With our focus on providing the option for sustainable interior design to our clients, I want to introduce a pretty big concept to you, formally called “embodied energy.” It’s an important concept that you must consider when you’re weighing the decisions of your interior design project. We wanted to hone in on this topic and how it relates to your interior design.
What Is Embodied Energy?
This concept is easy to understand, but difficult to grasp in everyday life. Embodied energy is essentially the total sum of energy consumed by the various processes that are associated with the production, manufacturing, and transportation of any product or material. The total energy consumed throughout the lifespan of a given product has significant impacts on our global environment. It's something that we all need to pay attention to whenever possible, and especially with interior design.
It is a lot to comprehend, so let’s break this concept down into smaller pieces.
Whether your product is a beautiful hardwood floor, a marble countertop, or a cashmere sweater, it originated from somewhere in the world. Was that wood harvested in the US, the marble in Italy, and the cashmere in South America? To fully understand the embodied energy of your interior design materials, we need to first find out where the raw materials originated. We also need to consider if any energy was needed that output CO2 into the atmosphere. For example, cutting down trees likely requires machinery and equipment that burns fossil fuels and produces carbon emissions. That hardwood floor might come with a larger carbon footprint than you initially realized.
Before your raw materials can be manufactured into your end product, there is likely some production that needs to take place first. Perhaps that alpaca fleece needs to first be washed, sorted, and spun into wool. Or that block of marble needs to be cut into individual slabs. We’ll need to consider how the production tacks onto the total energy consumed.
Now that the raw materials have been refined, they are ready to get into the manufacturing process. At this stage, it is very likely that elements are combined, and we may need to consider the harvesting and production practices of those additional elements involved in the manufacturing of this single product. For example, if yarn is dyed to make your cashmere sweater, where did the dye colors originate? What process was required to produce these dyes?
Perhaps the process is as simple as creating solid hardwood floor planks. In this case, we need to look at the energy and emissions related to the kiln-drying process that eliminates mites from the wood, or the machinery required to cut your planks to size. It is also important to look at how much waste was produced, if any is “left over,” and how that waste is handled.
This process can occur at multiple stages throughout the process of creating your product or material. Maybe the blocks of marble come from a quarry in Italy, where they are transported to a fabrication shop to be cut into slabs, then put on a containership to be sent to the U.S. east coast, and then they are transported via freight truck to your local slab yard or fabricator. From there, you might pick out the best slabs which are then fabricated into your gorgeous kitchen island top and delivered by truck to your door. The new countertop certainly is dazzling, but a ton of fuel was consumed throughout the overall transportation process. That fuel consumption feeds directly into the total embodied energy of your product.
How To Control & Reduce Embodied Energy In Interior Design
All of this really means that we need to be thoughtful and considerate, and we need to do our homework when selecting finishes for your home. Of course, you can still get that stunning kitchen island, but we could choose to refinish the hardwood you already have as a trade-off to reduce your carbon footprint. When looking for furniture, artwork, and décor we may choose to support local artisans who source materials from within our region, which cuts down on the transportation emissions. Because we make some great decisions on many of the selections, we may determine that we are okay with getting a handmade wool rug all the way from India.
At Spark Interiors, we can leverage our connections to ensure that the embodied energy of your interior design products is kept to a minimum. We’re environmentally focused and we take into account every single point of energy output when selecting the right materials for your sustainable interior design project.
If you are looking for an expert to help you with your interior design remodeling or sustainable furnishings project, contact us today to reserve a complimentary phone consultation!
- Megan Thompson, Principal Designer, Spark Interiors