When we think of how to live a more sustainable lifestyle, our minds often stray towards organic groceries or eliminating plastic straws, but what about our actual living spaces? Whether it’s your home, your office, or your favorite restaurant, residential and commercial buildings account for one-third of all global greenhouse gas emissions.
The solution: sustainable design.
How do you make a building sustainable? Start small.
Faucets, toilets, refrigerators–these are all necessary fixtures with abundant eco-friendly options! Efficiency and sustainable materials are key, and will not only reduce waste and save water, energy, and resources, but will lower your water and energy bills significantly.
In an article titled “Healthy, Sustainable Interior Design: A Conversation with ASID” (American Society of Interior Designers) by the U.S. Green Building Council, it was found that “at least 2/3 of the U.S. has experienced or is expected to experience water shortages.” One of the easiest solutions to this problem is to reduce water usage by simply switching over to more efficient appliances, from shower heads to faucets. In fact, “if every household in America installed a water-efficient faucet, the U.S. could save 60 billion gallons of water annually. From the commercial perspective, a small office with as few as 10 employees can save about 69,000 gallons of water and $420 in water utility bills in a single year if they replace just one toilet.” The financial and environmental impact is remarkable, and it all relies on merely making sustainable choices.
Buying appliances that reduce the amount of energy needed for lighting and heating as well as reduce water usage can make a huge impact and add modern beauty to any space. Water-efficient faucets and shower heads, composting toilets, and smart thermostats are all great sustainable appliances to start with. Luckily, with the success of the sustainable design movement, there are countless shopping options that make meeting sustainable standards easy. One outstanding company is Real Goods, a California company with a mission “To empower our customers to live comfortably and with a lower environmental footprint by providing high-quality renewable energy solutions and the best selection of environmentally friendly lifestyle products.” They provide a wide variety of sustainable appliances and products, including eco-friendly refrigerators, heating and cooling devices, composting toilets, and more. But no matter where you are, one of the easiest and most important things you can do is buy Energy Star Certified appliances, as they’re guaranteed to be energy efficient.
Four letters: GSFT. Green, sustainable, and Fair Trade (GSFT) materials and products are the eco-friendly building blocks needed to create a sustainable space. Everything from fabrics to flooring to walls can be made with GSFT materials.
Organic, renewable materials are very important in sustainable design, so it’s crucial to choose your materials carefully. Always read the fine print and look out for labels and certifications that signify eco-friendly materials and products. When buying wood products, make sure to look out for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) label, which “ensures that products come from responsibly managed forests that provide environmental, social and economic benefits.”
Another label to check for is the Rainforest Alliance seal, which guarantees that a product meets “rigorous environmental and social standards.”
Along with sustainable materials, things such as insulation should be kept in mind when choosing what products work best for you. Windows, curtains, and carpets can all affect a building’s insulation and should be chosen carefully to help reduce energy use from heating and cooling functions. Energy used for lighting can also be reduced by using light, reflective colors on walls and furniture to help brighten up a space and decrease the need for artificial lighting. This has psychological benefits as well, as natural light has been found to reduce stress and increase productivity. Using natural and bright materials helps shape an aesthetic sustainable space that is good for both the mind and the planet.
GSFT materials not only reduce environmental impact and lower stress levels, but they improve your physical health as well. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “the air within homes and other buildings can be more seriously polluted than the outdoor air in even the largest and most industrialized cities.” Indoor air pollution can come from furniture and materials that have been treated with chemicals that give off toxins and pollute the air. GSFT materials are toxin-free, and therefore, not just an investment in the earth, but in your health as well. Randy Fiser, CEO of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), said, “One of the most important aspects of sustainability is health – health of the indoor environment, of the occupants, of the materials. Interior designers offer specialized knowledge of interior materials and FF&E (furniture, fixtures and equipment) that promote good indoor air quality, are toxin-free, and are water/energy-efficient.” Sustainable design goes beyond basic eco-friendly standards to promote healthy living, truly making it the best choice.
Leaders and Innovators
As sustainable design gains popularity, more and more creative and passionate companies have seen success through sustainability.
One inspiring leader in the world of recyclable materials is ECONYL. ECONYL is a regenerated nylon that is made from “nylon waste from landfills and oceans around the world… It’s exactly the same as brand new nylon and can be recycled, recreated and remoulded again and again.” ECONYL has a mission to promote circular sustainable methods and products that “close the loop.” Their regenerated nylon is used to make various design materials such as carpet yarn and car upholstery. Not only does ECONYL produce an infinitely recyclable and reusable product, but they help reduce landfill and ocean waste that harms the environment and puts ocean life at risk.
Another leader in sustainable design is Make It Right, an organization that builds green homes and buildings for people and communities in need. Make It Right also maintains a public “Library” online full of information on sustainable design, construction methods, materials used, and more. As the sustainable design movement continues to grow and flourish, more and more information is becoming easily accessible online. This helps educate individuals looking to make green changes as well as professional designers who want to keep learning and improve and share their knowledge.
Sustainable design is focused on reducing environmental impact and promoting waste reduction, longevity and flexibility, and healthy environments. This in turn leads to reduced utility bills, less toxins and chemicals, and a space that promotes health and happiness. Simply put, sustainable design is the future and it has the potential to not only create a beautiful space to live or work in, but to thrive in.
Written by: Katie Cohen
About Real Goods. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://realgoods.com/about-us
Easton, J. (2012, July 11). Healthy, Sustainable Interior Design: A Conversation with ASID. Retrieved from https://www.usgbc.org/articles/healthy-sustainable-interior-design-conversation-asid
ECONYL. (2018, May 15). About us. Retrieved from http://www.econyl.com/about-us/
ECONYL. (2018, May 09). Interiors. Retrieved from http://www.econyl.com/interiors/
EPA. (2018, April 27). The Inside Story: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/inside-story-guide-indoor-air-quality
Forest Stewardship Council. (n.d.). Certification. Retrieved from https://us.fsc.org/en-us/certification
Hayles, C. S. (2015, April 03). Environmentally sustainable interior design: A
snapshot of current supply of and demand for green, sustainable or Fair Trade products for interior design practice. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2212609015000138
Home. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://makeitright.org/
Make It Right. (n.d.). Library. Retrieved from http://makeitright.org/what-we-know/library/
Make It Right. (n.d.). How We Build. Retrieved from http://makeitright.org/how-we-build/