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Today you hear a lot about the environment, climate change, our health and safety, and how these things relate to the products that we use every day. As an interior designer, I am not only here to help you make beautiful selections for your home, but I am also here to educate you on the positive and negative impacts that each selection may have on your health. I wanted to provide you with the information you need to make the right decisions on sustainable interior design.
According to the World Green Building Council, the built environment (buildings and construction projects) contributes to 39% of all carbon emissions. I feel that it is my responsibility to the environment to educate others and to make sustainable choices in our interior design projects.
With the dominating popularity of home improvement shows, more and more people are seeking advice on remodeling, building, and furnishing than ever before. And yet, there is very little mention of the best practices for sustainable interior design. I want to help bridge that gap. I want to offer education on sustainable principles, practices, and techniques as they pertain to the built environment.
How To Evaluate The Sustainability Of Products Or Materials
I have decided to keep things simple so that you can learn how to evaluate sustainability points for yourself. This is all about education and empowering you to make the right choice for your sustainable interior design project. Throughout this blog and the accompanying video series, I will select one topic or product per video/blog, and we will discuss the following criteria:
How does the manufacturing of a design product or material impact the environment?
Many materials are not allowed to be manufactured in the US because of our EPA regulations. There could be a very toxic output during the manufacturing process. Or perhaps part of the environment is destroyed in order to harvest the raw materials. It’s an important thing to consider for sustainable interior design. Each time that you explore a type of product for your interior design project, you’ll need to consider how the product is made.
What impact does the manufacturing of a product have on the health of those who are making it?
To put it simply: Are the people who are making a material or product exposed to harsh work environments or byproducts that reduce their quality of life? Are those employees getting sick due to the products that you’re considering? We also really need to consider whether those workers are being treated fairly and paid a livable wage.
How much embodied energy is required to make this material or product?
We need to consider all the energy that is consumed by all the different processes involved in making something and getting it to your home or place of business. This includes, harvesting, manufacturing, and transporting. Embodied energy is a pretty big concept and we recently took a deep dive into the concept of embodied energy. Still, we need to be considerate of this concept when we are working on a sustainable interior design project. Reducing CO2 emissions is one of the most important things to keep in mind when redesigning part of your home.
What impact does the installation of this material have on the environment and the health of the installers?
Quite often, we can make fantastic selections for your interior design project that are eco-friendly, healthy for you, and don’t harm the people that are manufacturing them. This is such a huge win! For a second, imagine that you have found the perfect flooring that has been sustainably harvested, with no toxins in the finish, and it came from somewhere local. It would be a shame if it was glued down with an adhesive that emits volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air for 15 more years. It could be worse if the installation process poses a health hazard to the installers who are working so hard to lay the floor for you. It’s an important point to keep in mind.
Could your new interior environment impact your own health?
In the long run, this sustainable interior design project is about you, your family, and your friends, or your staff members. We are designing your space so that you can enjoy it for many years to come, cherish the memories that you create, provide a safe environment for others, and so on. If we are selecting fabrics and finishes that emit VOCs into the air long after you have moved in, then we are not ensuring your health, safety, and wellbeing. Indoor air quality is the primary concern for interior finishes, and it is something that we seriously educate our clients on during the selection process.
Where does the product go when you are finished using it?
Where does anything go when we throw it “away?” It is estimated that 30% of overall waste comes from the construction industry. That’s not even counting the furnishings and décor that we get rid of as time goes on. If we are purchasing materials for short term use, we need a plan for how we are going to dispose of those furnishings. Your items could come from product lines that use plant-based dyes, no adhesives, no polyvinyl chloride (PVCs), and we know that if your piece ends up “thrown away” someday, it will decompose over time. Or we could decide that it’s best to not buy something for short-term use and instead it’s wiser to make investments that will last a lifetime (or more). The waste cycle of your products is a critical consideration for any interior design project.
There’s Always Hope For Sustainable Designs
Though these are tough things to think about, don’t despair! There are so many organizations out there aimed to educate and re-design. Yes! It is entirely possible to responsibly remodel and refurnish your home. For the commercial industry we have rating systems like LEED to keep commercial buildings in sustainable compliance. As for individual products and materials there are rating systems such as GreenGuard Certification or Cradle to Cradle Certification that verify the sustainability of a product. For the residential furniture industry, we also have the Sustainable Furnishings Council. These are some of the best environmentally minded systems that can support sustainable interior design projects.
Make The Most Of Your Sustainable Interior Design Project
By working with a knowledgeable interior design professional, you can ensure that your personal goals for sustainability are met every step of the way. I have my B.F.A in Interior Design, with an emphasis in Green Design, and I am committed to educating anyone and everyone, regardless of who they hire. Be sure to check out the Spark Interiors YouTube, Instagram, and blog regularly to learn more about individual products, materials, and processes on a monthly basis.
If you are ready to get started on a sustainable interior design project, give Spark Interiors a call or contact us online today! We’re more than prepared to create a more sustainable design for your living spaces.
- Megan Thompson, Principal Designer, Spark Interiors
As a designer there is nothing I love more than planning the kitchen or bath of your dreams, but the reality is that I also believe deeply in sustainability and DEMO = WASTE. However, there are some things we can do together to create a more environmentally friendly remodel, and it could help your local community!