Sustainability is the word on everyone’s lips now. It is so popular that it smacks of a trend. Or is there long-term mainstream potential here? In this post, I explain that yes, there is long-term mainstream potential here. But I also urge to proceed with caution: not everything that seems green, is green. A sustainable home is attainable, if you take a holistic approach and look beyond the marketing and soundbites.

I once proposed that the easiest way to achieve a sustainable home is to do nothing to a space. After all, every interior intervention will have some level of negative impact. Because of the materials that have gone into creating the new items for the house; because of the journey the items have been on (often half-way round the world) to get to you; because of the old existing items being disposed of…the list goes on.

‘Do nothing’ is not good enough

Now of course ‘do nothing’ is actually a lazy approach and not something that I really believe in. After all, we want our homes to meet our needs, to be functional, to be up to modern standards, to be safe, and to be enjoyable to spend time in i.e. aesthetically pleasing. All the same factors are equally relevant to non-residential interior design projects too.

Ongoing renovation project residential building site
Should we just stop renovating and designing interiors to be sustainable? That’s not quite how it works.

‘Do something’ is also not good enough

However, ‘do something’ is probably also unfortunately not quite good enough. Simply, if you want to truly live sustainably, then tinkering around the edges won’t quite do it. Isolated actions, such as recycling or composting some of your waste, reusing an old piece of furniture here and there, or buying a few locally produced items, does not quite cut it on its own.

To a large extent, the marketplace of interior items has been taken over by ‘sustainability’ the soundbite, not ‘sustainability’ the concept or ‘sustainability’ the lifestyle. So if you buy hundreds of items, and a couple of them have been marketed to you as sustainable, does it make you feel good? Probably. Does it have any tangible impact on the state of the world, climate change and so on? Probably not.

Sustainable kitchen Miinus kitchens dark green pine drawer detail
It’s green, so it must be sustainable? Here yes, but not always. Watch out for greenwashing.

That is not to say that there are no genuinely sustainable products out there, but do proceed with caution and ask questions. Greenwashing is the practice of making unsubstantiated or misleading claims about the environmental benefits of a product. It is rampant in the interiors industry. Very few producers have actually done any sort of maths to be able to substantiate their claims. It sounds as if everyone is sustainable these days; but are they really?

More widespread still than greenwashing is ignorance. Producers, suppliers, retailers, designers, homeowners… they simply lack any form of knowledge or understanding of matters of sustainability. They don’t seek out the information, because it is not something they are conditioned to think about. The good news is that it takes only one person in this chain — ideally the end-user — to start asking questions. And suddenly everyone cares.

Less is always more, when it comes to interiors and sustainability. I am a proponent of considered minimalism, or more specifically maximal minimalism, as I like to refer to it. “A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” — Antoine de St Exupery. I urge you to consider this man’s wise words.

Detail of black and white minimalist sustainable kitchen Miinus Kitchens
Minimalist Miinus Kitchens open shelf biocomposite frame and birch structure

‘Do a lot’ is better

Renovations, interior design, building projects… what comes with these is a lot of decisions that need to be made. A lot. Just in your kitchen alone, to take one example, you need to decide on the model of up to 10 appliances, the layout, the style, the colour, the worktop, the handles, the splashback, the flooring… and more. Interior design is about making decisions. For half a chance of a successful project, you need to be making the decisions in a consistent and considered manner.

Today we live a world of plenty, making our generation an exception in human history. What comes with this is abundance of choice. Choice is good, but too much choice is crippling and counter-productive. The more you are able to narrow down your selection, the easier the process will be. Why not use sustainability as an additional filter for every single interior decision and purchase that you make? By virtue of narrowing your options, it will also make your life easier.

Going back to the kitchen example, this will mean going for the most energy efficient appliances, the most thermally efficient flooring, the most durable worktop, cabinets that use the lightest and cleanest materials… And once you repeat the process across your entire project, you would have made a cumulative impact that is noteworthy and commendable.

‘Do a lot and spread the message’ is best

There are definitely products out there that deserve genuine praise thanks to their eco credentials. They may not be those made by the manufacturers with the biggest budgets, and are often more niche and less well-known. If you want to do your bit, then consuming sustainably (including anything we buy for our homes) is great. Spreading the message about genuinely responsible products, materials and producers is even better.  

With an ever-growing contact book of sustainable suppliers, we at Bright Designs can help you navigate an eco renovation. You may consider using us if, as many of our clients, this is something you just don’t have the inclination or time to manage yourself.

As your kitchen will be the largest single purchase by far that you will make for your home, it is a good place to start if you want to do your bit for the environment. As suppliers of sustainable and non-toxic Miinus Kitchens, we can help with this too!