Principles of Sustainable Interior Design

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There are a lot of decisions that come with a home renovation, a new build, or redoing a room. You’ll likely be juggling decisions around finishes, colors, and furniture. One practice that we recommend as a guiding light is making as many sustainable decisions as possible. 

Choosing to go with more sustainable products is not just good for the planet. It’s also good for your health, your home, and the people who make the products. Sustainable interior design options have become much more common over the last decade.. 
By adhering to sustainable interior design practices, you’ll be championing energy efficiency, resource conservation, and your health when designing a space. Who doesn’t want that?

What’s a Product Life Cycle?

To understand how sustainable a product is, you have to understand its product life cycle. By product life cycle, we mean that we’re taking into consideration every stage of a product’s life. From the moment the raw materials are gathered to create the product, to how it’s disposed of when you’re finished with it is all its unique life cycle.  

Here’s granular breakdown of what’s considered at each step:

Life Cycle Image

Material extraction: 

  • Were the materials that were used to make this product taken from the earth? 
  • Did extracting the materials harm anything along the way? 
  • Is it a regenerative resource, or do we have a finite amount to use? 
  • Was it taken from the earth or is it made of repurposed or recycled materials? 

Product production/manufacturing:

  • What resources do the product and manufacturing plants use to make this product?
  • How was the manufacturing plant built? 
  • What’s the carbon footprint of the manufacturing plant? 
  • Does making this product affect the health of the people creating the product? 

Transportation:

  • How far did the raw materials travel to get to the production or manufacturing site?
  • How far does the final product have to travel to get from the manufacturing plant to you? 
  • How far will it have to go when you’re ready to get rid of it? 

In Home Use:

  • Does installing this product require toxic adhesives or additional finishes?
  • Does the installation of the product affect the health of the installers in any way?
  • What resources are required to care for this product?
  • How long does the product last?

End of Life/Disposal:

  • What do you do with this product when you’re finished with it?
  • Can the product be refurbished or repurposed instead of thrown away? 
  • Does this product emit any harmful chemicals while decomposing?

To some, asking these questions at each phase of the design process might feel like overkill. However, at Spark Interiors, when you decide to invest in sustainable materials, this is our minimum checklist. We pride ourselves in creating spaces that are safe for your health, the health of others, and the environment every step of the way.

Reducing Waste with Intentional Product Selections

Reducing waste is one way you can protect the planet with your interior design practices. Throughout your project, there are a couple of things you’ll need to consider. 

First, examine what’s needed to make the item. Items made of raw materials often come from far away places. They travel a significant distance to get to production. Then they travel a significant distance again to get to you. By picking regenerative or recycled materials for your design, you’ll be creating a smaller footprint. Even better if it’s local! 

Consider how long you’ll need this product and what the expected lifespan is. Will this item outlive you? When you’re finished with it, will it go to landfills? How will you replace it? Is it recyclable or compostable? Items that are the latter also reduce our environmental footprint. 

Next, what does it take to keep it clean? Does it require you to expose yourself and your home to toxic chemicals? Some products can emit harmful chemicals and ruin the air quality in your home. Consider pieces and features that don’t need things like toxic finishes or chemical concoctions for maintenance. Our goal is to create as little waste as possible when it comes to product upkeep.

Last, before you order, do some research on the packaging the item will come in. Occasionally, a company will boast that they have a sustainable product. Yet, when it arrives it’s covered in plastic wrap, styrofoam, and bubble wrap, none of which are good for the environment! By doing a little packaging research, or placing a special order omitting plastic materials, you can reduce the waste of your interior design product.

What’s It Mean to Be Energy Efficient?

Purchasing appliances that are energy efficient is an easy way to make a consistent environmental impact. By investing a little bit more in more sustainable appliances, you’ll be able to reduce the amount of water, electricity, and energy you use throughout your life. 

We recommend installing water efficient appliances. Oftentimes these are low flow appliances that get the job done without wasting any extra water. Look for a WaterSense certification while making these purchases. 

Invest in EPA approved appliances that will cut down on electricity. If you have an old appliance you’re replacing for an energy efficient appliance, check out the EPA’s Responsible Appliance Disposal (RAD). EnergyStar’s website has many different types of appliances, including lights, fridges, heat pumps, washers, dryers and more. 

