Understanding our Environmental Impact
Every scheme that we design has an environmental impact. Every choice we make will contribute to the climate crisis unless we commit to making informed, considered and bold decisions that put the future of people and the planet ahead of economics. There will always be compromise and we know that our clients don’t have the luxury of endless budgets. We will, therefore, always provide realistic options that balance cost and design, minimising damage to the environment and where possible, practice regenerative design.
Regenerative design is the dream. It’s not a reality now but it’s the goal we must aim for. It’s important not to get too caught up in semantics but phrases like ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’ are vague. They imply carry on as normal but ‘less bad’. Regenerative design is about making the world a better place. If a space can generate its own electricity, aid carbon capture, create new wildlife habitats or improve the occupant’s health and welfare, we are heading towards regeneration. Instead of being happy with neutral spaces that don’t harm the world, let’s aim for spaces that actively improve it!
We are awash with greenwash. Global corporations have recognised that customers care about the planet and some are introducing real and lasting change. Others are flooding us with images of forests, promising to recycle and save the tigers without changing their harmful practices. We’re aware that this page could be viewed as greenwashing and we hope that you realise that we are totally committed to making better choices.
For almost 25 years we’ve been designing commercial interiors for a vast range of clients, from banks to travel companies, from motorsports to the military. We’ve watched the destruction of our planet during that time, feeling unable to change the industry in which we work. Now is the time to change, the will is there not only within our team but amongst an increasing number of our clients. We’re learning what greenwashing looks like and how to identify a genuine desire for change in our suppliers. It’s a journey that must be taken and we need to start now.
Although these new products seem to offer radical solutions, we’re always cautious about the claims they make and we’re aware of potential issues down the line. There are companies who provide pretty rock-solid data regarding their products, and those that are really too new to have proved the validity of their concept. We keep an open mind but try to ask the tricky questions needed to ensure long-lasting, safe and sustainable interiors.
Every product must be of high-quality, have long warranties or life-expectancy and must be designed well. Once these requirements are satisfied, we look for the sustainability of the products, including the raw materials used, the manufacturing processes, the energy consumed in use, any chemicals exuded by the product and finally it’s options at end of life. Can it be re-used or recycled? Will manufacturers take back and re-use the item (some carpet and furniture manufacturers do this). Can it be repurposed or will it end up in landfill?
We need to question ‘wonder materials’. For example, bamboo flooring is better than most wooden or vinyl floors but if a harmful epoxy has to be used to lay it and it has travelled from east Asia, is it still good for the planet?
Positive innovation is happening all the time. Gorgeous, soft contract fabrics are being made from recycled plastic waste, natural materials are being transformed into highly efficient insulation and paints are being made that even capture carbon in the environment. The climate crisis is now and innovation is building momentum.
Graphenstone have transformed the paint industry by using the revolutionary material, graphene to avoid harmful chemicals. Danish company, Søuld have developed amazing acoustic / insulation panels from eelgrass that are not only incredibly effective but actually absorb CO2.
At the same time, established companies are developing exciting new ranges. For example, UK-based Sunbury Design now sell contract fabrics from waste plastic collected from beaches. German manufacture, Casala have released a whole range of ‘circular’ furniture and launched ‘Refurniture’, a project which takes back and refurbishes items that have become redundant.
Products are available and it’s up to designers to understand the options and specify with the planet in mind.
We’re not only concerned about our environmental impact. Unfortunately, the interiors industry does not have a clean history (or indeed, present) when it comes to labour. Products are sourced from across the globe and, as in any industry with complex supply chains, it is difficult to determine where human rights or poor working standards may exist.
A ‘fair trade’ approach to furniture and other interior/construction products relies on international certifications, local laws (and the policing of them) and company declarations. None of these will ensure the safety and fair treatment of manufacturing workers, but as designers, we can make informed decisions.
The majority of the furniture we buy is manufactured in the UK or within the EU, however, the industry often imports components, including textiles, from outside of Europe. This is something we want to investigate further and work with our suppliers to ensure our designs do not involve exploitation within the supply chain.
We conduct extensive research into our suppliers and develop long-standing relationships with them. This enables us to understand their business practices and opens up transparent dialogue regarding their environment and ethical credentials. We want to work with companies that share our values at all points of their journey and ours.
There are hundreds of certifications out there and it is really difficult to navigate them all. Additionally, some of the certifications are prohibitively expensive for smaller manufacturers, many of whom would be totally eligible for the scheme.
One certification we are very excited about, however, is Cradle to Cradle. Achieving accreditation shows significant positive impact of a product and demonstrates the gold standard of green manufacturing. We follow the certification closely and specify products on the register where appropriate.
We’re always on the lookout for new suppliers, new collaborators and new information on how to improve. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Continuing to Learn about our Environmental Impact
We are always learning and we are committed to passing on our knowledge to clients. Making ethical choices regarding people and the planet is vastly complicated and without continuing engagement with current debates, we will fall behind. We are currently designing a CPD programme with providers including BREEAM the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) and the Open University.
We want to build our knowledge and that will only happen with engagement with the design industry. To change the way that people ‘consume’ interiors we need to become part of a wider debate. We need to celebrate innovation, positive commitments and courageous decision-making. We also need to question and condemn harmful practices within our industry. It’s not going to be easy but if not now, when?