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Sustainability & Interior Design: Video deep-dive

Want to reduce your carbon footprint as an interior designer? Learn more about materials, building methods and community impact just below.

Sustainability & Interior Design: Video deep-dive
Clara Carlino de Paz
April 17, 2023

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Welcome to our deep-dive into sustainability and interior design. As we settle into 2023, the conversation around sustainability continues to be at the forefront of our global consciousness. With an increasing awareness of the impact of our actions on the environment, interior designers and clients alike are seeking out ways to reduce their carbon footprint and minimise their impact on the planet. As a result, there has been a surge in demand for sustainable products and services, and businesses that prioritise sustainability are thriving.

In this video we’ll be going into depth into how you can make your interior design process as sustainable as possible. From shopping locally to going paperless – we’re chatting about it.

If you're a reader more than a watcher, here is a textual rendition of the video.

Let’s talk about sustainable materials

When it comes to sourcing products for a residential or commercial project, it is important to choose materials that are not only aesthetically pleasing but also sustainable. The word sustainable can mean a million things, and it is near impossible to make a product 100% sustainable in every category. However, these are some things you might want to consider:

  • Is the material renewable? For a product to be sustainable, it must be possible for the material to be reharvested or created and not simply consumed. 
  • Is the material actively regenerated? Just because a material is renewable, doesn’t mean it’s harvested in a sustainable manner. For example, if you buy wood because it is renewable without checking whether those trees are replanted, the effect is similar to you purchasing any other material. Sustainable companies must be involved in the process of regenerating the resources they consume, whether by themselves or through other companies. 
  • Is the material low-VOC? Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are a class of compounds that emit gases and other byproduct molecules into their surroundings. The volatility of such substances rises with time, heat, and humidity, and can be incredibly damaging to the atmosphere and the health of those living around these materials. Finding low-VOC materials should be part of your discovery process, especially with products such as paint or wallpaper.
  • Is the material recyclable? After use in your interior design, materials should be able to live second lives as recycled materials. This cannot be done to all products, so make sure to check whether the materials are listed as recyclable.
  • Is the material made locally? More on this later, but when you purchase your materials from local companies, you’re supporting people over corporations, and cutting down on unnecessary transportation.
  • Is the material produced with green electricity? Sustainability extends to the production of the materials, so it’s worth asking what resources were used to enable the production of a product.
  • Is it made with recycled materials? When brands use recycled materials to make their own, they’re saving materials from the landfill. Win win!
  • Is the material responsibly sourced? For a product to be responsibly sourced, it mustn't deplete natural, nonrenewable resources or harm the environment or society it comes from.
  • Is the material made of organic fibres? Non-organic or synthetic fibres are not biodegradable, meaning they will stay on the planet and not decompose for thousands of years. This can affect the environment in a myriad of ways, and can also be more unsafe because they’re non-breathable.

How many of those boxes your materials should tick is up to you to decide, but it is necessary for you to set a standard and stick to it.

Second… Local suppliers are key

When you source locally instead of supporting a mass corporation you’re:

  1. Feeding the local economy and community. Buying from a local supplier will reinvigorate companies and businesses that have suffered from large competition from large retailers.
  2. Guaranteeing the survival of craftspeople and artisans. We all love art and craftsmanship, but rarely make time to shop a little further and find truly unique people who make incredible things. By shopping locally, you give a lifeline to traditional furniture and materials and those who make them.
  3. Cutting down on your transportation costs and carbon footprint. This might be an obvious one, but shopping locally can be great for your clients’ wallet and your own carbon footprint!
  4. Adding local love to your designs. Finally, and being a little selfish, local artisanship will always work better than a premade, generic piece. When you invest in something that has character, charm, and the knowledge of generations, you can tell – and so can your clients!

Another huge aspect… Energy efficiency 

An incredible way to focus on sustainability is to offer low-energy designs to your clients. These types of designs focus on using specific designs and materials to build houses that are resilient to weather changes, non-renewable energy usage and gas price increases. There are many ways to carry out this sort of design, with interior designers and architects using the following solutions:

  • Highly insulated homes in colder climates
  • Ventilated homes in warmer climates
  • Traditional and local building techniques
  • Optimisation of the sun’s position in the building of the home
  • Use of local materials to cut off transportation energy costs
  • Solar panels

Lighting can account for up to 10% of a home's energy bill, and just changing a few things can be a great start to making your designs and studio more energy efficient. For example, switching to energy-efficient lighting such as LED bulbs can significantly reduce your clients’ energy usage and save them money. 

Smart home technology can also help your clients reduce their energy consumption and save money on their utility bills. In particular, you should consider investing in a smart thermostat, which can automatically adjust your home's temperature based on your clients’ schedule.

If your client has a flat roof, there are also many ways you can utilise it to create more sustainable effects. Option A is a green roof, which is a layer of vegetation that is installed on top of a roof. This can help regulate the home’s temperature and add more biodiversity into the area. If your client is committed to a greener future, consider Option B; installing solar panels to invest in clean energy. If feasible, roofs can become prime real estate for investment.

Fourth, it’s time to talk about community impact

Suppliers are not abstract companies. They are employers, consumers, friends, family, owners, renters… The list goes on. How they go about their business is important, especially considering the human aspect of it all. When choosing suppliers based on community impact, you can check out:

  • Their employment practices
  • How they handle waste
  • Their packaging and returns policies
  • Community projects they’re a part of

All of it will make you choose those suppliers that align with the sustainable values you’re trying to incorporate into your own studio.

On that note, it’s time to talk about your own studio!

Throughout this video, we’ve put a large emphasis on how your supplier and design choices impact the sustainability of your projects. However, there is a large component of sustainability that you can elaborate on yourself as a studio. As a list of short ideas you could:

  1. Go paperless.
  2. Use public or green transportation only when visiting clients.
  3. Become a wellness focused employer, with initiatives such as the bike to work scheme.
  4. Building your studio in reclaimed materials.

The possibilities are endless!