You can install a smart thermostat to automatically adjust your home’s temperature based on the weather. You can also set your thermostat to change based on the time of day. There’s no sense in heating or cooling your home if you aren’t going to be there. 
Also, consider using LED lighting. They’re 90% more energy efficient than other light bulbs. To naturally increase the light in your home, consider utilizing reflective surfaces or a lighter shade of paint.

Why Is Sustainable Interior Design Important to Our Health?

As we mentioned before, sustainable interior design isn’t only good for the planet. It’s also good for your health. Being strategic about what products and materials you bring into your home can help you and others live a healthier life. 

First, consider the product’s manufacturing process. Does it force others to be around dangerous materials? During the creation process, are any of the materials toxic or harmful? Some products can require the people making the products to wear masks, eye protection, and gloves to protect themselves. If they’re not safe during production, the products will not be safe in your home. 

To help protect your home’s air quality, look for materials and finishes that are low in toxicity and low in VOC. This is especially true for paints and finishes.

What are the Benefits of Sustainable Interior Design?

Sustainable design solutions differ from conventional design solutions by supporting healthy environments as well as rationalizing resource and energy consumption. Protecting yourself and the planet are two things that often intertwine and overlap. By making sustainable interior design choices, you’re choosing to invest in a cleaner and safer design process. 

Below are additional noteworthy sustainability certifications to look for during your design process.

Noteworthy Certifications

LEED Certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)

  • “A framework for healthy, high efficient, and cost saving green buildings.” 
  • Buildings that are LEED certified adhere to a certain set of standards and criteria in order to be energy efficient and sustainable. 

WELL Building Standard

  • “A vehicle for buildings and organizations to deliver more thoughtful and intentional spaces that enhance human health and wellbeing.”
  • The WELL standard is a certified, performance based system for measuring, certifying and monitoring human health and wellbeing. 

Cradle to Cradle Certification

  • “Certifications for products that are safe, circular, and responsibly made.”
  • This certification examines an organization’s material health, product circularity, clean air and climate protection, water and social stewardship and social fairness.
  • More simply, Cradle to Cradle Certification means a product can be broken down into raw material waste and then made into something entirely new for a second life. 

Green Guard

  • This certification means that you’ve purchased products that won’t create indoor air pollution in your home and minimizes your risk to chemical exposure.

FSC Certification

  • “Ensures that products come from responsibly managed forests that provide environmental, social, and economical benefits.” 
  • FSC certified products are legally logged, and create a minimal environmental impact. 

Floor Score 

  • Floor score allows you to understand the indoor air quality effects of specific types of flooring. Many types of flooring are finished with toxic chemicals and varnishes that continue to emit orders long after they’ve dried.  
  • By consulting a floor score first, you can make the safest and most sustainable decision for you and your floors.

Fair Trade Certification (FTC)

  • FTC means an organization has created safe working conditions, environmental protection procedures, sustainable livelihoods, and gives to community development funds
  • FTC ensures that businesses are having a positive impact on those who are making products, and their communities
  • They also champion their own sustainable development goals 

Responsible Wool Standard (RWS)

  • This organization ensures that wool farmers are treating their land and their flocks responsibly.

Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)

  • GOTS has created a list of criteria in order to hold cotton textile producers accountable for the waste they produce cotton farming. 
  • By adhering to GOTS standards, textile companies are showing that their cotton is made of organic fibers, while protecting the people who help create their products, and the planet. 
  • Cotton is a very water-intensive industry. A GOTs certification ensures cotton farmers use 60-80% less water compared to traditional cotton farming.

Leather Working Group (LWG)

  • This organization represents sustainable and responsible leather sourcing. 
  • They work with brands, manufacturers, traders, and more to evaluate the life cycle of sustainable leather products. 

Biophilic Design

  • “Improving Health and Wellbeing in Build Environments”
  • This is a design practice that emphasizes a connection with nature, human health, and wellbeing in all design principles.

Additional Resources

  • LBD Red List: This is a list of materials, chemicals, and elements considered to be the “worst in class” for building and interior design. The list is curated by International Living Future Institute. 
  • GFDA (Good Future Design Alliance): This is a community of builders, designers, architects, landscapers and more dedicated to reducing their waste by 50% over the next five years. Spark Interiors is proud to be a member of this alliance.
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