Last year I was asked on a panel discussion at the annual residential interior design show here in the UK, Decorex. I sat alongside designer Sue Timney to talk sustainability - we spoke to a room with about 50 people in it. The response was very good. Looking at stands of the show itself - I struggled to find many (or any) exhibitors selling sustainable products. I was asked back again this year to speak at their show which took place virtually this November. Our panel discussion was on Sustainable Sourcing For Interior Designers - Cutting Through The Greenwash.
Myself, two fellow designers (Nicola Keenan and Susie Rumbold) along with Stefan Dodds from responsible furniture procurement company Dodds & Shute - shared our experiences and challenges in a discussion I was really happy to be a part of - moderated by Jeff Hayward of Wildwood PR.
It was a great discussion to be a part of and I certainly learnt from my fellow panelists. For me Sustainability also means people and production methods - AND also occupant health & wellbeing as well. This certainly was supported by my fellow panelists.
The headlines from our discussion were…
Avoid products that have been flown here - I thought it was much more sea freight now but apparently not!
Companies like Dodds & Shute (and mine!) plant trees to offset their company's carbon footprint (Dodds & Shute’s scheme is actually tree saving)
Buy locally. Made In Britain can actually often mean it’s assembled in Britain.
Use recycled aluminum. It’s 9200 times more harmful than carbon dioxide is to planet extract bauxite to produce aluminium.
Certifications are very useful and not always perfect. It can be expensive for smaller producers to attain - so don’t eliminate companies who don’t have them.
Be inquisitive (my favourite!) - ask lots of questions. Develop relationships with suppliers you trust. Asking questions and being inquisitive en masse will pressurise suppliers to change.
Avoid fast furniture. Importance of using long lasting, quality FF&E and finishes. Timeless design. Modern heirlooms. Adding character to spaces but using original, preloved items.
Watch out for water footprints of products - especially cotton.
Slave labour is going on in our supply chains - concerns over cotton industry in Uzbekistan from Stefan
Ask suppliers for their Sustainability Policy. Many of the better companies are very self critical but are actually doing much more than the norm.
Consider the design of items - have they’ve been designed to be repairable or for disassembly at the end of life?
Fire labels being cut off beds, sofas etc. This means those items go to landfill when they could be reused if the label was intact.
Health concerns around chemical use: stain resistance, fire treatments, some paints, foams, formaldehyde in products - in our increasingly air tight spaces. Interior air quality is 3 to 5 times higher than outdoor air quality. Concerns for those working with these products and also occupant health of the end user of the interior.
It’s our duty as designers to guide our clients - and we need to research and learn to support that.
The two surveys I suggested people complete to look at their own consumption are:
This poll was alongside our discussion and was very heartening to read as well…
I really want to encourage companies who are providing better - less people, planet and animals impacting specifications - whilst conducting business well and ethically. I can see there's greenwashing happening - intended or not - and I can understand people's hesitancy and nervousness around getting into using these products. I just want everyone to doing SOMETHING better. Even if it is small. It's all going to add up as our industry and designers working in it become more aware.
For all these years that I've been working in sustainable design, I've seen many smaller companies following a passion to supply lower impact furniture, materials and finishes to our industry. They've taken risks and have put in massive amounts of work - because they believe in what they are selling and in most cases - it's a passion project. Yes those products probably have been more expensive - but they haven't had the volumes to benefit from economies of scale - and they also are producing these items closer to home and therefore likely to be looking after the people involved and paying fairly. I want all these innovators to have their well deserved exposure and not get swamped by larger companies with huge marketing budgets.
Remember that people are part of Sustainability - so support small business and ensure you are happy with answers on the supply chains of products - do they even talk about them in their marketing? Do they have a Modern Slavery statement as well as a Sustainabilty Statement? Check the contents of these statements - having a statement alone doesn't mean they are doing good things - it needs reading. Over time you'll see how some are much better than others. Just stating they deliver in recyclable packaging is not enough!
Since the panel discussion was aired, I’ve had such a great response from students, suppliers and designers - emails, messages, in blogs! It really feels like people want to learn more and let’s hope things might be changing. I’ve had so many people contacting me.
There were a number of discussions on sustainability during Decorex and interior design platform Houzz has summarised them in this article.
It's about time this feeling of a movement on Sustainility is happening. As I say in the discussion - I'm 50 and I've been asking these same questions for half of my life now!
It's time! It NEEDS to be the way we all work. Our industry (built environment), accounts for almost 40% of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions whilst also having a significant impact on our natural habitats. We need to work sustainably and ensure those spaces are built to support human health and not contribute to it.
My professional body (British Institute of Interior Design ) as part of the Construction Industry Council has committed to achieve the target of net zero emissions by 2050. Find out more on the net zero commitment. Great things are happening in the BIID - join us! Myself and other members who have experience in sustainability have been brought into the Professional Practice commitee to support members with resources to help.
The support of Decorex is much appreciated. The fact that this show was online this year really seems to have hugely helped to extend the reach to get to far more people than would have fitted in a stage area of the physical show. I must thank Decorex for continuing this conversation and the panel’s hosts - Jeff and Susie from The Interior Design Business podcast for selecting this subject and for having me as part of the panel.
I feel positive - like this coversation is not going to stop now. Well it won't while I'm involved anyway!
Watch the discussion here - it’s available until 10th December ‘20.
And listen to it here. It's now an The Interior Design Business podcast episode - so the reach is now even further!