With heightened awareness around how precious earth’s natural resources are, we live in a time where consumers are prioritizing brands that are taking greater responsibility for the environment.
42% of U.S. and U.K. consumers say products that use sustainable materials are important in their day-to-day purchasing. And more than two-thirds of global consumers say they will buy or boycott a brand solely because of its position on a social or political issue, like we saw with the recent Amazon employee activists walkout, successfully urging the tech giant to step up to fight climate change. Additionally, 75% of millennials are willing to take a pay cut to work for a company that’s environmentally responsible.
Companies adopting socially and environmentally responsible practices are seeing success because consumers are holding them accountable by way of purchasing power and choice. What does this mean for the interior design world? We have an opportunity to contribute to an overall healthier planet by considering the environmental and human health of the products and materials we choose to use in our design projects.
Here are three important sustainable, interior design trends for 2020 to prepare for as we step into the next decade.
Shift Toward a Circular Economy
While our world has traditionally followed the take-make-waste linear economy model for longer than anyone would like to admit, the notion of tossing out interiors in place of new, on-trend ones is now off-trend.
A circular economy is based on the principles of designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems, as defined by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Just like nature wastes nothing and gives everything a purpose, in a circular economy everything has a specific purpose and function; and is used and reused in a continuous loop.
When it comes to sustainable design in 2020, designers are in a position to influence the circular economy and support healthier environments through careful selection of materials and products that avoid becoming waste at the end of their life, but instead have continued use for another purpose.
The following are a few examples of suppliers and manufacturers embracing circular economy through smart partnerships:
Interface, the commercial flooring giant used by many designers around the globe, uses yarn made from recycled fishing nets harvested in the Philippines to create carpets that aren’t just beautiful, but also clean up oceans, create new economies in third-world fishing villages and protect our climate by reducing carbon emissions.
Interface’s proprietary ReEntry recycling and reclamation program actively collects and diverts millions of pounds of used carpet from landfills, which is then used to create high-quality carpet backing.
Kimball Hospitality, veteran of casegoods and seating furniture for guest rooms and public spaces, partnered with Packsize to reduce packaging waste and carbon emissions by utilizing packaging materials cut to the exact size of its products.
After reducing the size of their packages, they’re now also able to transport up to 70% more product in one shipment, mitigating carbon emissions.
Southern Aluminum provides beautifully designed meeting tables that don’t need linens, meaning reduced energy, water and chemicals from laundering. When a hotel renovates, instead of replacing entire tables that have a few marks or scratches after years of use, the manufacturer helps minimize waste by only replacing the top layer and edging of the table.
They’re then returned to the hotel for more years of use. And, as the name indicates, the structure of their tables are made from aluminum — a high level of recycled content — minimizing reliance on virgin materials.
[Related: Take Action Now to Reduce Building Carbon Emissions]
Push for Climate Positive Design
People understand that every product produced has an effect on the climate. Choices made in the materials, chemicals, manufacturing, packaging, distribution and disposal of the products we specify all impact human and environmental health.
Going into 2020, our role should not only focus on reducing the carbon footprint of our projects, but push for a climate positive design. Climate positive design removes more carbon from the air than what is emitted, neutralizing carbon emissions in addition to ensuring healthier spaces inside and out.
The good news is that there’s rapid acceleration in efforts being made by suppliers to improve the environmental impact of their products. Whether a supplier’s products support water conservation, waste reduction, energy efficiency or carbon emission reductions, designers can make a powerful impact toward a climate positive design by consciously considering the entire product story when specifying products.
Ability to Reveal Meaningful Stories
Perhaps the most compelling way to achieve climate positive design and a circular economy is by making the change yourself and encouraging others to act. There is great power in authentic storytelling. When companies share real examples of how they’re delivering on their brand promise, starting with the products and materials used, customers are compelled to make environmentally sound purchasing decisions.
Climate change is a huge problem that people feel helpless in attempting to tackle on their own. They want the companies that they buy goods and services from to do something about it.
The 2018 Sustainable Furnishings Council (SFC) report revealed that 92% of consumers would buy “environmentally safe” (defined as “good for the environment") furnishings if style and cost considerations were comparable, and 76% were even willing to pay more. Consumers are voting with their wallets, favoring companies that share how they use healthier designs and materials to address climate change.
As ambassadors of sustainable design in 2020, we can reveal positive stories and increase brand equity with consumers by specifying innovative and healthier products that support a healthy environment, healthy people and healthy communities.
REI for instance does not begin their story with the sustainability of their outdoor gear and apparel, but rather the importance of spending time outdoors. For REI’s #OptOutside campaign, they did not participate in Black Friday in the traditional sense by undercutting their prices. Instead, they paid for and sent their employees outdoors to clean up their communities.
This transparency and innovation across organizations and their supply chains help brands meet global demand for healthier products and healthier environments. And, the brands able to share such stories about healthier design and materials gives consumers the purchasing power to make their healthier contributions to the environment.
It’s no longer sustainable or “enough” to try and limit the damage we are doing to our world. We have to proactively seek solutions (or interiors) to reverse the damage and promote industry practices that are climate positive. By following the above sustainable interior design principles, we can help build a healthier, more sustainable future that meets a growing global demand for healthier materials, products, environments, experiences, communities and an overall healthier planet.
About the Author:
Lara Shortall, LEED AP, is director of A&D Solutions at MindClick, an environmental health product intelligence company that helps meet global demand for healthier products and healthier environments. In this role, she works with manufacturers and fellow designers in the practice of creating healthier interiors.
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