When you think of culprits of environmental degradation, buildings are probably not among the first that come to mind. However, buildings, both residential and commercial, are responsible for one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions. Looking at current population growth trends, the problem could become even bigger. Luckily, the building sector shows great responsibility and has the potential to lower the burden. Interior designers and architects have immense power as many of the design choices that affect the sustainable performance of a building are made in the early phases of design. They can address some of the greatest environmental impacts of the building by specifying materials and products that benefit the occupants and environment.
Traditionally, architects and interior designers primarily focused on meeting a client’s aesthetic and functional needs. Sustainable design expands the focus to include environmental considerations and human well-being. Expands not replaces as some critics used to believe because they felt sustainable design lacked inspiration and aesthetics.
In his book The Shape of Green: Aestetics, Ecology, and Design, Lance Hosey describes how beauty is inherent to sustainability due the importance of how things are made in addition to their look and feel. Making products that are visually engaging increases consumer attraction and lengthens the lifespan of the product after the consumer develops a connection to it. With less attractive products, people tend to take a non-sustainable approach and quickly replace them with the latest and greatest available products.
Inspiration in sustainable materials
The term ‘sustainable interior design’ is not new. Primož Jeza, a Slovenian architect and lecturer at the University of Ljubljana’s Faculty of Architecture and Academy of Fine Arts and Design, remembers meeting sustainable design for the first time some 20 years ago. At that time it was more about using natural materials. Today, sustainable materials are more high tech with great innovation behind them, says Primož.
Sustainable materials can be impactful in showing great means of interpretation in interior design. Therefore, it’s important for there to be a good story behind the sustainable material, something unique and distinguishable about it.
“To me, sustainable interior design opens the possibility to bring the special feeling of the material into the space. Primarily, sustainable design is still about functionality and form, but the experience people can get from material adds a new dimension to creativity. I try to interpret materials in new ways. Always try to change a little, find a different artistic expression. That’s what drive us — to be unique in something. We look for materials that are made in unique ways, in that they look unique and people can see and feel that uniqueness in them,” Primož explains.
Environmental impact of materials should be estimated through entire life-cycle
Implementing sustainable materials consequently lowers the environmental impact of living and working spaces. When evaluating materials from a sustainable point of view, interior designers and architects should adopt a life-cycle approach and consider the environmental impacts generated by each phase of production, use and the disposal of materials. This allows both direct and indirect impacts to be taken into account.
There is more than just doing the right thing
With rising global environmental issues and an increased awareness of said issues among the general public, sustainability initiatives and products are gaining momentum among governments and businesses. Awareness varies from country to country with the highest levels of awareness in Scandinavian countries due to their long tradition of using sustainable design, but the positive trend is visible across the globe.
The demand for sustainable materials has been positively reflected by the changing market over the past 10 years. In the past, designers chose sustainable materials because they thought it was an ethically sound decision. These days, designers are choosing to specify sustainable materials on their own as they realize the numerous opportunities and benefits that come along with it.
There is more and more evidence that sustainability has become a competitive tool for businesses. And that applies to all industries, including interior design. Architects and designers are encountering more clients that require the finished interior to meet LEED, BREEAM or other standards to reduce environmental impact and using sustainable materials, such as ECONYL® , contributes valuable points toward these certifications.
Evidence shows consumers prefer products from sustainable-minded businesses over the alternative. Building an interior design practice as a sustainable business improves brand image and using sustainable materials proves a brand’s commitment to the environment.
The supply chain of sustainable materials is changing, too. A shift in focus on sustainability has led to some remarkable product innovations for designers to choose from. Besides carefully selecting sustainable ingredients, manufacturers use other techniques to improve the sustainability of products, such as designing for longevity and flexibility. These practices not only improve environmental impact but also bring benefits to clients through savings in maintenance.
The future of sustainable interior design
Sustainable design and sustainable materials are here to stay; even more, they will become a mainstream, not because of the advanced human mind, but because of necessity. Interior designers and architects should take the lead to promote sustainable living as Felice L. Silverman, IIDA, president and a principal at Silverman Trykowski Associates Inc. wrote in his article Taking the lead: “But the future of true sustainability is about fostering and promoting a sustainable way of living, as a means of guaranteeing the health of the environment for future generations. It’s up to us as designers to internalize this mission and bring it out in our work. Carefully examining the products we select is a responsible step to take in this direction, but ultimately we need to work toward integrating healthy lifestyles into our designs.”
To take that lead, knowledge about sustainable design, sustainable materials and market trends is crucial. With that knowledge, you can become a trusted leader in sustainable design and the first person the client calls. You can educate your clients and explain the benefits to them.
There is no doubt you and your clients can benefit from using sustainable materials without compromising aesthetics and/or economic feasibility.
How well do you know these benefits? Enough to demonstrate them to your clients?
Arm yourself with information and knowledge and download our free eBook “5 reasons for interior designers and architects to use sustainable materials”.