Sustainability in Interior Design

welcoming in the spring

Hot on the heels of Greta Thunberg’s visit to Downing Street and the stark warnings of Sir David Attenborough in ’Climate Change: The Facts’, the UK Parliament today declared an ‘environment and climate emergency’ and has pledged to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2050. 

While legislative change is necessary to encourage Big Business to take action, from the ground up many people are quietly re-evaluating different parts of their life and are making incremental changes for the better.  From food and fashion choices to travel and tourism habits consumers (that’s you and I folks) are slowly driving change through more considered purchasing choices. 

Speaking with local architects recently, it seems that sustainability in building design is pretty much industry standard, with most practices embracing it as part of their business model. It’s what forward thinking clients expect and goes without saying when commissioning a building design these days. But while there are quiet rumblings amongst the interior design community, it seems the wider interior design industry has yet to catch up.

 “There’s this very vulnerable planet of ours with finite resources. Architects and designers have, I think, a fair responsibility for conserving energy and materials and making things durable.”    Robin Day

Robin Day was the industrial designer best known for the injection-moulded polypropylene* stacking chair, so iconic it instantly transports us back to long, hot, seemingly-endless summer days cooped up in the classroom. He probably didn’t realise it back then, but was is a sustainability pioneer.  Built into his design DNA, Day’s design rules were the guiding principles that informed every part of his work.  Each piece he created had to have functionality of use; elegance in form; sustainability and responsibility of material usage; and economy of price.

His position perfectly encapsulates the obligation interior designers and place makers have today, to design responsibly and advise accordingly.

So, what exactly is Sustainability?

It’s important to understand the difference between the terms sustainable, eco-friendly and green. Often used interchangeably but not synonymous, there are important differences to clear up. 

According to the FT Lexicon, sustainability is “a state in which the demands placed on the environment can be met without reducing its capacity to allow all people to live well, now and in the future.”

While working towards a more sustainable world may include choosing eco-friendly products over other alternatives, sustainability may mean not shopping at all!  

If something is eco-friendly, in basic terms it means it can demonstrate that it is generally better for the environment than comparable products.  It means that the product has been through a voluntary certification process that allows it to use a label on its packaging. You can read more about that here. Being eco-friendly and carrying an eco-label does not necessarily mean that a product is sustainable.

Green is a broad term for describing things and practices that don’t have a negative impact on the environment.  From building design and energy supply to fashion labels and cleaning products. We can ‘be more green’ by reducing, re-using and recycling.  We can ‘be more green’ by making considered choices.   

Consuming responsibly by opting for eco-friendly products and being more green in our actions will help us to lead healthier and more sustainable lives.  Sustainability is a mind-set. It is a lifestyle choice where our actions today do not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

A conscious consumer knows how to read labels and makes informed choices based on research.  A conscious consumer is not motivated by convenience but is more thoughtful and considered in their purchasing habits, often prepared to spend a little more or go out of their way to ensure that their choice has a positive effect on people and the environment. To the thoughtful consumer often ‘less is more’.  Thoughtful consumption is about not following trends. Nor is it about keeping up with the Jones’s.

What is Sustainable Interior Design?

Sustainable interior design is about creating interior environments using design principles such as functionality, accessibility, and aesthetics with a focus on people and planet.  Sustainable interior design is guided by environmental considerations to help reduce energy consumption, pollution and waste.

Gone are the days when being sustainable conjured up images of reusing old roof tiles, making do and mending threadbare bedspreads and remodelling an old garden gate into a headboard.  Don’t get me wrong, these are all to be applauded and still hold true in creating a certain aesthetic but be aware, that today there are an ever-increasing range of design led products that allow you to create a modern and stylish look and still giving a fig!

How do you go about Sustainable Interior Design?

If you are building a home from scratch or adding to your existing home the chances are you will need the services of a qualified architect. Shop around and meet with a few before engaging the services of a professional who has sustainability at the core of their design thinking. Ask them about:

  1. Designing for energy efficiency 
  2. Designing for low environmental impact 
  3. Designing for waste reduction 

Many collaborate with interior designers or have their own interior design offering so you can benefit from expert advice to ensure that the whole of your project from design through to completion is as sustainable as possible. 

 

If you are remodelling, refitting or reappointing your home or workplace and want to do so consciously and sustainably, then you may choose to seek out an interior design professional (not one who retails and simply wants to sell you stuff) who will begin by advising you on how to make the most of what you have as a starting point. A responsible interior designer will give you advice on designing for longevity and flexibility, designing for a healthy environment and with low environmental impact whilst still helping you achieve your desired look and feel. 

Efficient use and future proofing of a space might include making doors wider than standard and floors flush throughout to allow future wheelchair access, orientating rooms so that they make best use of natural daylight or creating safe zones so that children can play while a parent works at a desk nearby.  

It is important that the choice of hard materials that make up the interior architecture are specified with the lowest possible environmental impact, such as natural wool insulation in a loft space, locally quarried stone for a kitchen floor or formaldehyde free plywood for a decorative interior surface.

Implementing low energy lighting scheme that individually and collectively accommodates each task or pastime being carried out in a space will not only help create a welcoming atmosphere but will help reduce eyestrain while at the same time, consuming energy thoughtfully.    

Window treatments will be considered to maximise natural light entering the space while providing maximum insulation and/or the right conditions for restful sleep. And with furniture, consideration might be given to whether an existing piece can be given a new lease of life with some careful restoration or re-upholstery to avoid sending it to landfill.

What are the benefits of Conscious Consumption in Interior Design?

Sustainable interior design, indeed design of any kind, along with conscious consumption are a future necessity if we are to help reach the UK’s Environment & Climate Emergency goal of zero emissions by 2050.  

Conscious interior design consumption can help conserve energy, reduce waste and pollution and help create more positive interior environments that are better for overall health.  Sustainable interior design practices are:

  • Better for the planet
  • Better for the economy
  • Better for our wellbeing
  • Better for our future

And it is our responsibility to do better!

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*Polypropelene is recyclable, consumes the least amount of energy compared to other plastics during production and produces the lowest carbon dioxide emissions. Its lower density also means that switching to polypropelene reduces the absolute amount of waste. Products made of polypropelene degrade slowly in landfills, taking around 20-30 years to completely decompose