Sustainable interior design for real living

At The Home Green, we explore the importance of sustainable interior design and share resources designed to bring thoughtful design to your home.

It’s impossible to interact in the world these days without coming across news about sustainability. The concept of living today in a way that minimizes the future impact of our choices has never been more important. 

Many of us want a world with clean air, good health, and beautiful outdoor spaces, yet we may not think about making decisions that further these goals when we create the spaces closest to us. Interior design can be a great vehicle for self-expression, but considering how your home design aligns with your personal values isn’t always top of mind. 

In this post, we'll dig into why thinking about the design of your home is an important part of living in a more sustainable and eco-friendly way.

What is sustainable interior design?

Sustainable interior design involves considering the impact that decorating choices have on the world. This can include everything from the materials used in construction and choices of furniture, textiles, and decorative objects for living spaces both inside and out. 

Components of sustainable interior design can include:

Design choices impact the health of the people in your home, the health of the planet, and the well-being of people across the globe. Sustainable interior design is all about making sure that the choices we make for our homes are as positive as possible.

Is sustainable interior design the same as green interior design or eco-friendly interior design?

These terms are often used interchangeably but to design professionals, they do have somewhat different meanings. While green interior design encompasses more than just interior design, green interior design typically references a fairly specific set of established principles that can be more specifically measured.

Sustainable design, on the other hand, is a more general term that is constantly evolving to capture the latest in the industry in terms of being more environmentally friendly. 

An example of this is LEED Certification for new interior spaces. This is an accreditation that the designers of new buildings can apply for from the U.S. Green Building Council to verify that the interior meets certain environmental standards. 

Why sustainable interior design matters

It can often be overlooked, but home decorating can be a contributor to the environmental challenges we’re facing today.

According to EPA estimates, Americans are producing: 

  • 4x more furniture waste versus 50 years ago

  • 4x more small appliance waste versus 30 years ago

  • 2x more carpet and rug waste versus 30 years ago

This means that we are not only filling up our land with junk but also using more resources than ever in its production. 

reupholstering furniture for sustainable interior design

What’s the problem? 

By using lower-quality materials, manufacturers can produce furniture that is relatively less expensive than it was in previous generations. Unfortunately, these materials are not always as durable, easy to recycle or reuse, and can often have toxic components. Because these cheaply made products are also often lower priced, there's also a lower mental hurdle to just throwing them in the trash when they're no longer needed. It’s also likely that frequent style changes result in furniture disposal as trendy items fall out of favor.

The materials we’re using aren’t just lower quality, they can cause short and long-term harm to the people in your home. We now understand that many finishes and fillers used in products today can emit volatile organic compounds or VOCs that can negatively impact air quality and harm human health.

The benefits of sustainable interior design

If done right, sustainable interior design should be better for human health, potentially your wallet, and definitely the planet. By selecting products made by responsible companies and renewable and recyclable materials, we can alleviate these problems.

Where to start in making your home greener: a simple way to consider eco-friendly interior design

  1. Before purchase. This includes everything that happens before that item arrives in your home and includes some aspects that you may not (I certainly didn’t) previously consider including:
  • Materials – is the wood used reclaimed or otherwise sustainably sourced; are the fabrics and fillers non-toxic?
  • Labor – who made this item and under what conditions?
  • Manufacturing – how much energy was used and waste was created in the production of that good?
  1. In home. How will the materials used in your interior design impact the ecosystem of your home? How will they impact your health? Are they non-toxic and safe for pets and children? Also, how well made is this item? Will it be something that can be used and potentially reused by recovering, repainting, re-staining, or repurposing? How efficient is it?

  2. After use. Will this item biodegrade? Does this manufacturer recycle this product? Could someone else use it when you’re done with it? 

What to look for in sustainable interior design

One of the key things to look for is sustainable certification from third parties who have tested and endorsed products on a variety of parameters. To learn more about sustainable shopping for your home, check out our summary: “9 sustainable certifications to seek out for your home.” Some of these include:

  • Wood products that are sustainably harvested as indicated by FSC certification.  

  • Fabrics that are certified organic with a GOTs certification, and non-toxic, as indicated by an OEKO-TEX® certification.

  • Pillows and cushions that are natural or made of recycled components that don’t off-gas VOCs, as certified by the GREENGUARD certification.

  • Appliances that are ENERGY STAR certified and/or repairable.

  • Decorative objects that are vintage or preowned, locally made, or manufactured in a way that supports fair trade best practices.

10 ways to bring sustainable interior design into your home

1. Support companies who prioritize sustainability 

One of the easiest ways to contribute to a greener planet is to support companies making sustainability commitments. By exercising this kind of conscious commerce you show corporations that there are people who will prioritize spending their dollars with responsible companies.

2. Invest in good, sustainable furniture 

This is an area where I have all too much experience doing the wrong thing – prioritizing the short-term need versus the best long-term solution. It’s tempting to hop online, sort by price, and buy the cheapest thing that meets our needs. I wish I knew then what I know now, which is that all too often, that cheap, flat-packed furniture is a temporary band-aid that can’t survive a move or even daily wear and tear. I could have found a much better option if I saved my pennies or looked around at sales or second-hand options.

If you're interested in learning more about how sustainable furniture, check out a few of our resources, below.

3. Avoid things that are too trendy

Especially when it comes to larger, more expensive, and bigger footprint items, try to select timeless pieces that are more likely to be something you’ll like for years to come. This means avoiding a trendy pattern or color for your sofa or a finish that is difficult to change in the future. This doesn’t mean your home has to be boring – mid-century modern is one of the most exciting and timeless styles in homes today. Just try to avoid avocado green. 

4. Hire a sustainable interior designer

More and more designers are becoming aware of sustainable options and there are a growing number who are becoming experts in this area. If you’re planning to start a home design project, check out our list of sustainable interior designers and see if there might be one whose style matches what you are looking for.

5. Simplify

This is probably the hardest tip for me, if I’m being honest, but also potentially the most effective. If I can win the battle with my inner pack rat, I find that if there’s less coming in, it means less cleaning, managing, and organizing. Ultimately, this means more time and energy for the things that make me the happiest.  

6. Consign or donate

Help fuel the second-hand market by consigning or donating items you no longer need. There are usually an abundance of local options and now so many online options that there is bound to be something to meet your needs.

7. Repair and refurbish

Resist the temptation to just pitch things that aren’t working perfectly. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had an appliance break and my husband was able to fix it by watching a video on youtube. (It also helps if you have someone handy in your household, but he has no formal appliance training so I’m sure it’s within the realm of possibilities for others.)

8. Consider efficiency

And speaking of appliances, consider the efficiency of the items in your home. Energy Star, LED light bulbs, thermal window coverings, and weatherproofed windows and doors are all great tools for making sure you’re getting the most bang for your energy buck.

9. Know where your things come from

Companies who are prioritizing sustainability tend to be excited to talk about their processes and the materials they use. Dig in a little to understand what went into the creation of the products that come into your home and make those responsible companies your first stop when you need new things.

10. Follow The Home Green ​

Shameless plug alert! In all seriousness, our goal is to be a resource to help you to find the best ways to create a beautiful home. Hopefully, the information in this article gives you hope that it is possible to create a home that doesn’t make you compromise your style or ethics. 

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