After spending five years in East Africa doing conservation research, traveling through the rainforests and grasslands, and observing wild animals in their natural habitat, my time in the eastern hemisphere continues to have a great impact on the way I approach my design work at East & Gray.
My passion for studying and protecting animals and their ecosystems remains at the forefront of my business. Now you may wonder, how does designing a home in America affect animals in Africa, or even in our own country? That’s where sustainability comes in.
This article explores the important topic of sustainable interior design. From materials that are made without toxic chemicals to products that are manufactured and sourced ethically and responsibly, East & Gray is striving to find better, healthier options for your home, your family and our planet.
What is sustainability?
When a product is sustainable, it is:
- Sourced responsibly (not harming the environment during the procurement of materials and consciously not depleting an environment or ecosystem)
- Manufactured ethically (paying fair wages and ensuing no child labor)
- Distributed or shipped environmentally (using biodegradable or recyclable packaging)
- Able to be recycled or repurposed at the end of its life. In some cases, sustainable products can be simply biodegradable.
From material selection to production and even disposal, a sustainable product protects public health and the environment over its entire life cycle.
Let’s break it down.
What are sustainable products made from?
Generally, a sustainable product is made from natural materials (free of harsh chemicals or toxins) that are biodegradable or reusable at the end of their normal life. Examples include cotton, linen, wood, marble, glass or stone.
Sustainable products are produced consciously. A truly sustainable manufacturer will ensure that the production of an item does not contribute to environmental harm, or they will choose to offset any carbon emissions that occur during production by investing in an equivalent carbon dioxide saving elsewhere. These companies also refrain from overproduction and focus on quality over quantity. Furthermore, sustainable manufacturers often offer recycling programs and ensure that any shipping and packaging materials are recyclable and/or biodegradable.
How Can We Apply Sustainability to Interior Design?
1. Practice Conscious Consumerism
Conscious consumerism has many parts. First, a conscious consumer finds a balance between purchasing trendy items over timeless pieces in order to cut down on excess waste. Buying a brightly patterned, inexpensive sofa might look great in your home for a few years while the trend is hot, but after it’s out of style, it will likely end up in a landfill. These are the types of things we want to avoid. It’s extremely important not to adhere to the buy-buy-buy frenzy of culture bolstered by the marketing dollars of big companies, which only leads to more waste and more harm to our environment.
*It’s important to note that sustainable design can still be on-trend! You don’t have to sacrifice style and taste, you simply need to think about where and how you’re spending money on items in your home. For example, go bold with paint colors, throw blankets, pillows and artwork instead of furniture or other high price, non recyclable items. Choose to support small businesses or independent artists when purchasing these types of pieces whenever possible.
Conscious consumers think twice about which stores they are supporting. Buying from Wayfair or Walmart might be inexpensive and on trend, but pieces from these stores are often of lesser quality and are mass produced, contributing to deforestation and other harmful effects to the environment. We encourage consumers to shop around for higher quality pieces, made-to-order designs, and from local businesses who put their heart into their work. You’ll feel better about these purchases in the end, and they’ll last you a whole lot longer, saving you money in the long run!
2. Choose Non-Toxic, Natural Materials
It’s no secret that many home products are laden with harsh chemicals and toxic materials. Understanding what is in the products you purchase is just as important for things like furniture as it is for cleaning supplies or packaged foods! According to an article from Architectural Digest, many textiles and materials used in homes contain chemical inhalants which, “flood a home during installation…and continue to gradually leach into the air for years to come—a more subtle (but dangerous) process referred to as off-gassing.” These are certainly not things we want to expose our friends and family to as they can cause a host of long term health problems, nor are they good for our environment.
3. Opt for Sustainably Designed Spaces
Sustainable interior design also considers the importance of using natural light when possible to cut down on daytime electricity, sourcing energy-efficient appliances and incorporating natural materials into additions throughout the home. Sustainable design takes a holistic look at a space and significantly considers the long term. Will the new additions to your home last for years to come? Are the items in your home supporting responsible manufacturers and businesses?
Where do we go from here?
Sustainable design is a relatively new concept for the general public, but we are optimistic that with continued awareness and ease of finding alternatives, more people will prioritize this when redesigning or building a home! Together, we can reduce our participation in the degradation of our environment and our own health. We just need to take it one step at a time.