💫 Spark Spotlight: Interior design

Industry insights: Where energy flows - impact shows

This is a special edition of our newsletter from Bemari where we talk about how to not get lost in sustainability.

This monthly edition is about how to focus the energy where it matters and not get distracted by “shiny” things in various industries. Every month, we invite practitioners to share their insights on what creates the most impact and positive change in their sector.

Where energy flows, impact shows: Interior Design edition. 

We have invited Chloe Bullock, an award-winning Brighton-based designer and the Founder of Materialise Interiors, to share some of the insights on where the biggest opportunities to drive positive change in Interior design can be found.

Where does sustainability show up in your area of work?

The interior design industry uses such a broad palette of materials including stone, wood, metal, fibres and plastic - each have an impact, and all mostly not renewable or circular - and require energy-intensive extraction and production processes. 

Materials and products that we routinely specify use carbon, extraction, drilling, mining, natural resources, water, toxic chemicals and exploitation of people + animals. The interior designer’s designs and specifications can harm people, planet and animals - OR they can SUPPORT them to thrive.  What a weight of responsibility - but also what an exciting opportunity to have a positive influence!

What are the main sustainability misconceptions in your area?

  1. It’s expensive. It doesn’t have to be, but it does require changing our ways of doing things - be open to reuse and applying our creative skills to the design of projects and not just ‘shop’.

  2. Sustainability doesn’t look luxurious. Well, I challenge that! ... and the 40 beautiful international examples in my book completely disprove this.

  3. You have to do it perfectly. Sustainability is not easy to do in all aspects, at once.  Focus on the easier to do aspects and build upon them - rather than all or nothing.

  4. Natural materials are the best for the environment. Not all natural materials are equal. We need to use truly regenerative natural materials that are free from fossil fuels (that’s petrochemicals and includes pesticides and fertilisers) and other toxic chemicals. So even if you are happy with the provenance of, for example, a co-product animal product like wool or leather, processing those materials to stop them from deteriorating uses some pretty nasty chemicals to refine them for use, which find their way into ecosystems and bodies. Not so natural after all! Isn’t it nicer to specify something with a positive story which the client will love and appreciate the story telling aspect or - whether to their clients or friends? This could be biobased materials, renewable and carbon sequestering materials (organic cotton, hemp, FSC or PEFC timber) or even materials made from food or agriculture waste.

  5. Choosing a sustainable material or product is sustainability in interior design. Looking at only what things are made of is just not enough. We need to look at the whole picture which includes the upstream and downstream of the supply chain - how, where and who is involved - the installation, the use phase, ability to extend the lifespan and how things are designed to regenerate at the end of their life. We need to make sure sustainability covers the whole picture and doesn’t exploit animals and people too.

What are the key things you wish the energy & resources of the industry were focused on?

  1. Engaging suppliers on the low carbon journey. Being inquisitive at the design stage and looking to find out the environmental impacts of the products and services that go into the space or a building. This can be as simple as asking your suppliers a question: What is the carbon footprint of this material? Of this product? Can you confirm there were no deforestation issues associated with sourcing this item? 

    If many designers ask one question, it creates a level of demand and encourages suppliers to find ways to answer those questions.

    To provide an example, I asked my interior design software providers how they can integrate carbon tracking into the tool - and they did it, as they appreciated the value of this. Now this is not just something I am able to make use of but a lot of their customers in the USA and Canada to use as well

  2. Bringing together stakeholders across the lifecycle of the product/ building to make sure it can have a long useful life. This can have powerful results - designers often do not even meet building managers and do not know what aspects of design were not practical or may have caused issues that could easily be resolved.

    A simple example is considering how the materials chosen in the design need to be maintained and cleaned - often if you choose the wrong cleaning material, it can damage the material leading to the need of replacement or additional repairs (as well as release toxic chemicals into the waste water systems).

    Just the way we have a Health & Safety guidance all around commercial buildings, what if we could hand over a material maintenance file to make sure that they are maintained and looked after in the way that prolongs their useful life, and helps foster healthier working environment and better indoor air quality for people who use the spaces?

    The Body Shop brought this concept to life with their “Changemakers Workshop"  store concept, where in the stores where they put a QR code on fixtures that tells you the maintenance & repairs guidelines, how to clean and look after it and “BRE Sustain” score for fixtures.

What resources would you recommend people to read / listen to learn more?

What is your favourite example of a positive change / impactful action that you have recently seen (in your sector)?

I’m really happy with the amount of signatories both designers and suppliers to the interior design industry we have now at Interior Design Declares.  I strongly believe that by collaborating and sharing knowledge we can create positive change. Simply by asking questions of our supply chains and all stakeholders delivering projects alongside us, we can en masse create change. We can influence government policy and lobby, joining forces alongside Architects Declare, under the Built Environment Declares umbrella. 

We have our 3rd birthday Social at the Building Centre on Store Street, London on Monday 18th March 3-6pm if anyone would like to come. More information and tickets are here.

Faborg’s Weganool, winner of PETA’s Fashion Innovation awards 2022

What industry do you want us to cover next? Email us at [email protected].

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