Trend: How Sustainability is Influencing Design Decisions
With a global exodus away from a culture where disposable is acceptable, a mega trend has emerged. Sustainability means reducing single use products, reducing negative environmental impact and reducing waste.
In a time where 16 year old Greta Thunberg is inspiring school children to take strike action, Extinction Rebellion arrests are a regular occurrence and David Attenborough evidences the damage we have already done to our planet in gut wrenching super scale on our HD TV's, sustainability is in the forefront of all our minds. We try to put pressure on our governments. We take our own containers to shops, pay for a plastic bag and moan that the supermarkets wrap our avocado in two layers of plastic. We have a long way to go.
In the world of interior design, manufacturers are starting to listen. Interiors giant Ikea paves the way with ethically sourced materials, solar powered stores and the promise of a 100% renewable goal by 2020. There’s also talk of furniture rental. The UK’s National Trust ‘Heelis’ building (HQ) in Swindon is one of the most eco friendly in England, with 30% of it’s annual electricity generated from photovoltaic panels. Their interiors use water based, non-toxic paint, their roof ventilation; recycled beer cans and their flooring; wool from their very own Herdwick Sheep. Sustainability springs from a rebellion against mass consumption, the demise of the high street giant and the move towards local suppliers and producers.
Consumer awareness of the importance of environmentally responsible interior design drives suppliers and designers to explore new avenues. Taking a more considered approach to manufacturing processes, renewable and ethical resources, we have the responsibility to design healthy environments both physiologically and psychologically. Environmental impact is prioritised more than ever, with interior designers such as Callender Howarth focusing on sustainability at every level of their business model.
This includes everything from sustainable project management practises to providing clients with low impact products such as: 100% recycled glass tiles & counter tops · hemp rugs · hay bales · organic cotton carpet tiles paper-pulp wallpaper · compressed paper counter tops · coconut tiles · eco-rock/Gypsum plasterboard alternatives · leather tiles · bamboo · biobased tiles · lime paint · non toxic water based paint · cork · recycled metals · LED lighting
From an interior product perspective, UK paint manufacturer Little Greene have built their whole business model around this concept. Everything from their water and vegetable oil based paints, their sustainably sourced wallpaper and their recycled, recyclable paint pots.
'From big business decisions to the smallest everyday tasks, we continue to act positively and responsibly
to minimise our ecological impact, without compromising our high quality standards.’….‘We’re dedicated to minimising pollution, energy consumption and distribution overheads whilst supporting the local business’. - Little Greene, littlegreene.com
With sustainability as the mega trend umbrella (which I bought second hand, of course!), many other trends have emerged underneath.
Although fundamentally a spiritual concept, in design terms, it’s the appreciation of an object’s imperfection. When we choose appreciate the aesthetic an object which may otherwise have been deemed imperfect and therefore disposable, we are contributing to an element of sustainability.
Reclamation & Salvage
Reclaimed and salvaged materials are immensely popular in interior design both for their aesthetic and for the environmental benefit. There is a huge ethical element to the recycling of unwanted, unused objects and materials.
Re-use, Re-love, Re-upholster, ’Up-cycle’
Programmes like BBC’s ‘Money for Nothing’ and ‘The Repair Shop’ make TV stars and celebrities out of upholsterers and furniture ‘upcyclers’. Classes to take on your own grandad’s neglected armchair are also incredibly popular as the nation adopts a can-do attitude towards ‘re-loving’ the things they already have.
The ancient Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold or precious metals treats the breakage of an object as part of its history as opposed to something that should be concealed, disguised or ultimately disposed of. Kintsugi has become a trend in itself with artists like Marcantonio creating entire collections of commercially manufactured Kintsugi crockery. It is also now possible to buy your own DIY Kintsugi kit for £28.
A relatively new phenomena (but an age old concept), just searching the term #visiblemending on Instagram finds 39K posts. Simply, it’s fixing the holes in your socks, jumper, jeans- the things you would throw away. Artists like Celia Pym see visible mending as something incredibly personal as they restore an object to its former self by leaving its ‘scars’ on show for the world to see. On a much more commercial level, it’s an excuse to revamp your ripped jeans from last season with some sequinned rainbow knee patches.
The anti-plastic, anti synthetic aesthetic of this trend. Based on the theory that natural materials, natural light, natural colours and well, nature, are good for you within your living and working environment. Wooden furniture, botanical wall coverings, wool rugs, silk curtains, it’s all about bringing the natural world inside. If you’ve missed out on house plant hysteria, you have literally been without oxygen on another planet.
It’s currently quite difficult to imagine a counter trend which will emerge to take on sustainability. Perhaps modernism, hard angular shapes and clean lines will become more popular en-mass, in opposition to the biophilic element.
Global socio-economic pressure continues to be the biggest influencer over this mega trend, and for a trend to be indeed mega, it must span a decade or more. For the sake of creative interiors, personal wellbeing and our planet, let’s hope this 'trend' has even more longevity than that.