Sustainable interior design prioritizes the health and well-being of people and the planet. It’s intended to create healthy spaces while minimizing environmental impacts, reducing waste, and conserving natural resources. But a rising trend, fast furniture, is making home furnishing less sustainable.
The wide availability of trendy and inexpensive home furnishings, or “fast furniture,” comes with negative environmental impacts. In addition to the carbon emissions in any new product, new furnishings often contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that carry health risks for consumers. And like fast fashion, fast furniture is often thrown out rather than repaired. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans threw away 12.1 million tons of furniture and furnishings in 2018, almost 600% more than the 2.2 million tons of furniture landfilled in 1960; today, 80.1% of furniture ended up in landfills.
We can do better. There are ways we can enhance the sustainability of our home’s interior design, reducing its environmental impact while making it a healthier and more comfortable place to live.
Benefits of Sustainable Interior Design
Sustainable interior design strives to minimize the carbon footprint, energy consumption, and waste produced during manufacturing. It also promotes healthy and safe indoor environments using materials and products free from harmful chemicals.
- Reduced carbon footprint and waste: Interior renovations can substantially increase the carbon footprint of your home. By reusing products and materials rather than buying new, you can reduce the carbon footprint of interior design and reduce waste.
- Health and well-being: Integrating sustainable design elements such as plants and natural light can improve your mood and help you feel calm.
- Improved indoor air quality: Poor indoor air quality caused by new materials off-gassing aggravates allergies and asthma and can have many health impacts. But choosing natural, used, or low-emission materials and products helps improve air quality in your home.
- Long-term value: Quality and sustainable furniture and furnishings, organic natural materials, and energy-efficient windows and doors can be expensive. But if you look at the long-term value they provide — savings on energy and safeguarding your health — it’s an investment that pays off.
Use Natural and Sustainable Materials
Sustainable furniture and furnishings are manufactured and distributed in a way that minimizes harm to our planet. Environmentally conscious companies are trying to reduce their carbon emissions, as well as the use of pollutants, non-recyclable materials, and unsustainably sourced resources in their products.
The “What’s it made of?” initiative, created by the Sustainable Furnishings Council and other organizations created, encourages businesses to create environmentally safe furnishings. You can check their list of companies that took a pledge to dramatically reduce the use of harmful chemicals in their production. The potential health effects of chemicals that some companies use in furnishings range from cancer to lowered fertility, liver damage, asthma, and more.
Furniture made of natural materials like wood, bamboo, textiles, or natural stone can be more sustainable — but not always. When you shop for new furniture, check for these certifications:
- Wood origin and certification: When choosing wood, ensure it is lawfully harvested from well-managed forests, avoiding deforestation. Look for certified, reclaimed, plantation-grown, or responsibly forested North American woods. Seek out third-party certifiers — such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) — to identify products made with sustainable practices.
- Textile certification: The textile industry pollutes water with toxic waste through hazardous chemicals used in fiber processing. When possible, choose organic fibers and seek GOTS, Oeko-Tex, and Greenguard certifications to minimize toxic exposure in your home.
Get Natural With Biophilic Design
While today most people spend more time indoors than outside, we have a natural inclination to connect with nature. Biophilic designs that integrate natural elements, from plants to natural contours, strives to facilitate a sense of connection with nature by integrating elements of nature into living and working spaces.
The potential benefits of biophilic design include better health, a feeling of well-being, and reduced stress and fatigue, among others. People who feel a sense of connection with nature are also more likely to feel compelled to preserve our planet’s natural resources, environment, and species – which provide the ecosystem services we all depend upon.
Here are a few of the many ways you can incorporate biophilic elements into the interior design of your home.
Houseplants are an easy way to bring nature into your home. When possible, get your plants from an organic nursery that grows their plants locally to reduce their carbon footprint. For the most sustainable houseplants, propagate them from cuttings or starts from friends and neighbors and use natural or organic fertilizers. You can even make your own potting soil.
Focus on Natural Tones
Neutral and natural earthy colors can have a positive and calming effect. Use different earthy tones and colors that complement other natural colors, such as blue, green, or yellow.
Incorporate Natural Shapes
Right angles and straight lines tend to dominate our built environment, but these shapes aren’t common in nature. Biophilic design encourages the use of fluid shapes and patterns found in nature, such as the spiral of a seashell, curves of ocean waves, or the irregular shapes of clouds. Consider curved bathtubs, softened corners on furniture, and artwork or wallpaper with botanical motifs to create a space close to nature.
Enhance Natural Light
An essential part of biophilic design, natural light has a powerful effect on our bodies. It helps our bodies make vitamin D, influences our sleep patterns, and boosts our mood. Even if you don’t have a lot of windows, there are ways you can maximize the available natural light with reflective surfaces. If you’re doing a remodel, consider increasing the natural light in your home by adding more windows. While double- or triple-glazed windows are more expensive than single-glaze, they’re more energy efficient. According to the Energy Saving Trust, installing double-glazed windows could save you as much as $300 as well as 405 kilograms of carbon dioxide a year.
Reuse or Repurpose
Reusing old items is another way of reducing waste and living more sustainably. For example, instead of buying new furniture when you remodel your house, you can reuse old pieces and breathe new life into them.
It doesn’t have to be complicated — you can add new handles or knobs. Or reupholster old furniture when you get tired of the color. This is a much more affordable and planet-friendly way of refreshing the appearance of your living space.
Finding a new use for an old item, or repurposing, is another good way to reduce waste while decorating your home. Try to make something with your hands and make the item you need yourself. You can turn what you already have into beautiful, original pieces for free, with just a little effort. That could also fulfill your creative side and be a fun project.
Check out this video on how to turn a vase into a stylish lamp and for inspiration.
Minimalism is also an environmentally conscious approach to interior design. Minimalist interior design focuses on using the core essentials to create a simple and uncluttered space. The common elements of minimalistic design are a monochromatic color palette, natural light, and an open floor plan.
By refusing to buy items that are not essential, we reduce the emissions required to source, manufacture, and transport those items. And we reduce waste by not succumbing to advertising and buying products that will soon end up in landfills.
When you think about buying a new item for your home, ask yourself if you really need it. Be honest: in most cases, you’ll find that you can live without it.
If you keep old items you no longer need or use, consider finding a way to repurpose or upcycle them. Alternately, sell, donate, or recycle them.
Enjoy a Sustainable Living Space
Sustainable interior design is a crucial aspect of sustainable living, as it helps to create healthy, efficient, and environmentally responsible interior spaces. It can reduce your carbon footprint and lead to cost savings in the long run by reducing energy consumption. By reusing materials and products, you can extend the useful life of these items and reduce your waste.
Arranging the living space is the way we breathe a part of our personality into the space and create a home out of it. If your priorities are ecological and natural, and at the same time you want to save money, then consider these sustainable design ideas for your living environment.
About the Author
Rohit Mohan is an experienced digital marketing manager and content marketer with a history of working in the interior design industry. He is currently a digital campaign lead at Foyr, a leader in interior design and 3D visualization software that can convert 2D plans into 3D designs to photorealistic renders within minutes.