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Going Green: Designing for Environmental Sustainability

As interior designers, we are especially connected to the idea of habitat, the place where we belong. We, more than anyone, know the power our environment has to fulfill us. Implementing environmentally sustainable practices in our approach to interior design is how we can nurture the home we all share, Earth. 

With construction and the process of acquiring or creating building materials being major contributors to environmental damage, we as interior designers are in a unique position of power. Not only can you work with environmentally friendly products, but you can apply sustainable processes while using your design muscle to maximize natural conditions built into your project sites.

How to Bring Sustainability to Your Interior Design Practice

  1. Maximize the natural conditions of the project site: There are so many ways to take advantage of the natural conditions of your project site, like taking advantage of the southern exposures to trap heat and incorporating strategic apertures as sources for natural ventilation. Using the right building techniques and insulation, which is available in formaldahyde free options like cotton and sheep’s wool, can greatly improve energy efficiency and in turn lower a building’s carbon footprint. Designing to incorporate the natural elements of a project site boosts creativity, as well.
  2. Choose eco-friendly materials: What constitutes an eco-friendly building material is not so simple. For example, marble may seem eco-friendly because it is natural instead of synthetic, but it requires a great deal of natural resources to be extracted and then even more to be shipped internationally. The thing you definitely want to avoid in your building materials is the acronym VOC, which stands for known carcinogen and all around environment destroyer, volatile organic compounds. Unfortunately it is hard to completely bypass, but there are a continuingly growing amount of viable non-VOC options in the market.  Some examples of non-toxic, eco-friendly materials include bamboo, cork, non-VOC emitting paint, and products made from recycled material
  3. Re-use items and materials: Populating your interiors with reclaimed components is a huge step towards sustainability. Furniture is just as easy to reuse, maybe with some restoration, as it is to buy new. It requires more legwork to source, as you can’t order your FF&E selections off a showroom floor or catalog, but it is a challenge worth accepting if sustainability is your goal. Reusing materials can prove trickier, but look for opportunities to incorporate reclaimed materials and see if it makes sense for your project. 
  4. Source locally: The distance a product or material needs to be transported makes a large impact on its carbon footprint, with the larger the weight and longer the distance traveled, the more CO2 emitted into the atmosphere. 
  5. Integrate energy efficient fixtures and appliances: Using Energy Star-labeled appliances is another great way to design with environmental responsibility. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Star products usually exceed minimum federal standards by a substantial amount. Choosing LED light bulbs significantly reduces the percentage of accompanying CO2 emissions. You can go further by installing sources of renewable energy, such solar. Wind and hydropower might be options well; all possible options for renewable energy will depend on the resources related to the location of your project.

Bringing environmental sustainability to your interior design practice can go much deeper than choosing organic paint and other certified sustainably sourced materials, which meet a lower bar of sustainability than the methods described here. Becoming an environmentally sustainable interior designer involves changing your mindset about how everything you do in your work impacts the environment. It isn’t the easier path, but one worth following.

Margot LaScala
Margot LaScala
Margot is a writer and interior designer based in the NYC area. She is passionate about keeping up with the latest architecture and design news to not only stay informed, but inspired.

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