Taking a holistic approach to in-terior design and manufacturing is the best strategy to satisfy the sometimes conflicting needs of end consumers, auto maker customers and environmentalists, say conference panelists.

Ken Gassman, engineering group manager-Inteva Products LLC, points out some years ago many auto makers shifted away from the use of vinyl in vehicle interiors because of environmental concerns about its chemical makeup.

The unintended consequence of this shift to alternative materials was that the manufacturing processes used to make them turned out to be energy intensive and environmentally dirty.

These types of tradeoffs are common and need to be addressed with processes such as total lifecycle analysis, panelists say. TLA assesses a product's impact on the environment from manufacture to the end of its life.

Vehicles now do quite well in such assessments, says Jay Hutchins, product planning manager-Faurecia North America Inc.

About 85% of vehicles by weight are recycled, leaving only 15% ending up in a landfill. That's a better recycling rate than most other products, he says.

Even so, most of the non-recyclable materials are in the vehicle interior. It is possible that in a TLA assessment a gas guzzler with a highly recyclable, environmentally friendly interior might fare better than a fuel-sipper with a conventional interior, Hutchins says.

Lightweight, highly recyclable interior materials made from wood fiber, instead of plastic, are in production and available today, he adds.

The convergence of environmentalism and high fashion presents yet another challenge to interior designers, says Jeanette Puig-Pey, senior color and trim designer-Lear Corp.

Fashion designers now are raiding landfills and creating expensive clothing and accessories from seat fabrics taken from buses and trains built in the 1970s and '80s. Another is making handbags from reclaimed fire hoses.

Even though they are made from recycled materials, they are fun, colorful and fashionable, creating new challenges for designers.