The Role of an Interior Designer and Meeting Your Company’s Environmental Goals

Andrea Stevens

Earth is in jeopardy and it is time to understand why this should impact your interior design decisions. Since we entered the Anthropocene (the current geological period where the planet’s climate and ecosystems are dramatically altered by humans) human activity has slowly exploited our planet to a point where we are jeopardizing its future ability to provide a habitable environment for the modern human lifestyle.

Edward Burtynsky, Log Booms #1, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada, 2016.

Processes of consumption and production directly and indirectly impact numerous interconnected systems within the ground, water, and atmosphere. Today, scientists use the concept of planetary boundaries to understand the magnitude of human impact on earth systems. When these boundaries are crossed it increases the risk of abrupt or irreversible environmental changes, three of which have unfortunately already been passed.

The nine planetary boundaries are:

  • Stratospheric ozone depletion
  • Loss of biosphere integrity
  • Chemical pollution and the release of novel entities
  • Climate change
  • Ocean acidification
  • Freshwater consumption and the global hydrological cycle
  • Land system change
  • Nitrogen and phosphorus flows to the biosphere and oceans
  • Atmospheric aerosol loading

As human behaviour continues to contribute to passing these boundaries we can expect but are not limited to ecosystem collapse, food scarcity, increasing temperatures and more natural disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires.

Mountainscape with blue sky and white clouds in Death Valley, California.
Reaching 130.0 degrees Fahrenheit (54.4°C), Death Valley, California has set a world record for the hottest temperature in Earth’s history for two consecutive years. Photo by René Holst on Unsplash

These boundaries are closely related to and help inform many international environmental goals and policies such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement. These goals are aimed to guide us on a path of reducing our impact on the earth systems and hopefully giving us a chance for a stable planet in the future. Today, many companies are inspired by these goals and also include environmental awareness and goals into their business structure and culture. 46% of businesses surveyed by the UN are implementing the SDGs into their business. These goals can and should be extended into your interior spaces as well.

When it comes time to construct a new interior space, consider getting assistance from a design professional who can help you create a space that extends your company’s environmental goals into your physical environment. Every product you purchase and build with is a vote for or against the future stability of our planet. These items can both directly and indirectly impact Earth’s systems and their ability to support humanity.

Unfortunately, numerous aspects of interior design contribute to passing these boundaries. Did you know that “buildings generate nearly 40% of annual global CO2 emissions”, with 11% of this total coming from building materials and construction (embodied carbon).

Aerial view of construction site surrounded by skyscrapers.
Photo by Ivan Bandura on Unsplash

As our cities grow our buildings and interiors are becoming a large contributor to climate change. Sourcing of natural materials can contribute to land system changes if not done responsibly. As well, the production of materials and dyeing of fabrics require large amounts of water to run the machines and dyeing processes. This impacts the hydrological cycle through water consumption and potential pollution from industrial processes. Luckily, there are some great innovations that can help reduce your impact. This is where your interior designer comes in.

Edward Burtynsky, Carrara Marble Quarries, Cava di Canalgrande #1, Carrara, Italy, 2016.

There are multiple areas within an interior project where environmentally conscious decisions can be made to help minimize your impact on the earth and stay in alignment with your company’s environmental goals. A few of the aspects we consider when selecting materials, furniture, fixtures, and equipment are:

  • Carbon footprint
  • Water consumption
  • Chemical pollution (both air and water)
  • Raw material resources
  • Waste
  • Ability to be reused or repurposed
  • Manufacturing locations

Many of these factors are the bases for product certifications. Interior designers can use these resources to understand a product’s environmental impact and choose the best option for your project, budget and targeted environmental goals. Is your company going carbon neutral? Then so should your interior space.

At the end of the day, good business is business that prioritizes our planet. Your investments now are an investment for our future. Next time you need to renovate, consider using a design professional who can help make your project a vote for Earth’s future while supporting your company’s environmental goals.

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