How you choose to decorate and furnish your home reflects your tastes, lifestyle, and beliefs. Many people are turning to natural, ‘eco-friendly’ materials both to limit their impact on the environment and avoid potentially harmful chemicals in man-made products.
In this post, we cover some of the most popular environmentally-friendly materials you may want to use in your home. We’ve also come up with a hierarchy to help you get the look you want while helping protect the environment.
The Environmental Interior Design Hierarchy
It can be hard to choose between different ‘sustainable’ materials. Is it better to get wood from local trees that take sixty years to grow, or bamboo from China that naturally regenerates?
Our hierarchy takes you through the different things to consider when choosing environmentally friendly materials:
- Re-use or upcycle existing materials. This typically has the lowest environmental impact, especially if you opt for the DIY route.
- Choose products made from recycled materials. These are the next best option particularly if they use 100 percent recycled content. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that the processes used to recycle materials can be quite energy intensive (not good for the environment).
- Use local, renewable resources that require limited manufacturing. For example, if you live in an area where forestry dominates then it may be quite easy to source local wood. Look at older, traditional houses for inspiration; they were probably constructed using materials available in the local area.
- Look for renewable resources or those that are less energy intensive to manufacture. This could mean finding ‘eco-friendly’ options that are produced elsewhere in the world, or even man-made materials that are relatively environmentally friendly to produce.
- Materials produced outside of the U.S. with an energy-intensive and polluting manufacturing process will be the least environmentally friendly option.
When thinking about materials, it’s also worth considering how durable they are and what happens when they reach the end of their life. Can they be recycled again or will they end up at a landfill site?
There are few easy, simple choices when it comes to choosing environmentally-friendly materials. Keeping the hierarchy above in mind, here are some of the most popular options we see in interior design.
Using reclaimed wood is a very sustainable approach. Old wood, such as barn board can be re-finished and cut to make new wood flooring, kitchen cabinets, or cladding.
You could also choose to use recovered wood from trees that have been cut down for other purposes; for example, clearing forest for building land. In this case, you can achieve perfect consistency in your finished product while knowing that the wood you’re using would otherwise have gone to waste.
Of course, both the options above are likely to be limited and harder to find than wood that comes from trees specifically harvested for that purpose. The next best option is to look for wood that is guaranteed to be sustainably sourced, and ideally, is sourced locally. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) both have certification schemes for wood from sustainably managed forests.
Bamboo and Cork
Bamboo and cork are both classed as ‘rapidly renewable materials’. They’re quick growers, so the material that’s cut down to make your flooring or worktop is quickly and naturally replaced.
Bamboo has long been a favorite material for interior designers due to its versatility and warm, natural aesthetic. Bamboo fiber is also used for making textiles, such as these bamboo towels. Cork is still one of the new kids on the block but is growing in popularity as realization dawns that it can be used for much more than bottle stoppers and cork boards.
The one downside to both these materials from an environmental perspective is that they’re not native to the U.S. Our bamboo is shipped in from China and all the cork used in the U.S. comes from Portugal.
Glass is one of the only materials that can be infinitely recycled without losing purity or strength. It’s also incredibly versatile and often overlooked in interior design.
Although glass is easy to recycle the process can be very energy intensive. If you’re able to reuse glass you’ll end up with a more environmentally friendly decor. For example, glass bottles and jars provide tons of upcycling possibilities from vases and lamps, to entire walls.
Paper is one of the first things that comes to mind when you think of recycled products, but not perhaps, in the context of interior design.
If you love the patterns and textures of wallpaper, it’s possible (though not always cheap) to buy eco-friendly wallpapers made from recycled paper and water-based inks. However, as most wallpaper is too contaminated to recycle when you fancy a change of décor, a natural, eco-friendly paint may be more environmentally friendly all round.
Aside from wall coatings, paper has many other uses. We love this cardboard lamp and this wreath made from upcycled, recycled paper. Dutch-based designer, WooJai Lee has gone one step further, creating bricks made from recycled newspapers that can be stacked and combined to make furniture.
When it comes to eco-friendly fabrics, hemp is king. It’s one of the fastest growing plants in the world and requires few pesticides or herbicides. This makes it a great choice for environmentally friendly soft furnishings.
Hemp is no longer just for hippies; it can be used to create a range of soft furnishings including stylish sofas, colorful curtains, and pretty pillowcases. If you’re not convinced then linen, jute, and organic (unbleached) cotton are other good textile options.
As part of our LEED certification, we consider carefully the materials used to construct and fit out our homes. We believe in creating sustainable homes that are good for their occupants and the environment.