The year is 2020. If you're paying attention, you know that the word 'sustainability' is everywhere going into this new decade, and for good reason. Now more than ever, it is paramount that our governments, businesses and the human race as a whole make an effort to do their part in creating a more sustainable, eco-conscious and green future. Sustainability has become a constant in conversation for numerous companies in a wide range of industries around the globe. Whether it's energy, fashion, transportation, food & beverage, design, tech (and the list goes on), we are seeing serious changes across the board, all with Mother Earth in mind.
The interior design industry is no different. Creating a home that promotes sustainability and inhabits eco-conscious materials and goods is the least that we can do, especially with the ever-evolving and innovative products on the market today. At NFG Designs, we continually work to educate our clients about where things come from, how they are made, how long it's expected to last and it's impact on the environment. Our goal is to steer our clients in the right direction, so that they can make the most informed decisions possible.
In this blog post, we are summarizing ways in which you can create a more sustainable space by choosing environmentally friendly material selections, specific eco-conscious brands and how to implement these changes in your own home.
Let's start from the ground up, shall we? Choosing flooring for your home can seem like a daunting task. There are endless options for materials, finishes, styles and colours. Narrowing down your choices can be tough, not to mention keeping sustainable materials in mind. Sustainable flooring is made from natural or renewable materials, has little impact on the environment and the manufacturing process has little to no waste. In terms of eco-friendly materials, we have short-listed our favourites for you.
1. Reclaimed hardwood
Reclaimed hardwood refers to wood that has been recycled from other flooring or building applications. Wood in general is a completely biodegradable material and can be easily recycled at the end of its life. By using wood from pre-used applications, we are able to scale back on waste and prevent other tree's from being cut down and manufactured into flooring. There are tons of beautiful types of wood that are used in older homes and buildings, and re-finishing or re-staining is a super cost effective and efficient way to bring new life to the planks. Reuse, reduce, recycle is the motto here.
Bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants on the planet, with a harvest cycle of just 3-5 years, compared to a hardwood tree that takes 2-3 decades. This makes Bamboo very renewable and an amazing option for eco-friendly flooring. Another special attribute of Bamboo is that the grass root is self-generating. This means that during harvesting, the root is not damaged at all. This eliminates the need for future re-planting, meaning no extra labour, resources 0r cost.
3. Natural Broadloom
Wool, Jute or Sisal are all great options when it comes to broadloom made from natural fibres. Wool comes primarily from Australian sheep, which need to be sheared regularly to maintain comfortability depending on the time of year. Then we have Jute, which is a tall grass species and a tremendously sustainable fibre, reaching harvest in only a few short months and purely relies on rain water to grow. Lastly, there's Sisal. Sisal is made from agave planets and is a super durable material. It can be dyed a variety of different colours and can also be mixed with other natural fibres such as cotton for an even softer broadloom. All 3 natural fibres are amazing choices for broadloom applications.
In our opinion, furniture, window treatments and decor might be considered one of the most wasteful facets of the retail decorating industry. Consumers tend to aim for more 'trendy' pieces and lots of the goods being consumed are manufactured over-seas. Not only is the carbon footprint of these items detrimental to the environment, but in the end it will be detrimental your wallet. Hear us out.
Consider furniture as an investment rather than an expense. The goal is to buy timeless pieces that will fit your lifestyle and taste for many years to come. Paying more now will definitely likely save you money in the long run.
Our advice to clients would be to work with as many Canadian companies and makers as possible and invest in quality custom pieces. Whether it's a sectional, dining table or window treatments, there are endless options to ensure you are getting something you will love for 20+ years and will hold up through whatever life stage you are currently navigating.
Also, when shopping for furnishings, try to shop local and always look for furniture with labels certifying them as sustainable. Inquire with the sales reps about the countries of origin and materials used in their products.
Another tip we would give someone looking to achieve a more sustainable interior would be to thrift or antique hunt. You can find some amazing pieces (and deals) made from quality materials that can withstand the test of time. Often times, all these pieces need is a little face lift such as re-finishing with some fresh paint or re-upholstering.
When it comes to countertops, we tend to opt for quartz options as a sustainable choice for our clients. Quartz is one of the most commonly occurring materials on earth and there are various quartz options in the market today that are responsibly sourced and manufactured using sustainable practices.
So a little overview of the material itself, quartz is a naturally occurring material. Natural materials transmit less emissions and are considered biodegradable. Quartz is a much harder material than marble or granite (over 2 times stronger than granite), translating to a longer life span. Quartz is less likely to chip, scratch or stain, which leads to less repairs and less waste overall. It is a non-porous and non-absorbent material, which means no moisture, bacteria or germs from raw foods, leftovers, oil etc can be trapped in the surface. All in all, quartz is a stain resistant, maintenance free, durable and food safe material.
