as a part of her full-time role as a Sustainable Building Advisor and materials specialist for the Dallas office of Perkins&Will.


Candon expands her sustainable influence beyond the firm; offering her expertise through providing an additional lens into the community and organizations that seek to improve sustainable design. Candon brings a well-rounded set of expertise to her projects, with an explorative and researched-base process that is engaging, thoughtful, and communicative.


SM: What is your role and how long have you worked in it?

CM: I am a sustainable building advisor at Perkins&Will but new to this role and only 6 months into focusing exclusively on sustainability. However, I have been a material specialist with a priority in sustainability for 9 years. My career began working in interior design at Callison, where I got to explore my passion for materiality on the side and be influenced by many folks with a large breadth of expertise around the firm. Then, pivoted to work on materiality at Starbucks which is where I started diving into sustainability from a materiality perspective very deeply. I was lucky to be able to work closely with a LEED fellow there and he introduced me to people who were focusing on industry-wide initiatives in healthy materials and my knowledge and resources grew exponentially. When I heard from a former colleague about an opportunity for a large Seattle-based firm called MG2 to work as a librarian, materials specialist, and help push some sustainability initiatives, I jumped on the opportunity and spent 5 years there. Now, I am so grateful to be honing my specialty even further full-time with this move to Perkins&Will.


SM: Why do healthier materials matter to you?


“We have so much power in our roles, why not do better if we have an opportunity to do so. Why would you actively choose to put something into a space that humans will occupy that could potentially harm them? If you have the ability to choose something that will not, why would you choose something that would? It is just logic to me but the more you know, the more you can’t ignore that there are decisions that we make in the architecture and design industry that affect humans and the environment at huge scales.  

SM:  Describe your approach to materials, your process and any tools you use to inform yourself.

CM: Currently, in my process, I am deep in chemicals. I live in Pharos now. Before, I did not have the level of education and experience I have now and relied more on databases that provide transparency. 


I think you want to first look for transparency. I’ve worked with enough manufacturers over the years that I know if they’re not being open, they are hiding something. The first step is to ask for transparency, then, learn how to compare and contrast these things. 


There are a lot of places to get your transparency from.  Databases like Mindful Materials and Sustainable Minds are a good place to start. The Healthy Materials Lab at Parsons is a wonderful place to build your knowledge. I think they’re doing some of the best work in the world right now on healthy materials. You learn your resources as you go but must also make sure that your resources are not green-washed.  

SM: What are some strategies or facts you use to advocate for healthier, more sustainable materials in your projects?

CM: The six classes of chemicals defined by the Green Science Policy Institute to avoid is where I would recommend to begin, especially if you are trying to understand why we avoid certain chemicals or items. From there,  move onto other red lists. We use Health Product Declarations (HPDs) to gain insight into the products… and the great news is that the newest version of HPDs disclose if a certain chemical is on the ILFI Red List or the Perkins&Will Precautionary List so it can take a step out of the research process. Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) are used to measure embodied carbon and we use these, Sustainable Minds, and EC3 to help us translate where a product’s carbon footprint falls on a range of current available data. There are also a myriad of other sustainable certifications that help us in the selection process and can disclose everything from VOC content to ethical sourcing practices. All of these tools help us make decisions.


SM: What do you think is the most important language or standard to include in your spec for healthier buildings

CM: I spent a lot of time reviewing specs, looking at specs, helping to edit specs, and helping to write them for building certifications. If you don’t write it into the spec, they’re not going to do it. 

“I am a huge fan of a minimum performance standard. If you are not calling out specific products, if you do not say this has to meet CDPH, they will not find it. It’s so easy to just put that bullet point in there. Specs are contractual, binding documents and you cannot make any progress if you do not tell them what you are seeking as a specifier.”

SM: Have you worked on any projects that prioritized healthy materials?  What worked well and what challenges did you run into? What are some of your biggest lessons learned?

CM: I have worked on lots of projects and helped many clients prioritize healthier materials over the years. This ranges from green building certifications to clients who just want to do better in their built environment. That is what I do exclusively now, helping designers and clients find healthy materials. The challenge is that if you have a client who doesn’t care, you are not going to get anywhere with them if you start preaching about sustainability. 

“For some clients the perception is that sustainability comes at an extra cost, and that is no longer true. The biggest lesson that I’ve learned is that regardless of any goals that the client has, if you know it’s the right material for the project and there’s no cost difference – just do it. Another tip is to consider  what else you can justify first that is a priority and then give them the “and”. “Not only is this material in budget, in state, stock but it has no VOCs and it has a low carbon footprint compared to baseline…”

SM: Do you have any advice for those who are currently working in the healthy building movement?

CM: It is so easy to get overwhelmed and feel tired if you are just getting started. You cannot learn everything fast and that is ok. I recommend that you take baby steps. This is a marathon, not a race. If you are stepping into the industry straight out of college, you’ve got 40 years to study and learn about this. 

“You are going to find strategies and you are going to make a big difference. I remember I had an existential crisis and my mentor said that every decision that you are making is affecting hundreds of square feet out there. If you lose on one thing but win on a different thing, you are still affecting hundreds of square feet. You are going to have losses and you are going to have to argue with people. You can’t learn everything at once but also it will get easier over time.”