Sustainable Design

As we see the evidence of our planet’s environment changing, Sustainable Interior Design has become more and more important. The items you purchase, the companies you purchase from and the materials involved in your design all factor into creating a healthy design that is both good for you and the environment. The good news is that today we understand more about what sustainability means and as a result there are many beautiful choices for your interiors. 

What is Sustainable Interior Design?

Although sustainable design and green design may seem synonymous, they’re not entirely the same. Green design is all about reducing harm in the present and near future. By contrast, sustainable design looks at long-term consequences. As the name suggests, this design style uses elements that will continue to minimize negative impact on the environment for years, decades or even centuries to come.

It’s not just about building a structure — it’s also about building a future for the earth’s inhabitants. In a little while, we’ll take a closer look at the core principles underlying sustainable design and how to incorporate them when designing your home’s interior. But before we get to that, let’s discuss why sustainable interior design is so important.

The Importance of Sustainable Design

We all know that sustainable practices are critical to the planet’s wellbeing. From using low or no emission public transport to buying environmentally friendly cleaning products, there are so many important ways we can reduce our impact on the environment. The best place to start as normal, everyday people is with the buildings we create and use. Utilizing sustainable interior design is vital for two main reasons: keeping the environment and us healthy.

The Environment’s Health

Sustainable design helps preserve our natural habitat by reducing our carbon footprint. Gases like carbon dioxide and methane that trap heat in the atmosphere and increase temperatures across the world are called greenhouse gases and are how we calculate our footprint. Keeping the global climate stable is essential for preventing natural disasters and allowing us to grow the food we all need to survive.

Unfortunately, so much of our garbage ends up in the wilderness and the oceans, which can have terrible consequences for wildlife and the quality of our natural resources like soil and water. Sustainable design also helps reduce the amount of waste we produce, which is key to preventing pollution.

Our Health

Sustainable design keeps us healthy, too! It helps improve indoor air quality. The right materials prevent potentially dangerous toxins and dust particles from floating around the air and making us sick. By purchasing sustainable interior design decor and products, we can also reduce the noise in our living environment, which is all-important for psychological wellbeing. By using as much natural light as possible (more on this in a bit), we can reduce stress and increase productivity, too. This is especially helpful for those of us who work from home!

How to Design with Sustainability in Mind

So, how do you go about actually implementing sustainable interior design? It’s helpful to start with the “five Rs of sustainability” which are the basic principles that underlie how to live sustainably:

  • Refuse: Say “no” to environmentally unfriendly products by buying only those that are recyclable and ethically produced.
  • Reduce: Buying better quality furniture means it will last longer and reduce the amount of product that ends up in our landfills. Intelligent design uses the least amount of materials and resources to minimize your impact on the environment.
  • Reuse: Avoid single-use products (especially plastics) by using metal or wooden alternatives wherever possible.
  • Recycle: This one’s pretty self-explanatory. Make an effort to dispose of your trash responsibly by using recycling bins. Donate your furniture, accessories, etc., rather than discarding them.
  • Repurpose: Utilize your existing items in different ways once they’ve served their original purpose. For instance, a chest of drawers can now become the vanity in that bathroom you’re remodeling. 

The following concepts underpin the main pillars of sustainable interior design:

Energy Efficiency

Because most of the world’s electricity is still generated by burning coal, energy is one of the biggest contributors to climate change. Sustainable interior design aims to reduce energy consumption.

sustainable interior design

Waste Reduction

Our natural resources are limited, and sustainable design seeks to make a little go a long way. It focuses on using the smallest amount of materials to insulate, build and decorate a building.

Maximized Space

Making the most of the space you have goes hand in hand with energy efficiency and waste reduction. Smaller spaces require some thought to create efficient design but also have a smaller carbon footprint if done well. This is achieved by consciously and cleverly choosing materials and pieces (particularly furniture) that ensure a little goes a long way.

Water Conservation

Although 70% of our planet is covered by water, less than 2% of it is safe to consume. Sustainable design works to decrease the amount of water we use to preserve this precious resource.

Healthy Environment

As we mentioned earlier, sustainable design also promotes healthy living by making smart choices about temperature regulation, ventilation and products when designing an interior.


Sustainable design is focused on using extremely durable high quality materials that last longer. In this way, you lessen your need to toss out old items and buy new ones, which supports waste reduction.

natural stone design

Eco-friendly Materials and Products

Picking materials and products that are recycled or recyclable and have a low environmental impact is the easiest way to achieve sustainability when designing your interior.

Sustainable Design Examples

Now that you’re familiar with why sustainability is so crucial and what it aims to achieve, how can you accomplish sustainable interior design in your own home? Here are a few tips and tricks:

To make your home more energy efficient:

  • Maximize the amount of natural light in your home by installing glass sliding doors and even skylights.
  • Opt for LED bulbs when you do need to use electricity to light a room. 
  • Utilize renewable energy sources like solar power if possible.
  • Paint your walls light colors to help decrease the need for artificial lighting.
  • Use lined draperies, carpets and blinds to improve insulation and thermal comfort, thereby reducing the amount of energy needed to heat and cool your home.
  • Arrange your furniture in heat and energy-saving configurations by opening up spaces around air vents to improve circulation.
  • Install smart thermostats that heat up or cool down a room based on outside temperatures, so you don’t have to do it manually. Some include sensors that switch off heating or cooling entirely when people aren’t in the room.

    natural light in bedroom

To reduce waste:

  • Choose linens, furniture and other decorative items made from recycled waste or materials that can be recycled when they’ve reached the end of their lifespan.
  • Pick products made from materials that are good for the environment. These include:
    • Responsibly produced or reclaimed wood.
    • Sustainably made natural fabrics like cotton, leather and wool.
    • Low VOC (volatile organic compounds) paint.
    • Recycled plastic, steel and glass.
    • Hemp.
    • Cork.
    • Straw.
    • Felt.
    • Jute.
    • Natural stone.
  • Purchase adjustable and mobile furniture and modular flooring that can be reassembled and easily moved as necessary. This eliminates the need to buy new pieces.
  • Buy products with easy-to-clean surfaces as they require fewer cleaning products (detergents are often harmful to the environment).
  • Install water-conserving toilets and taps.

sustainable interior design in bathroom

To Buy Responsibly

  • Select wooden pieces that are made from quickly renewable plants such as bamboo or those that have an FSC label on them.
  • Look for locally produced products. Items produced internationally require long-distance shipping which pollutes the environment.
  • Shop at antique and secondhand stores. Not only are many of these items rare and charming, but they also minimize the need to produce new goods. Plus, you know they’ll last a long time!

driftwood table

As you can see, following sustainable interior design guidelines is actually really simple. All it requires is a tiny bit of care and consideration! For more information, visit the resource page of the Sustainable Furnishings Council website at

If you’d like to make your home more environmentally sustainable but aren’t sure where to start, you’re in luck! Valerie Ruddy Designs, Decorating Den Interiors is here to help. Call us at 973-239-3004.

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