I’m sure you’ve heard of sustainable design, but do you know what it really means and how to achieve it in your space? There are many different aspects to consider when designing a sustainable interior, but once you nail these, you will have achieved an interior that’s healthier all around for you, your family, and the environment!
Sustainable design is essentially the inclusion of natural or untreated materials (think: bamboo, reclaimed bricks and woods, and organic fabrics such as cotton, linen, wool etc), along with the selection of furniture and finishes that have been manufactured by using sustainable practices. This includes taking into account the impact the manufacturing process has had on the environment and the lifespan of the product(s).
Why It Is Important
This approach inspires a wellness-based home design by improving indoor air quality and ensuring fewer emissions of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) in the interior space which will lead to a holistically healthier space, aiding in improving the mental and physical health of the occupant. Harmful VOCs such as carbon dioxide and carcinogen formaldehyde are commonly found in finishes, furniture, and cabinetry.
Prolonged exposure to these harmful chemicals may result in many negative health issues, such as cardiovascular and gastrointestinal problems, along with degrading cognitive performance (poor memory, concentration, etc). That is why it is so important to cleanse the air from these toxic chemicals and avoid the emission of their fumes in your home wherever possible. By creating a sustainable interior, you are not only improving your own health, but also contributing to a positive, long-term environmental impact by reducing waste – essentially lowering your own carbon footprint.
Cleanse the Air
Clean air is arguably one of the most important aspects of good health. Harmful toxins are frequently found in the home due to certain furniture and the use of household appliances such as gas ovens, heating, poor ventilation (exterior air entering and unable to escape), and household chemicals. Breathing in these fumes will cause headaches, fatigue, and eye irritation – to name a few symptoms – and so it’s important to rid the home of these toxins as efficiently as possible.
Plants are commonly praised for their ability to cleanse the air. Whilst this is true, certain plants are more effective at removing toxins than others. Plants such as peace lilies, devil’s ivy, and rubber plants do a great job of purifying the air and also enhance wellbeing-inspired interior by calming the mind due to the presence of nature. Materials such as cork can also help with toxin abortion by actively drawing the VOCs into fibres to wilt away instead of allowing them to freely flow in the air. Some useful tips to improve indoor air quality include:
1. Keep the air moving.
Ventilate the home as much as possible. Open doors and windows regularly, and let mother nature help blow out those harmful toxins, especially when cooking or cleaning.
2. Avoid including products in your home that are known to have a high VOC count.
This includes things such as furniture made by using particle board. The manufacturing of these types of products can be made using formaldehyde, which is highly toxic.
3. Avoid using harsh chemicals in the home.
Although chemicals such as bleach and ammonia are included in many products and commonly used in cleaning, the strong fumes they omit will linger in the air for a long time and can take over an hour or even days to fully expel! Try replacing it with organic products or solutions such as vinegar, lemon, or bicarbonate soda mix instead.
4. Use water-based paints if painting walls or furniture.
These paints are healthier for both the indoor air quality and the environment.
5. Where possible, use materials that are organic or reclaimed.
There will be no toxic chemicals present due to the nature of their fibres and how they’ve been finished, making them a healthy addition to your home.
The finishes used in many households are responsible for a significant amount of poor indoor air quality. When purchasing new furniture, installing permanent fixtures, or painting a surface, first think about the fumes they could omit. The traditional glues used when installing carpets contain toxic chemicals, which contaminate the air. Oil-based paints that contain Benzene and Xylene in their composition do the same. These harmful VOCs can cause potential health issues, so avoid them as much as possible.
Along with glues and paints, composite materials used in particle boards to make up furniture contain formaldehyde, which is an extremely toxic chemical. It can take up to five years (on average) for the fumes that are embedded within the material to fully dissipate. If you can’t avoid the use of particle boards in your home, make sure the material is sealed completely to avoid any leakage of the gases into your home.
Particle boards use glues with harmful toxins to stick the composite materials together. If you need to use them, make sure they are efficiently sealed to stop unwanted fumes from leaking out.
Use Sustainable Materials
When choosing soft furnishes such as bedding, throw cushions, rugs, curtains, and carpets, go for sustainable materials. Try organic fibres such as natural cotton, linen, cashmere, and wool. These materials are aesthetically pleasing and widely available. They’ve been found to exhibit health benefits, further surpassing their sustainable harvesting, such as hypoallergenic properties that allow for fewer asthmatic episodes and improved eyesight. Natural cotton can also relieve skin issues, such as psoriasis and general rashes.
Consider sourcing furniture made with hard sustainable materials such as fast-growing bamboo, rattan, untreated woods with FSC certification (Forest Stewardship Council), natural stone, marble, and clay. These also offer great alternatives to floor and wall treatments.
But don’t forget that not all materials need to be organic in order to be sustainable. Reclaimed materials such as brick, wood, and reused fabrics – such as leather – are also considered sustainable. If any chemicals were used in their manufacturing, they will be long gone. Their reuse is also great for the environment! Repurposing materials ensure they will not unnecessarily end up in a landfill.
The Manufacturing Process
How was it made? What materials did they use? Were any of the components recycled? These are all questions that are asked when determining whether a product is sustainable. Also, consider what will happen to the product at the end of its life cycle. Can it be repurposed, recycled, or broken down and made into a completely new item? Failing these criteria, can the materials be returned to our natural ecosystem?
Making sure these important factors are adhered to ensures that the environment is not negatively affected, and landfills aren’t overwhelmed. A lot of people don’t realise what happens to items when they hit the landfill. Some items don’t just biodegrade over time; they can release toxic fumes as (and if) they decompose. Because of this, landfills are responsible for a third of the world’s greenhouse gas production, making them a huge problem for environment sustainability and directly impacting global warming.
A great approach that sustainably conscious designers are adopting is called Cradle to Cradle (C2C) versus Cradle to Grave (C2G). C2C aims to replicate natural systems by focusing on products that can be recycled and upcycled and, failing that, are biodegradable – thus resulting in waste prevention.