How to be more Sustainable with your Interior Design Choices
Sustainable, eco-friendly, green, they’re all the same thing, right? Nope. While they’re all positive moves in the right direction, there’s a big difference in their meanings. While eco-friendly products are better for the environment than ‘regular’ versions of the same; and ‘green’ practices try to minimise any negative impact on the environment, sustainability is all about the future. Much more than just recycling, it’s an ethos that ensures our choices and actions today don’t compromise the lives of future generations.
It’s ironic that sustainability in building design and architecture is fast becoming adopted as industry standards, whereas their bedfellow, interior design, is still unregulated and, if anything, has helped to fuel consumption and a disposable culture that contradicts the aim of sustainability to use the planet’s natural resources diligently. The UK is attempting to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2050, so along with every other sector, interior design needs to pull its socks up and get on board before its reputation is tarnished (I’m looking at you, fashion industry!) Happily, many interior designers are doing just that.
Sustainability in interior design is about focusing our design principles on the bigger picture to help reduce energy consumption, pollution and waste. It’s about creating functional, aesthetically pleasing, stylish interiors with one eye on a positive future; being conscious about consumption to minimise impact on the environment; and designing for longevity, not just for trends. So, what can we do to put this into practice? Here are my top three things that help me make sustainable choices for my clients:
1 . Materials
Depending on the project, some of this may have been already taken care of by an architect, but if not, the materials used internally vary greatly in their environmental impact. For example, consider the different supply chains of locally quarried stone against marble imported from Italy. Similarly, the waste products in the production of regular loft insulation compared to the natural wool version are incredible. Selecting formaldehyde free plywood for surfaces; organic, water-based paint that has fewer toxins; and sustainable fabrics that aren’t chemically dyed are all positive choices you can make that will preserve global habitats by minimising water waste, limiting pesticide use, or restricting deforestation.
Where your design materials and the items you choose for your home physically come from can have a significant impact on sustainability. In the same way that the provenance of food has become an important consideration for restaurants, we need to consider how far our purchases are travelling: shipping long distances requires more fuel, more packaging and more labour. Wood is a great example of this. In the UK, we import 90% of our wood. Even though it might be from a sustainable forest on the label, that’s negated somewhat if the forest is in Denmark. Look out for the logo of the FSC (Forestry Stewardship Council) when buying wood as they are an international non-profit that will give you the most sustainable options.
The same principles apply with the furniture and products we buy, which brings me onto their longevity and how to replace them less often and reduce our waste. Given trends come and go, why not consider a classic, more neutral design for larger items? For example, sofas going to landfill sites is costly all round, but many can be re-upholstered or restored to suit a new décor scheme, rather than rejected. It requires a mindset change, I admit, but it’s a much more environmentally friendly, sustainable way to style your interior.
3. Light & Heat
Again, this may be something to consider if it’s a larger refurb project that involves a build, but as well as the insulation we mentioned above, solar panels are becoming increasingly affordable and easy to install. Who wouldn’t want to heat their home for free and move away from other sources of energy with these two options in place? Secondly, when it comes to power usage for lighting, we’ve addressed this in previous blogs, but making the best use of natural daylight is an interior designer’s very first thought for a new project. It doesn’t matter if it means laying out a room completely differently, harnessing that natural light is a must. After that, a low energy lighting plan is a great idea. Analysing what goes on where throughout the house and providing lighting specific to tasks or usage is an energy efficient move that we should all be making.
Interiors journalist and writer Kate Watson-Smyth of Mad About the House has had the brilliant idea to compile a directory of companies that are ‘generally trying to do less harm’. From wood flooring to aluminium can radiators, rugs made from recycled bottles, carpets, kitchens, paint, wallpaper, fabric and soft furnishings. It’s a pretty long list but she says "it won’t be complete until we can add every company making anything to do with the home". Have a look here, and enjoy some of the images of these sustainable products below.