Important Principles of Sustainable Interior Design
This guest post was provided by Michael Tobias.
Sustainability is a term that is widely used, particularly in the construction and design industries. But what does sustainability mean, and how does it affect interior designers?
Sustainability in the context of any kind of development implies that processes or states-of-being can be maintained for as long as required without compromising future needs.
There are three main elements or pillars of sustainability:
- Economic, which relates to income and profits, particularly in business.
- Environmental, which, of course, relates to the environment of the planet and our natural resources. This undoubtedly gets the most attention.
- Social, which relates to people who live on the planet.
When it comes to the design of the built environment, sustainable design aims quite simply to reduce all possible negative impacts on the environment and improve the comfort and health of those living or working in buildings. And it relates both to the interior and exterior of buildings.
In general terms, to be sustainable, a building must be constructed from materials that won’t compromise the resources we have available. These, as well as the mechanics of the building, including heating, cooling, provision of water and so on, should be energy neutral or, better still, energy positive. This means that a building should ideally produce as much energy as it uses – or more.
Many professionals, including architects, engineers, and interior designers, have vital if different, roles to play in terms of sustainability, and generally, they work together to achieve their combined objectives. For instance:
- Whether based in New York, London, Paris, or any other center, an architect will consider the building site and energy and resource constraints that relate to it in relation to the building systems and functions required. He or she will then consider the design elements as they relate to the building and will undertake an environmentally-responsive design process. Originally considered to be “the first builder” in the built environment, architects would control the design intent and oversee the builders on site.
- As building projects because more complicated, structural engineers worked alongside architects more and more. Today engineers have even more specialized niches and you might find a New York or Chicago engineering firm that offers heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) engineering services; mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) engineering services, or perhaps just plumbing or electric engineering services in Chicago or wherever they operate.
- Designers, including specialized interior designers, who are responsible for specific elements of design.
So how do interior designers achieve sustainable results?
Sustainable Interior Design
Interior designers strive to limit energy consumption with the house, helping to make it as energy-efficient as possible. They also make a concerted effort to design healthy environments for flexibility and longevity, that will minimize all types of waste including energy.
Various rating systems that measure success, including the Leadership for Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system developed by the US Green Building Council. There is a specific LEED for just about everything related to buildings and construction, including Interior Design and Construction, ID+C with credits in eight categories, some of which depend on cooperation with other specialists. They are:
- The integrative process
- Location and transportation
- Water efficiency
- Energy and atmosphere
- Materials and resources
- Indoor environmental quality
- Regional priority
More simplistically, these are arguably the five most common principles of sustainable interior design:
- Ensure there is minimal environmental impact
It is vital for all interior designers to treat natural resources with respect. Choose organic materials that are easily renewable and extracted from the environment in a responsible way. Ultimately, the aim is to ensure there is the lowest possible environmental impact from the materials chosen. There are various certifications and standards that offer credible information that will help interior designers to ensure materials, particularly wood, is harvested sustainably.
- Make certain the design is energy efficient
We are in a climate crisis and there is no doubt that energy consumption is a major cause, and it is a well-known fact that housing accounts for anything from 10% to 25% of greenhouse gas emissions globally. The World Green Building Council (GBC) has warned that buildings, in general, are responsible for a much higher percentage of energy-related carbon emissions and has urged businesses, governments, and non-governmental organizations all over the world to take urgent action. Interior designers also have a vital role to play in terms of improving the energy efficiency of the homes and commercial buildings they are commissioned to work on, particularly when it comes to heating, lighting, air quality, and so on.
- Make sure the indoor environment is healthy
Closely linked to energy-efficiency, ensuring indoor environments are healthy should be high on the list of any interior designer’s priorities, including the need for healthy, unpolluted, natural ventilation, passive heating, thermal control, and healthy acoustics. Any appliances or computer equipment chosen (or suggested) by an interior designer should be rated, for example by Energy Star.
- Focus on the need for waste reduction
Recycling and reuse of materials and household or office items will help in terms of reducing waste, but that doesn’t mean interior designers are forced to follow this route by any means. Rather, there should be a conscious effort not to simply discard items because they have gone out of style. If a client insists on redoing an entire interior with new furniture, appliances, and so on, all those involved have a responsibility to make an effort to discard them in a sustainable manner, for instance by recycling or selling them on. Never forget that sending waste to landfill is something we desperately need to avoid.
- Ensure the design meets the needs of flexibility and longevity
Linked to the need to reduce or eliminate waste, the need to consider longevity and flexibility implies another conscious endeavor, this time to consider the lifespan of any materials used, by choosing quality items that will remain functional and timeless in spite of changing trends.
If interior designers, like architects and engineers, utilize sustainable design philosophies throughout each and every phase of their work, they will definitely reduce any type of negative impact on the environment and potentially improve the health of occupants of the house or office building.
As the U.S. General Services Administration emphasizes: A sustainable, integrated, and holistic approach will encourage compromise and tradeoffs and positively impact all phases of a building’s life cycle, including its design.
Michael Tobias is the founder and principal of New York Engineers, an Inc 5000 Fastest Growing Company in America. He leads a team of more than 30 mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection engineers from the company headquarters in New York City, and has led numerous projects in New York, New Jersey, Chicago, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, and California, as well as Singapore and Malaysia. He specializes in sustainable building technology and is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council.