Environmentally Friendly Design Ideas
There are so many competing products, programs, and messages on how to incorporate environmentally friendly design ideas into your home that it can very quickly become overwhelming. Different experts in the field take different approaches that can lead to very different outcomes and suggestions. At the end of the day how you and your family choose to participate may be different than someone else. It’s important to remind yourself not to get so bogged down in the details and options that you just give up.
What makes the entire process even more confusing is that most companies and products advertise some form of “green certification.” Environmentalists have coined this process “Greenwashing:” Since promoting a product as environmentally friendly has become a marketing tool to gain a competitive advantage, many companies have found ways to promote their products as green that have few actual environmental benefits. This is especially frustrating if you, like me, have purchased a product at a premium thinking you are buying a safer product, only to discover later that the only special thing about it was a misleading label!
So what are some ways that you can participate in environmental action while avoiding marketing ploys:
Buy Well and Less Often:
- What’s better for the environment? Buying a new sofa every 5 years for $1000 or buying a $3000 sofa and keeping it for 15 years? Unfortunately, the answer isn’t straight forward. When it comes to furniture, the cost of a piece does not necessarily relate directly to its quality or how environmentally friendly it is. You will still have to ask questions and do your research. But purchasing better quality less often instead of replacing cheaper items more often is one of the simpler ways to reduce the impact you are having on the environment.
- Interestingly enough this is the case for most furniture and building materials but not for all appliances. Technology progresses so quickly that the environmental benefit of updating an older appliance is generally greater than keeping an old appliance running longer. The environmental benefits are further amplified if you dispose of and recycle your old appliance in the right way. Some appliance manufactures/distributors will ensure that their old products are handles properly, be sure to ask.
Ask About Water Mitigation or Recycling Programs:
- The manufacturing process for most household items and building materials use a lot of water. Don’t be afraid to ask about a companies water use. Ask them if they have programs that either treat or reuse the water they use in the manufacturing process that goes above the minimum requirements set by the jurisdiction that the factory is located in.
Look for Recycled Content
- A product that uses recycled content is often using less raw material and therefore usually consumes fewer resources. This has been common in wood and paper products for a long time but is also becoming more popular in furniture and building materials. For example, some quartz countertops now have recycled content in them.
- The key is to ask if the recycled content is from diverted waste streams. While the majority of products with some form of recycled content in them are better for the environment than not, some manufactures have started to advertise existing processes of reusing manufacturing scraps from the factory in their products as “recycled content”. This is another example of greenwashing.
- For example, if you were making 3 pies and you took the leftover snips of pastry and used it to make a tart shell, this isn’t necessarily using recycled material, but it could be advertised that way. Companies have been reusing leftover materials for a long time, after all, it just makes good business sense to reduce manufacturing costs. But advertising that product as having recycled content doesn’t actually mean that less waste is ending up in the landfill. Have they actually purchased recycled materials to add to their products? Operating efficiently can reduce waste during the manufacturing process but it does not divert already existing waste from landfills.
Look for International or 3rd Party Audited Accreditations:
- For new construction housing, LEED© certification is a popular accreditation program that is run and audited independently of the construction industry. It stands for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.” A building that is certified LEED© has achieved specific milestones on a variety of key indicators to ensure that it achieves higher performance and has less of an impact on the environment as a comparable structure built to the building code.
I hope that I have been able to provide you with a few tools you can use the next time you are purchasing furniture, renovating a space in your existing space, or contemplating investing in a new home.
Director, Design Services
Jim believes in ignoring the rules and creating spaces that are personal and tailored to the client. His design style leans toward layered, saturated spaces with an identifiable history. His pro-tip: In small, open-concept spaces, make the kitchen as seamless and integrated as possible.