I love nothing more than collaboration and collective action that’s focused on a positive human relationship with nature. So, I’m really excited to share this initiative, which urges design industry action on climate change: ‘Interior Design Declares’. It calls on inspirational and influential interior design practices and designers to adopt a ‘paradigm shift in behaviour’ and I am fully signed up!
Society is waking up to the climate emergency and the design industry needs to join the call to action. As designers, we have a vitally important role to play in future changes within our own industry; we need to direct the move to environmentally-responsible design. No longer an aspirational motivation, both brands and consumers are importantly prioritising the planet over profit, with the conscious consumer shifting their focus from being about prestige and wealth to the sustainability of the product.
Our power is incredible. We can inspire and make change happen. We are the ones deciding which materials and products to use. Our choices can secure a better future for humanity and encourage low-volume consumption of Earth’s precious resources. This is a sustainable design philosophy, one that seeks to integrate an environmentally-friendly approach and always considers natural resources.
Waste and pollution are mainly as a result of the way we design things, they are the consequences of the decisions we make at the design stage.
Designers are problem-solvers by trade. We provide new and innovative solutions through the products we create or the services we offer. So, good design has the potential to tackle the root cause of many problems we face today. Current levels of natural resource are finite and so our time is now. We can influence clients and colleagues and provide only truly sustainable design solutions. It is important that we see waste as a design flaw and look to harness new technologies and materials in order that waste is not created in the first place. This approach is a fundamental part of the industry’s evolution towards a circular economy; we must become regenerative.
‘The linear ‘Take-Make-Dispose’ system, which depletes natural resources and generates waste, is deeply flawed and can be productively replaced by a restorative model in which waste does not exist as such but is only food for the next cycle’ (Ellen MacArthur)
Designers can also influence a product’s environmental impact:
“Over 80 percent of a product’s environmental impact is decided upon at the design stage”.
And we designers and architects can impact up to 90 percent of a project’s eventual impact based on the earliest design decisions. Hosey, Lance. “Toward A New Consilience”. Gensler.com, 7, Oct 2019.
Choosing sustainable practices and materials to create beautiful spaces is one of the most important and exciting design challenges of our time. I’m challenging myself to create spaces that balance functionality, wellness, beauty and a greater care and respect for our environment.
I am led by my values and have inception conversations with all clients about the level of quality that I purchase or commission – I will not buy cheap, disposable items. Nor will I source super trendy furniture and accessories. I have turned down projects on this basis and will continue to do so. Instead, I seek clients who want me to deliver sustainability and feel like they align with my ethos.
So how do we achieve sustainability in design?
Below are some of the principles I consider on each design project:
Design for healthy environments
Humans spend 90% of our time indoors. That’s a lot of time! It makes it even more important to consider the quality of our habitats, and the health and comfort provided by the building. My approach to design is biophilic, which means I create productive, healthy and happy spaces for life and work by increasing the connection with nature in the built environment.
Design for natural systems
There is no concept of waste in nature, when leafs fall from trees, they feed the soil as they break down, becoming food for the forest. WE should aim to mimic this by seeking to do less harm, aiming only to do good. We can enhance our natural resources by returning valuable nutrients to the soil and other ecosystems.
Design for energy efficiency
The selection and design of materials and products that have the lowest environmental impact is increasingly important. I consider extraction, processing, production and transportation as part of that. I also seek out products that are created using renewable energy. Similarly, energy efficiency is prioritised in my design schemes: heating, lighting, insulation, appliances and window applications.
Design for waste reduction
The materials we use play an essential role is sustainable design. It’s key that we understand the impact of materials on both human and ecological health – in production, through use, and upon being discarded.
- materials or products that can be easily recycled
- materials that are quickly renewable (such as bamboo)
- those that are extracted in environmentally responsible ways
- closed loop lifecycles
- quality over quantity, and simplicity and functionality over adornment
My salutogenic design approach runs from cradle-to-cradle; waste becomes the raw material for new products. This creates a circular loop of manufacturing and minimises (or even eliminates) waste altogether.
Design for function and longevity
The function of every product directly contributes to sustainability. Usable products ensure a longer life and result in less waste. Products must either be durable enough to last for a substantial amount of time or fully recycled and transformed into new products. Taking a design for longevity approach creates timeless yet adaptable spaces.
Designers can make a product that lasts forever:
“If you want something to last, make it as lovable as a Labrador,” wrote playful architect Lance Hosey in his volume, The Shape of Green.
Design for form
It’s important to consider how the shape of the design will affect energy consumption, how the size and shape will affect packaging, transportation costs and fuel emissions. And consideration must be given to both aesthetics and anthropometrics (the place of the body within the interior) – what works for one space does not necessarily work for the next.
Design for cost effective solutions
One of the key barriers in making the switch from dependence on non-sustainable products to sustainable products/designs is cost. Designers must find solutions that reduce the cost of sustainable products. We need to champion sustainability and educate our clients in their choices. When the design is aesthetic, solid, ecological, ethical and affordable, then it becomes sustainable.
Why does design need to become sustainable now?
- We are in the grip of an environmental emergency
- Demand for wellness considerations in the built environment continue to increase
- Policies and government incentives to create green spaces continue to advance
- Investing in sustainability contributes to an organisation’s reputational value
For everyone working in the built environment, meeting the needs of our societies without breaching the Earth’s ecological boundaries will demand a paradigm shift in our behaviour. If we are to reduce and eventually reverse the environmental damage we are causing, we will need to re-imagine our buildings, cities and infrastructures. They must become indivisible components of a larger, constantly regenerating and self-sustaining system.
At the beginning of April, writer Arundhati Roy, wrote an amazing article for the Financial Times. In it, she talks about pandemics as portals:
“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world
anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We
can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we
can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”
I can’t think of a better quote to apply to our industry’s opportunity for sustained, sustaining and sustainable change!