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Eco-Conscious Interior Design: Sustainable Alternatives

Updated on February 5, 2020
Mary Kovalchuk profile image

Mary is an aspiring interior designer. She runs a personal photography blog that focuses on unique architecture of London.

Over the past decade, we have witnessed a collective effort as the global community aims to minimize environmental damage and move towards a more sustainable world.

Across all sectors, extensive research and development are being deployed to discover the most sustainable practices and find alternatives for some of the most damaging materials and practices in the field.

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When it comes to interior design, one must consider the impact of architectural and construction industries on the environment. As practices between these fields often overlap, there have been grand developments in the practices of eco-conscious design.

From sourcing sustainable energy to finding the perfect renewable materials, interior design has led the collective efforts in building sustainable cities. Let’s take a look at how far we’ve come.

Alternative Energy

Of all the applications for energy in building and maintaining an eco-friendly building, interior designers are primarily concerned with the application of sustainable light sources.

Not to mention the use of ambience lighting in designing interiors. Specific hues of colour and the placement of bulbs and light sources in a room can help the designer meet the client’s criteria for a specific project. For example, in order to create an energized and productive vibe in an office space, a designer might turn to blue hues which have been proven to promote feelings of alertness.

Traditionally, sources of light have depended on nuclear and fossil energy like oil, coal and natural gas. These diminishing commodities are not suitable for the long term and have a devastating impact on the earth’s ozone layer.

Daylight design is the most sustainable. Not only is it free and renewable, but it also has documented health benefits. Research shows that efficient lighting has a direct link to our wellbeing and natural light can significantly reduce the symptoms of depression. When done correctly, good architectural design will maximise natural light, while maintaining cool indoor temperatures and keeping direct light glare to a minimum.

The strategic placement of windows, translucent panels and skylights should work in harmony with other design components to ensure that light is reflected throughout the space.

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The emerging technology of sunlight transportation works by collecting natural sunlight on roof panels and transporting it into a building through fibre optic cables. When this method is combined with that of the popular solar panel, both natural and artificial light can be distributed through the building.

Where natural sunlight isn’t an option, energy-efficient light bulbs are far more sustainable than the standard bulb. In fact, when electricity passes through the metal filament, heating up to 2000 degrees, only 10% is converted into light, leaving 90% as wasted heat. Energy-efficient bulbs like Halogen, produce light by reacting halogen gas with tungsten to produce light. This allows them to burn brighter, use less electricity and last far longer than the standard bulb.

Alternative Materials

The use of materials is imperative to the role of an interior designer. From building materials to upholstery, paint and furnishings- they are necessary to compose an interior with value. However, often the value of beautiful interiors is compromised by the negative impact the process has on the environment.

There are, however, a wide range of sustainable materials from which interior designers can choose to work with. Each possesses the relevant compositions and production to be influential contributors to a sustainable world.

Bamboo has shaken the design world and has proved to be a sturdy, interesting and useful building material. This tall grass-like wood grows really fast in tropical countries. The plant itself is incredibly appealing and its structure adds to the design of a room.

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The fast-growing and highly renewable material is also capable of consuming vast amounts of carbon dioxide and is able to produce more oxygen than most hardwood plants. The fact that it is not a tree, it is, in fact, quickly-regenerating grass (taking only 5 years to reach full maturity), means that cutting it down has a minimal impact on the environment. To put this into perspective, bamboo shoots take an average of 60 days to replace—and alternative hardwood trees like oak, take an average of 60 years.

The ways by which interior designers source materials can have a profound effect on the natural environment. The transportation of parts and furnishings and the unsustainable manufacturing of products can and should be strategically kept to a minimum. By sourcing locally produced goods, transportation costs to the environment are automatically slashed.

Artificial rubber and plastic have become common features of most indoor spaces. Such non-biodegradable material cannot be broken down or degraded by natural processes. Instead, they pile up causing pollution and when burned, further pollute the environment. They can, however, become useful when recycled.

Alternatives to such non-biodegradable materials can be degraded by natural processes into usable forms. For example, plant-based products like cotton, paper, wood and wool are far more sustainable materials to work with.

Alternative Leather

Leather has been a go-to decorative and functional element in design since the beginning of time. And whilst animal leather isn't as harmful to the environment as plastic undeniably is- it certainly contributes to serious water pollution and is massively toxic to the environment and the people who rely on the water supply and ecosystem.

Synthetic leather has only a third of the environmental impact as cow leather. However, there are alternatives to such synthetics that effectively allow for zero negative impact and the contribution to eco-friendly design.

Pinatex is one of the most innovative and sustainable leather alternatives on the market. It’s essentially made out of the waste parts of a pineapple plant and social and environmental responsibility are upheld at every stage of production.

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The fibres are extracted from the leaves and the biomass is composted. As pineapple leaves are a waste product in an existing industry- no additional land, water or pesticides are needed. As such, the production of Pinatex has practically zero environmental impact.

In fact, Pinatex really is the material that just keeps on giving. As biomass is produced in the decortication process, it can then be converted into organic fertiliser and be sold. Meaning the production of biomass can provide additional revenue to pineapple farmers to continue the development.

It’s a viable alternative to leather as Pinatex is strong, flexible, light and breathable. It’s a perfect material for upholstery and decorative design.

Whilst traditional methods and practices in interior design may still appear to dominate the industry, there is always an alternative. Firms around the world are making eco-conscious efforts to work towards a sustainable industry. With improved information and accessibility of alternative materials, it should be long before the interior design industry reaches its sustainable target.

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    • electricianbrisbane profile image

      Wayne Gibbons 

      12 days ago from Brisbane

      The idea of sunlight transportation through fibre optics is very interesting. Could make a big difference in countries like Australia with lots of sunlight. Also making leather out of Pineapples is pretty funny and cool!

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