Great design is all about making smart choices. While selecting the right design elements may help you achieve your desired aesthetic; it has also become increasingly important to consider the environment while making these key decisions.
From choosing a finish that will help you breath a little easier to making sure your lumber wasn't illegally clear-cut from a protected rain forest- Eco-friendly alternatives abound. Our guide to Easy Eco-Alternatives for Every Interior Design Project will help you navigate an at times confusing Eco Design industry, and prove that not all "Eco-Friendly" products are created equal.
Say no to toxic fumes. (Source)
HARMFUL OPTION: Lacquer and Oil Based Finishes
- Lacquers contain chemicals that are harmful to your health if ingested, inhaled, or come into contact with eyes or skin
- Pose especially serious health risk to those who manufacture them
- Oil based finishes require 2x as much energy to produce as water based
Water based finishes are just as durable.
ECO-FRIENDLY ALTERNATIVE: Water-Based, Soy, Natural
- Use little to no solvents, petroleum derivatives, or toxins to produce
Read more about choosing the right eco-friendly finish for your project here.
2. FURNITURE FILLING
HARMFUL OPTION: Chemically Sprayed Upholstery Foam
- Leach harmful chemicals including formaldehyde and flame retardants
- Contribute to unhealthy air quality and build up of harmful dust indoors
- Toluene, a known neuro-toxin, found to off-gas from these foams
ECO-FRIENDLY ALTERNATIVE: Soy, Latex, Coco Fiber
- Linen and hemp require nearly no irrigation and no chemical use
- Soy foam is made from the soybean- a renewable resource
- Utilizing renewables cuts dependence on fossil fuels twice- in fuels needed for feed stock and in energy to produce foam
- Natural latex is recyclable, bio-degradable, resists mold, mildew, and dust mites, AND is a renewable resource
- Coconut fiber is often produced by developing countries, employs hundreds of thousands of small-scale farmers, and is renewable, versatile, and durable
Take it from the worms themselves. (Source)
HARMFUL OPTION: Silk and Synthetics
- Over 10,000 silkworms are killed to make one silk sari, about 15 killed per gram of silk
- Synthetics are often fossil fuel derivatives, made with petroleum or coal
- Synthetics are often more flammable
More hemp please. (Source)
ECO-FRIENDLY ALTERNATIVE: Hemp, Linen, Organic Cotton
- Supports farmers in developing countries
- Non-irritant and not reliant on fossil fuels
- Hemp and linen require nearly zero irrigation or chemical additives
HARMFUL OPTION: Oak, Elm, Non-Sustainably Sourced Lumber, and *"Recycled" Pallets"*
- Oak and elm forests are nearing extinction due to disease
- Farther away your lumber is grown, the more fossil fuels are required to transport
- Leave pallets outside where they belong. Most pallets are chemically treated, come into contact with liquids, vermin, and bacteria in their travels
- While some are safer than others, there is no way to trace entire journey, re-use, or contamination along the way
- To learn more about the hidden dangers of DIY recycling pallets, check out this article.
Bamboo has never looked so good. (Source)
ECO-FRIENDLY ALTERNATIVE: FSC Certified Lumber, Douglas Fir & Bamboo, and Reclaimed Wood
- Seek out FSC Cert. Ensures that fragile ecosystems are protected, native cultures and economies are respected, and prevents illegal logging
- FSC certification also restricts harmful clear-cutting, and use of toxic pesticides
- Be sure where the wood came from and chain of custody with this certification.
- Learn more about FSC Certification here
- Reclaimed and recycled woods are ALWAYS better than cutting and transporting virgin wood
- Douglas Fir and Bamboo are both relatively sustainable crops, as they grow much faster than other woods
HARMFUL OPTION: Granite
- Granite is a non-sustainable resource
- Quarrying requires incredible amount of energy
- Shipped from the other side of the world, consuming vast amounts of fuel
The possibilities are endless. (Source)
ECO-FRIENDLY ALTERNATIVE: Quartz and Concrete
- Quartz is man made and so does not require quarrying
- Quartz is made from byproducts of other industries with products that would have otherwise gone to waste
- Quartz is highly durable and comes in an infinite number of finishes
- Read more about the green advantages of quartz here
- While not all concrete countertops are equally green, choosing one with a water based finish, and recycled components makes for one of the greenest counter tops on the market. Learn more here
We must stop this madness!
HARMFUL OPTION: Imports and Unverified “Reclaimed” Products.
- Container ships that are used to transport imported goods and raw materials across the globe are BY FAR the most ecologically harmful mode of transportation that man has ever dreamed up
- Emissions of just 16 of these ships equivalent to every single car on the planet
- Raw materials shipped to producer nation then finished goods shipped to consumer nation, making imported goods twice as wasteful with multiple trips across the planet before reaching the consumer
- Imported goods that claim to be "sustainable", "certified", or "reclaimed" often (but not always) dubious and impossible to substantiate due to lack of regulation or varying standards internationally
Sustainability starts at home. (Source)
ECO-FRIENDLY ALTERNATIVE: Locally Sourcing, USA Made, Seek Out Reputable Suppliers
Even if you opt for the previously mentioned eco-friendly alternatives; without considering the benefits of local sourcing- your efforts may be falling short. The environmental benefits of sourcing locally speak for themselves, primarily in the reduction of fossil fuel use and the ability to know with confidence what is going into the products you're buying. Other benefits include, but are not limited to:
- Keeps money in local economy, supports small business, and creates jobs within your own community
- Supports fair labor and safety practices, discourages child labor, slave labor, and other dangerous practices
- Locally made goods often offer far more variety and ability to customize, and just about ALWAYS are higher quality products
For a more comprehensive look into the dangers of cargo shipping and the benefits of buying American made products, be sure to check out our blog "Top Five Reasons to Buy American Made" .
In the interior design industry, going green and buying smart go hand in hand. Knowing your sources, trusting their 'sustainable certification,' and choosing the products with the least environmental impact will not only improve the quality of your design, but will serve to strengthen your brand and your message as a designer. It has never been easier to make the right choices.