Cambria is our favourite brand to work with when dealing with quartz. Cambria possesses both sustainable products and practices while continuing to keep quality at the forefront of their business.
Cambria participates in the Mindful Materials program, which is an online platform that provides consumers information about products regarding their health and environmental impacts. They have achieved Greenguard and Greenguard Gold certifications, are Gold Members of the U.S. Green Building Council and participate in the Declare Program.
Cambria has over 170 breath taking designs available, and they have recently began manufacturing designs using recycled materials (99% minimum pre-consumer recycled content). They have an amazing customer service team and they stand behind their transferable life-time warranty. Cambria quartz is an incredible
choice if you are looking for a sustainable countertop company to work with.
There's no doubt that the cabinetry in your home is a major investment. It's a long term 'permanent' fixture that is required in multiple areas of your house. Here at NFG Designs, we take our cabinetry very seriously. It's the first details we begin designing when we take on a new project and we have a limited number of recommended millworkers for a variety of reasons.
Ultimately, with such a large amount of detail and product being placed into your home it's very important to understand the materials being used.
1. Box Interiors
Plywood vs. melamine.
A solid plywood box is more eco-friendly and assumed to be more durable than the particle board / melamine alternative. A plywood box is layers of solid wood often with a birch veneer on the top and bottom of the sheet material. Important sustainability factors for this product are ensuring the company who produces the sheets is obtaining the material from a sustainably managed forest. You might be familiar with the FSC certification, which protects people, land and animals that inhibit the areas where the trees are being cut down. We also ensure that the wood product is being obtained locally. Our millworkers sheet supplier obtains their products from a company where the plywood is made from sustainably managed forests located in Northern Ontario. It doesn't get more local than that!
With a solid plywood box, you have to be prepared to spend 20-30% more than with a particle board box.
Particle board is pressed and glued wood chips typically with a melamine surface on the top and bottom of the sheet material. The assumption is always that this is a 'cheap' or less durable product, and it's simply not the case. The most important detail to review when it comes to a particle board product and melamines are the emissions that may be released from the product (ensuring safe and non-toxic glues are used) and avoiding offshore product where emission and chemical standards are different.
At NFG Designs, we spec a lot of melamine products for our millwork designs as it's often more feasible financially for certain areas of the home, but we also spec from brands that are LEED and FSC certified, reduce their carbon footprint, are an eco-certified composite and recycle or recover wood fibers.
Not the decorative hardware kind (knobs and handles), but rather the hardware that makes your cabinetry doors and drawers function. A large part of sustainability when it comes to cabinetry revolves around the quality, and the type of hinges and drawer tracks used will absolutely contribute to the longevity of your millwork. I'm sure we've all experienced the door in the kitchen that is falling off the hinges, or the drawer track that doesn't glide properly anymore.
Appliances & fixtures
When choosing sustainable appliances, efficiency is key in achieving a more eco-friendly home. You can save both energy and water by selecting toilets, shower heads, faucets, refrigerators, dishwashers, etc. that have energy efficient features. Lucky for us, there are tons of options available at many different price points, so you can make the switch while keeping within your budget, whatever that may be.
Another thing to keep in mind are rebates. It is common for companies or municipal water providers to offer rebate opportunities for purchasing a certified machine. Dishwashers, refrigerators, washers & dryers and even some light fixtures are examples of items that may come with offers for post-purchase rebates.
To give you an example, Kohler now offers a wide range of water-saving toilets, shower heads and faucets. Water-saving toilets can be the single most effective change you can make in your house when it comes to conserving water, savings up to 16,500 gallons of water annually. Also switching out your shower heads and faucets can help save up to 45% of your standard water use every year.
All in all...
We hope this blog has provided you with some new and informative insight on the many ways we can be more sustainable in our homes. There are numerous topics that we didn't touch upon, and just barely scratched the surface on others, so we hope you are inspired to dig deeper for more information and try to implement some of these changes in your own interiors. Next time you're out shopping for products or materials to update your home, but sure to ask questions about the manufacturing process, emissions, chemicals, etc. that may or may not be used to produce the product.
Interior designers & decorators are always being introduced to new products and materials, so we have a vast understanding of all the eco-conscious and sustainable options available on the market. Through our experience, we are able to apply the endless options for fabrics, materials, fixtures and appliances to achieve a more eco-friendly design and interior overall.
If you feel overwhelmed and unsure on where to start with making changes, there is always the opportunity book a consultation. This way, you have the chance to discuss the potential your home with a professional and all the ways it can become more green, sustainable and long-lasting for the future.