Sustainability in Interior Design - Is it Possible?
Happy Earth Day! Although my love of interior design runs deeper than furthest depths of the Pacific Ocean, one thing I don't particularly love about the design industry is its lack of environmental awareness. The only thing second to my love of design is my desire to do my part to protect our planet and be conscious of my impact. Now, let me be clear -- this is not something I believe I deserve a lot of praise for. In my mind, being conscious of our impact is the very least we can all do. Actually taking action to improve the health of our beloved Mother Earth is an entirely different story all together. We're going to talk about action a bit later, but today I want to focus on being more conscious with our design choices.
If you're embarking on a new build or renovation, or simply just trying to be more environmentally conscious of the daily improvements you make to your home, there are few things you can do.
Be Smart About Your Home Purchase
Are you in the market for a new home? Congratulations! Here's something to think about as you are house shopping: If you know you're going to want to tweak a home so that it is a meticulous representation of your style, buy OLDER! Let me explain what I mean, and how this helps you be more conscious. By buying an older home in an older neighborhood (where homes were built in the 50s or 60s, for example), you're more likely to come across kitchens, bathrooms, and other hard finishes that were original to the home. Take a second to think about what this means. If an original bathroom still exists in a home built in the 1950s, it has gotten almost 70 years of use! Seventy!
Now, think about what would happen if you bought a home that was built in the early 2000s. First of all, it's going to lack the charm of and older home but, secondly, it's going to teaming with things like dated-looking granite countertops and aluminum plumbing finishes.. The problem with this is that granite and aluminum are not sustainable materials, and although they can be recycled, hardly anyone ever goes through the trouble to do so.
Ask yourself this: if you're going to be ripping things out and starting all over, would you rather fill a landfill with items that were well-loved for seventy years? Or perfectly functional items that just happen to not match your desired aesthetic that have only be used for twenty? If you decide to go with a newer home, the best thing you can to do reduce your waste is find ways to creatively update what you have (instead of ripping it out) or making sure you take the time and effort to find niche recycling companies to help you properly dispose of unique building materials.
Ask yourself this: if you're going to be ripping things out and starting all over, would you rather fill a landfill with items that were well-loved for seventy years? Or perfectly functional items that just happen to not match your desired aesthetic that have only be used for twenty?
Shop Local or Secondhand, and Buy in Bulk
How does shopping local reduce your impact on the planet? Well for starters, it significantly reduces the amount of cardboard that ends up in our landfills and plastic that ends up in our oceans. According to a study by Ameripen, when manufacturers ship items to retailers, they are usually packaged in bulk containers. When those retails have to in-turn ship those items to you, they then have to individually package them with up to ten times the amount of packing material to make sure they get to you safely. This not only increases shipping material usage, but also the number of "touch points" the product will have (i.e., how many people need to handle the package to get it to you). By shopping local, you're reducing the amount of waste produced in the retail industry as well as supporting your own community. It's a win-win.
Even better than shopping local might be shopping secondhand. Long-time followers of mine will know that I'm a huge antique / vintage shopper. Once you learn how to navigate thrift or antique stores, you become vehemently aware of how unnecessary it is to ever produce a single new item in our world ever again. Okay, so this is a bit of an exaggerated statement, but let me explain. All across the world, antique and vintage markets are filled-to the-brim with home decor, glassware, tableware, furniture and accessories. Oftentimes, the latest glassware or decor trends are even made to look like their vintage counterparts! Although it's much easier, and sometimes necessary, to shop for these items from contemporary manufacturers, I try to always see how much I can source secondhand before doing so. Again, being conscious isn't about being perfect, it's about being aware and making the best choice possible.
Being conscious isn't about being perfect, it's about being aware and making the best choice possible.
Embrace Minimalism, and Buy from Sustainable Retailers when You Can
Online shopping (particularly looking at you, Amazon) is incredibly addicting. It has made it way too easy for us to get everything we don't need in a short enough amount of time to satisfy our propensity for instant gratification. Try this: go back through your Amazon purchase history and see how much of that stuff you don't actually even remember buying. Pretty scary, right? That exercise ball you thought you had to have has been used roughly five times, and those salad dressing shakers even less. We need to learn to put a pause on our spending and consumerism. The next time you think you need something, put it in your cart and come to it a week later. Still need it? Okay, maybe go ahead and buy it. But if you've already moved on to something else you need, it's probably time to move on.
Sustainable retailers are starting to pop up everywhere, and I couldn't be happier about it. There are even a number of retailers who don't market or advertise themselves environmentally conscious, they are just naturally doing their part vis-a-vis the products they sell. Below are a few my favorite sustainable retailers and why I love their products:
The Citizenry focuses on fair trade, small batch production and giving back.
Arhaus & Rejuvenation
Although both of these large retailers are parter of even larger corporate conglomerates, each recently made commitments to fair trade practices as well using ethically-sourced materials. This is a step in the right direction, and shows that consumers are voting with their dollars. Rejuvenation even has a very popular, continuously-updated line of vintage, second-hand goods.
Shoppe Amber Interiors
As an interior designer, Amber has always excelled at using vintage furniture in her designs. Her shoppe features these items, as well a number of other high quality goods. You won't find anything plastic in Amber's Shoppe. Buying quality is synonymous with buying consciously; goods that will last you a long time are much better than items that end up in the landfill in under a year.
A certified B-Corp, Accompany cannot be beat for its curated selection of ethically-sourced goods.
Jenni Kayne's aesthetic isn't just beautiful, it's also sustainable. The company focuses on natural fibers, local production and fair working conditions.
As you're shopping these links, be sure to keep the above tips in mind. What other tips do you have to live more sustainably and become more environmentally conscious?
Hackett House Studio is a boutique interior design firm located in Columbus, Ohio offering full-service and virtual design services, as well as concierge styling and interior photography. Please visit the services page of our website to learn more about us, and to inquire about working with us.
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