The words “green” and organic are flying hither and yon these days and it can be hard to tell what it really means if it means anything at all, and how authentic the term really is. In this part of the 21st century, there are eco-friendly things happening all the time that hardly pass notice anymore. For example, I rarely come across a new construction or renovation project that doesn’t have recycling bins or contractors who aren’t conscientious about their general footprint.
That being said, I also see my fair share of brand new furnishings, perfectly good cabinets that are ripped out, and sent to the landfill for something more “up-to-date,” and mainstream paints, finishes, and textiles off-gas fumes that are truly toxic and compromise interior air quality.
For that reason, it’s important to figure out what Eco-Friendly Design really means, and which level of a green design you’re interested in participating in.
Tenets of an Eco-Friendly Interior Design
In a true, eco-friendly design – certain tenets are in place:
Focus on Indoor Air Quality
For all that we are encouraged to be outside and enjoy Mother Nature, the reality is that the average American spends about 90% of his or her time indoors. This is according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which also cites, “…a growing body of scientific evidence has indicated that the air within homes and other buildings can be more seriously polluted than the outdoor air in even the largest and most industrialized cities.”
Prioritizing indoor air quality by purchasing paints and furnishings that have zero- to low-VOC content is one of the best things you can do to promote an eco-friendly design. Purchasing products with a Green Guard certification not only make your home more eco-friendly, it increases the demand for more eco-friendly products, and diminishes the market demands for toxic products.
Repurpose and Reuse Wherever You Can
Whether this means repurposing and reusing your current furniture, furnishings, textiles, etc., to create a new look, or whether it means focusing on using repurposed or recycled goods – this tenet remains the same. The goal is to use what is already available, reducing the need for manufacturing more stuff. This is easier to do than you think.
If you prioritize the purchase of high-quality furniture and furnishings from the get-go, it is easy to reupholster, refinish or repaint in order to create a whole new look. You’d be amazed at how dazzling a new design can be when all you do is add some interesting architectural details, fresh coats of paint, and reorganized furniture that has been upgraded with a facelift.
Prioritize Local Manufacturers, Artists and Fabricators
The further products and goods have to travel, the worse it is for the environment in terms of fossil fuel consumption and emissions concerns. Plus, it just feels good to support the local community. Here in the Bay Area we are so fortunate to live within close proximity to some of the world’s best artists, collaborators, fabricators, and producers – the large majority of whom make sustainability a center point of their work or business.
When you do want to invest in brand-new goods, do what you can to source them from local suppliers and producers. This is great for your local economy as well as planet earth.
Know Where They’re From and How They’re Made
Pay attention to how something is made and where it’s from. Renewable resources are always a better option than those that are finite. What are the working conditions for those who produce the materials you covet? What effect do they have on the environment post-production?
After a little homework, you may find that the granite slab you love is easy to pass over for a quartz countertop that offers the same natural stone look but is fabricated using pre- and post-consumer recycled products – without questionable mining and employer practices at its foundation.
Look for stamps of approval from third-party agencies such as:
- Energy Star
- Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC)
- Global Organic Textile Standard
- Good Housekeeping GREEN
- GreenGuard Environmental Institute
- Green Seal Certified
- Rainforest Alliance Certified
Work with your interior designer to isolate your design choices by the impact they have on the environment. There are so many wonderful products out there, you’ll never feel like you’ve sacrificed taste for values.