How to Choose Sustainable Interiors for Your Home
Updated: Mar 8, 2021
In these uncertain times, many of us have been unconsciously adopting a more sustainable lifestyle with cooking food from scratch or planting seeds to grow our own vegetables. It has been heart warming to see neighbours and communities come together to help each other, offering time and resources to those in need. On a larger scale we are seeing the environmental benefits of reduced air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Continuing with these positive changes for our wellbeing and the environment will be important once lockdown restrictions are lifted and one way we can do this is by having a greater awareness of products we are bringing into our homes.
Home interiors such as furniture, accessories, lighting, paint, floor and wall coverings is a growing market and since we have naturally altered our shopping habits in the recent weeks, it's the perfect time to look at how we can change the way we buy things going forward. Prior to the lockdown many of us were already actively reducing our environmental impact by making changes to our everyday habits such as minimising single use plastic. There are simple changes and swaps we have made to do this, but what about when it comes to home decor or building materials for your home?
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the air indoors is 2 to 5 times more polluted than outside air. Chemicals from furniture and building materials combined with poor ventilation adds to the problem. Not only is it important to open windows and doors whenever we can to circulate the air, when we’re purchasing goods we should be considering what we are bringing into our homes. As I mentioned in my previous blog (you can read it here) knowing the lifecycle of products is key to creating a sustainable home. Asking questions before we make a purchase makes us stop and consider what is important to us and if we really want to give our support (money) to a company whose main priority is their profits.
"Asking questions before we make a purchase makes us stop and consider what is important to us"
Applying these questions in the same way we would when trying to reduce our plastic usage will help give us a greater understanding of the entire process of a product from the beginning; What is it made from? Where have the materials/ingredients come from? Where was it made? Are they sustainably produced? How is it produced/what is the manufacturing process? Who has is been made by? What is it packaged in? How is it disposed of?
What to Look for When Buying Sustainably
It can be complicated making informed choices with the amount of information at our disposal, or by contrast, the lack of it where suppliers and manufacturers aren’t so forthcoming about their products. I have spoken to many experts and have a wealth of knowledge when it comes to sustainable interiors and it can be frustrating how misleading manufacturers claims can be or how little they will share on their websites to identify the origins, breakdown of materials or the manufacturing process. For example if a product is labelled 'natural' as it is made from natural materials such as wood, it doesn’t necessarily make it sustainable. It may be that the material is in short supply and therefore an alternative would be considered more sustainable. Until tighter regulations are enforced, many manufacturers and suppliers (including well-known, household brands) will continue selling this way in order to boost their profits.
In order to get around this we need to to take a pragmatic approach. I've listed some suggestions that in conjunction with the questions mentioned above, will help to ensure you're making the best sustainable choices for your home interiors.
Where possible buy locally made products to reduce carbon emissions and shop with independent businesses who have often made the goods themselves or know the names of the people who do. Not only are you supporting a real person, rather than a large corporate company, but they can tell you the story behind the product which builds a deeper connection with your possessions.
Buy products that you know will last and make sure the company offers a repair service for that product.
Choose natural fabrics; organic cotton, linen, silk, wool, cashmere, hemp and jute all use less water in the growing and manufacturing process.
Where possible avoid polyester, acrylic, rayon, nylon, acetate and triacetate. Manufacturing of these uses a harmful chemical process and there are multiple studies that have shown synthetic fibres to make up a significant number of microplastics found in waters and are widely implicated as the source of pollution.
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and vinyl products should also be avoided. It’s made from petroleum which is one of our scarce natural resources and emits toxic compounds from its manufacture to its disposal. It can’t be recycled and therefore has to go to landfill where it continues to release toxic additives.
Natural materials such as wood and plant fibres, stone and composites (clay, porcelain, soil etc) are derived from plants or the ground, contain no harmful chemicals and are more hardwearing than synthetics. They require less processing and are also biodegradable. Choose Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified paper and wood which is sustainably produced and contains fewer or no chemical components.
Renewable materials such as bamboo, stone, burlap, linen, beeswax and cork are preferable as they can be generated as quickly as they are consumed.
Choose paints with natural pigments where possible and avoid those with acrylic polymers which are derived from fossil fuels and produce up to 30 litres of toxic waste per litre of paint manufactured.
Water based ink avoids chemicals and toxic waste during the manufacturing process so look for fabrics and wallpapers that specify the use of natural colours.
I'd love to know what you think about this subject or if you have any other suggestions on buying sustainably!
If you would like further information on sustainable interiors or need advice designing your home using a sustainable approach, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to see how I can help.