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Your Guide to Eco-Friendly Design

Your Guide to Eco-Friendly Design


With a rise in eco-friendly initiatives across all industries, design experts are bringing sustainability into the home. New technological advances and innovations make it easier for designers and architects to contribute toward a healthier planet — whether it's using techniques like carbon sequestration, embracing vegan materials, or creating an eco-friendly landscape with native plants. Learn to live a healthier lifestyle, lower your carbon footprint, and help fight global warming without sacrificing great design; discover eight green design tips from experts. 

1. Use Natural Textiles

Whether it’s with silk curtains or a bamboo chair, designers are getting more creative with natural textiles. Made from animal and plant-based fibers, natural fibers contain less toxins and chemicals; they are often biodegradable and use less water to produce than synthetic fabrics. “In terms of upcoming trends in eco-friendly design, I am most excited about the textiles industry responding to not only the performance factor, but the safer chemical level and environmental impact of production,” says Debbie Baxter of Baxter Design Group. “The more interior designers push for these types of goods, the more I see the manufacturers responding.”

In this interior, Baxter Design Group sourced as many natural fabrics as possible — which includes a wool rug and upholstery made from wool, cotton, and silk. “This home is one with the natural environment in which it is nestled. The interiors bleed right into the surrounding landscape — the colors, textiles, and finishes are all pulled from nature.”

2. Recycle and Repurpose

Using recycled and repurposed materials isn’t necessarily a new concept, but it remains a popular trend among designers, decorators, and architects. Luxury design brands are getting more creative, whether it’s with chairs made from recycled plastic bottles, lamps made from natural driftwood, or vases made from recycled glass. In addition to sourcing eco-friendly furnishings, design industry experts are finding unique ways to be eco-conscious. Known as the “Eco Resort,” this space by TRG Architects boasts hardwood flooring made from reclaimed whiskey barrels, insulation made from recycled blue jeans, and a metal roof made from 90 percent recycled content. 

3. Embrace Vegan Design

Veganism is about more than what you put into your body. For many, it’s about a priority toward living a healthier and more humane lifestyle. Across all industries, consumers are paying more attention to the ingredients used in the products they are buying and the locations in which their products are made and manufactured. “Consumers are more educated and technology fortunately has given us the opportunity to see what goes on behind closed doors,” says vegan interior designer Deborah DiMare of DiMare Design. “The race is on for companies to find alternatives to animal-derived and less toxic textiles and materials that aren’t killing all living creatures and the planet.”

With vegan materials such as lyocell, polyester, and hemp, designers like DiMare are taking veganism into the home. Vegan materials are less toxic and healthier, and therefore produce cleaner energy. Some creative cruelty-free alternatives include faux silks made from banana plants, and faux leather made from pineapple leaves or apple peels.

4. Switch to Organic Paints 

Traditional paints release toxins that are harmful to human health and the environment, whereas organic paints use lower levels of volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) — whether it’s with a low-VOC, zero-VOC, or natural paint. Milk paint, chalk paint, or plant- and mineral-based paints can serve as healthier alternatives. Although seemingly small, “it all adds up and every little bit counts for a better future,” says Randy Grange of TRG Architects. “Most sustainable systems and materials just make good sense — zero-VOC paints are healthier and better energy efficiency saves money overtime. Why would one not want to do these things? It’s simply a better way to build.”

5. Reduce Energy 

From construction to design, reducing energy waste is one of the most impactful ways to protect the planet from the emission of greenhouse gases, which contributes to poor air quality and global warming. Globally, buildings and construction together account for about 36 percent of global final energy use and 39 percent of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions, according to Elizabeth Suzuki of Sutton Suzuki Architects. “Improvement in efficiencies can go a long way toward reducing both,” she says. “By adhering to the best green and sustainable practices, we can have a smaller carbon footprint and reduce the number of toxins released into the atmosphere.”

Simple initiatives include switching to LED light bulbs, purchasing energy-efficient appliances, or installing an adjustable thermostat. Interior designers and architects can also reduce the amount of energy needed for heating and lighting. In this space, Suzuki reduced the need for air conditioning when she constructed the home to take advantage of winds and installed automated window coverings to optimize sun control. The need for heat can also be avoided with the use of well-insulated windows and curtains and drapes that keep cold air from entering the home. When it comes to design, a light-toned color palette and the use of reflective surfaces can reduce the amount of artificial lighting needed. Some experts, like Sutton Suzuki Architects, even aspire to create zero-energy homes, which means the total amount of energy used is equal to the amount of renewable energy created.

6. Grow Native Plants

Native plants promote biodiversity, reduce the need for pesticides, and produce food for surrounding animals and insects. Whether it’s wildflowers or fruits and vegetables, native plants do not require fertilizers, use less water, and help reduce air pollution — whereas common horticultural plants provide little benefit to the ecosystem and often require insect pest control to survive. Overtime, the use of native plants will lead to a lower carbon footprint, according to Eric Kopinski, landscape designer at Mariani Landscape. “We all live on this planet together and the planet has a limited amount of resources,” he says. “If we want the earth to be around and exist the way we know it now, we need to take care of it for future generations to enjoy. By using sustainable materials and processes such as native plants, we can improve wildlife, increase biodiversity, and reduce the amount of pollution on the environment.”

7. Learn about Carbon Sequestration

The release of carbon dioxide, the most commonly produced greenhouse gas, has a negative impact on the environment and plays a large role in contributing to climate change. While creating beautiful exteriors, Stroudwater Design Group uses the process of carbon sequestration to capture and store atmospheric carbon dioxide. One such way is through the process of humification, “which is essentially building good soil health while storing carbon in a stable form in the soil,” according to David Melchert, principal owner at Stroudwater Design Group. Good soil creates a healthier natural garden environment for homeowners, as well as surrounding animals and insects. “There is less of a need for pesticides, insecticides, and artificial fertilizers — in fact if done properly the garden essentially takes care of itself,” says Melchert.

8. Conserve Water

When it comes to landscape design, there are a lot of ways to conserve fresh water — collecting roof runoff, using sanitized sewage water for irrigation, and distributing water for irrigation through the use of moisture sensors, weather stations, and water-efficient heads and emitters. “Rain gardens can be employed to keep water on site as long as possible and to filter any runoff prior to leaving the site,” adds David Melchert of Stroudwater Design Group. Inside, designers can save water with water-saving showerheads, faucets, and toilets. 

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