When it comes to making sustainable choices, we don’t want good to be the enemy of perfection. While it’s hard to do everything perfectly, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to make better decisions where we can.
And when you’re looking for a sustainable lifestyle, design and decorating is an easy place to start. We always try to champion brands that are worth supporting, people who are tackling the issues that matter most so you don’t have to. From fully recycled packaging to reduced shipping miles, when manufacturers and manufacturers do things right, it’s also easier for us as consumers to do things right.
“To find out if a product is sustainable, the word ‘circularity’ conjures up useful images,” says designer, manufacturer and eco-expert Sebastian Cox. “Even if the material is recycled in the product you buy, could it be recycled again at the end of its life, or will it then end up in landfill?”
Sebastian is known for taking a relatively hard line when it comes to sustainability – he’s once said it’s better to think of ways to not use plastic at all than to be excited about an innovative idea to reuse it – but we are ready to offer a gentler approach. “The planet doesn’t need a few people who do everything perfectly, but millions of people who do what they can,” says author, TV presenter and design expert Michelle Ogundehin.
So here are some small changes you can make to your home that, if we all get involved, will make a big difference for the future.
Eco-boost the room
And maybe you can start in the bedroom. Ida Magntorn is a Swedish author and design journalist, whose latest book, Sustainable Home, has just been published by Pavilion Books. She suggests these seven simple tips for boosting your bedroom’s green credentials, many of which can be used elsewhere in other rooms.
Lower the temperature: “Having the bedroom radiator set to a lower setting than you’re used to is a good way to save energy and take care of the environment,” says Ida. In fact, as a general rule, and a way to cut bills too, it’s good to generally lower the overall temperature of the house. “When you leave, just keep it at 59°F indoors,” says Ida.
Ventilate“To get fresh, cool air for sleeping, while sustainably ventilating, it’s best to open a window wide, preferably with a cross breeze, for 10 minutes,” says Ida. But avoid keeping the window ajar for hours. Why? “By ventilating quickly, the air will be exchanged without the furniture, floor and walls getting cold, so you don’t need to turn up the heating to recover the heat,” says Ida.
bedroom curtains: Ida believes timing is everything. “Drop the blinds and close the curtains at dusk so that less hot air inside the house can escape,” she suggests.
Potted plants: Indoor plants have become a big interior design trend in recent years, but they have a function beyond aesthetics. “Sit a potted plant on the windowsill,” Ida says. Why? “House plants are good for indoor air quality, and some are especially good to keep in the bedroom. Spider plants, devil’s ivy, snakes, peace lilies, ivy, palms, jade plants, weeping fig, and aloe vera all have great air-purifying properties.
The bed: “If possible, buy an eco-certified bed,” advises Ina. ‘Or at least an eco-friendly mattress topper. Look for organic cotton, horsehair and different types of grains. There are different types of eco-certifications, and what you really need to look out for is that the certification applies to all the layers that make up the bed. The textile can be eco-certified, but also check what the filling of the mattress is made of. The most important things to avoid are flame retardants, synthetic latex, foam materials, and particle board, all of which can release toxic chemicals.
Sheets: “Old sheets are the best,” says Ina. “Any chemical treatments will have been eliminated, so they are even better from an environmental point of view than the new, organically produced leaves. If you still want to buy new, choose responsibly produced organic sheets.
Wash less: Instead of turning on the washer, Ina suggests other ways to keep bedding fresh. “Shake out duvets and blankets and hang them out to air occasionally instead of washing them,” she says. It’s a no-brainer, but surely we’re all guilty of it, as she goes on to say, “Not washing when you don’t need to wash saves energy.”
Approach your home decor with more consideration
Author, TV presenter and design expert Michelle Ogundehin says a few simple perception changes about how you decorate and live can help create a more sustainable home. On the back of Rated People’s Home Improvement Trends Report she says “it’s about making thoughtful, long-term choices, at all levels,” while having those specific suggestions.
Avoid plastics, vinyl or synthetics wherever you can. Obvious, perhaps, but still worth highlighting because these materials slip into unexpected places. “Nylon rugs and polyester fabrics to MDF exuding formaldehyde,” says Michelle. “They all contain chemicals you don’t want in your healthy, happy, soon-to-be-non-toxic home.”
Make your draft proof. “It’s boring, but important,” Michelle says. “There’s no point in installing solar panels, roof insulation or underfloor heating if all that lovely heat and energy is whizzing right through leaky windows and doors.” Close them and save them.
Isolate wisely. “Ask your builder to investigate eco-friendly options — like hempcrete, cork, sheep’s wool, cellulose (from shredded paper), or wood wool,” says Michelle. ‘All non-irritating, safe to handle and fully recyclable.’
Add thermostats in every room. “You can then control which rooms are heated based on who’s home,” she says, as smart thermostats are getting easier to install. “It’s easy to lower the temperature with home technology and one degree less could save you huge annual savings.”
Choose paints based on natural lime. “Did you know that most paints are 37% plastic? Michelle asks. “And a major cause of global microplastic pollution? Choose natural lime-based paints so you and your home can breathe easier. Lime-based paints also naturally inhibit bacteria and mold. If possible, also ask for a lime-based plaster when you renovate. There are many eco-friendly paint brands on the market and most carry their credentials very openly.
Buy sustainably for your home
It can be difficult to know if what you are buying is really durable. Besides the threat of greenwashing, where companies highlight certain keywords or practices and hide less appealing parts of their process, how a product is made is often difficult to understand when you’re in the store. Designer and fabricator Sebastian Cox has a few simple questions to ask you that will help you buy better for your home.
“I think it’s about the idea of being able to fix something and keep it for a very long time,” says Sebastian. “Are its components distinct? Maybe it has a wooden section, a glass section and a brass section, and if someone breaks it can easily be repaired, which increases its longevity. The idea of the ability to fix something is compelling when it comes to assessing how long it will last with you.
Sebastian has other suggestions. ‘Also, before you buy, ask yourself ‘will I still like this in 3 years’?’ he says. ‘Check the quality of its surface – will it age well, or has it been finished with high gloss polyurethane, or a veneer, who won’t? If it’s solid wood, it’s more circular, which means it’ll be easier to recycle it into something else later.