What Can Be Done to Make Interiors More Sustainable?
In interior design – and many other design disciplines – it is much easier to be unsustainable. Buying or developing custom solutions for a room often requires less time and research than purchasing second-hand materials or concern for waste flow and the circular economy.
But the construction and decoration industry can no longer afford the luxury of ignoring the environmental impacts caused by their activities.
According to a report by the CNN Climate Change Forum, the three main CO2 emitters come from cities, their cars and buildings: gasoline that we burn for transport, industrial activities for the construction of buildings (cement factories, for example), and thermoelectric power plants to generate energy for our homes.
Unfortunately, these emissions have grown by 1.5%, while the built-up area has increased by 2.3% annually. The construction industry is expected to double its CO2 emissions by 2050 if urgent action is not taken.
According to a study conducted by the US Environmental Protection Agency, Americans throw out 12 million tons of furniture every year. As so many of these pieces contain multiple different materials, very few are recycled.
How about using this furniture instead of making new ones?
The second-hand niche has grown in small companies that sell refurbished or unrenovated second-hand furniture and in big players such as Ikea, which created a program for refurbishing and reselling products used in its stores.
Analysts estimate that the second-hand furniture market will reach $16.6 billion by 2025.
For interior designer Alicia Storie, from A Design Storie, which focuses on eco-sustainable interiors, using used items is a practice that may seem daunting at first, but success comes down to knowing where to look. She says that much of her furniture for interior projects comes from furniture warehouses, scrapyards and auctions. For pieces that are damaged, Storie explains she partners with local restorers and up-cyclers.
Another misconception that Storie reports as common is the idea that a space can’t be planned if it is fitted out with second-hand furniture. Admittedly, it can be difficult to predict with complete accuracy how a project will look before the sourcing process has begun. But she says it says it is still possible to give very detailed plans to a client.
Materials and Products
Second-hand furniture is not the only way designers are making their interior projects more environmentally friendly. For Rockwell Group partner Shawn Sullivan, in an interview with Design Week, sustainable and responsibly sourced materials are an important way to ensure a space makes a minimal impact when it comes to climate change.
For Rockwell’s most recent project, Hotel Toronto, the team used “existing structural and reclaimed materials including timber, driftwood, local limestone and native plants”, Sullivan says. These were used across the interiors of the building, from bedrooms to restaurants, the reception and other public areas.
One such partnership was with the local woodworking studio Just Be Woodsy, which Sullivan explains has exclusive rights to collecting and reclaiming fallen trees around Toronto. These findings were made into wooden furnishings and furniture pieces for the project.
Another way in which some designers are able to challenge unsustainable interior design practices is by intercepting waste streams. London-based design studio GoodWaste’s recent collaboration with department store Selfridges is evidence that materials we would otherwise consider rubbish can be significant resources.
The collection – which saw the studio produce homewares like lamps, vases and candles – was developed using waste produced by Selfridges itself, GoodWaste co-founder Rafael El Baz explains.
El Baz says the process of developing interiors from waste materials is really just a reverse of what most designers are used to. “Normally as designers, we sit down and ask ourselves what we want to produce and then at a later stage start applying materials and colors and textures based on aesthetics and price,” he explains. “But with this method, we basically sit with a material in front of us and ask: what will this let us do?”
This inversion of processes ends up generating more creative results while challenging professionals to reverse the logic of creation rooted in design methods.
Besides contributing to the reduction of the CO2 load, the concern with the circular economy, the sources of raw materials and the life cycle of projects can generate surprising results, making the work of designers more human and creative.