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  • Writer's pictureEvie Polkadot

Thirteen Steps to Eco-friendly Design

If one thing has become clear in the last couple of years, it's that we are all trying to become more eco-friendly. Businesses all around the world are pledging their allegiance to a more sustainable lifestyle going forward; offering products with less chemicals and synthetic products in favour of more ethical materials and planet-friendly manufacturing methods.

But how can you, at home, make the right choices to benefit the planet, without compromising on style? What can you do to make sure your deigns at home are less harmful to our environment and how do you know what to look out for?

Well, let me help you out with my thirteen steps to eco-friendly design:

What is Eco-friendly Design?

Eco-friendly design, or, Sustainable Decorating is achieved by using the process of shopping in a way - and for items - which benefit the environment around us, rather than harming it.

There are many ways you can achieve eco-friendly design, as I will list below in a moment - and doing so will help you to create a home that makes you feel good; not only because you've made it look great, but also because you'll know you've helped towards a safer, cleaner and healthier planet.

And not only will you feel good mentally for your wise choices, but you'll also feel more relaxed, less stressed and more at one with your environment; because we all need to be closer to nature - and that is exactly what eco-friendly design brings with it!

Thirteen Steps to Eco-friendly Design:

Step 1: Upcycle, Repurpose & Buy Second-hand

With an enormous 14 million tonnes of waste being thrown into landfill in the UK every year - 1.6million tonnes of that made up of household products, we have been living in an alarming throw-away culture that really needs to change.

The recent pandemic made us all realise our mistakes by forcing us to slow down, look at what we've got and by stopping us from being able to shop whenever we like; it brought us closer to nature and allowed us to see the world with a break from every day pollution and the noises that come with it. And we liked it. We all realised how lucky we are to live on such a beautiful planet and we vowed to make more effort to save it and to appreciate it while we can.

And so, this is the first step you can take to do just that! Next time you design a room, think about saving a piece of furniture from landfill; buy second-hand, pick up that piece sitting on a pavement, or upcycle or repurpose something you already have that you would have thrown away before lockdown changed us.

Not only will you save yourself a little money, you will also save a spot at landfill and you'll feel proud of what you've created along the way.

Did you know that 110,000 tonnes of furniture at Household Waste and Recycling Centres is re-usable in its current condition and 32% per cent of bulky waste is re-usable in its current state? This figure rises to 51% if we take into account, items requiring slight repair.

It's a scary realisation and we have been lucky enough to be able to live in ignorance of it until now; but now we have to face the numbers and make the changes! So, get your creative head on; put your brain to work and do the better thing - not the easier thing!

Step 2: Buy from Local Artists & Craftspeople

Buying hand made is good for everyone; supporting small, local businesses is not only going to benefit them, it will also benefit you and the environment.

For years we've been complaining about large corporate businesses pushing out our local stores, creating mass-produced items and slowly killing our economy, but still, we all use them. Why? Because we are lazy, easily swayed and we all want an easy life.

But with the growing love of interior design and the growing knowledge that comes with it, we are all learning that caring for our environment is more important than we ever realised. We're also starting to realise that buying mass-produced means that we all end up living in the same houses and quickly growing bored of the things around us.

Buying from small businesses means that we are more likely to have one-off pieces that we love all the more for being hand-made and locally sourced; we are less likely to want to throw them out and they are more likely to last forever, than just a few years.

It's simply a win-win situation!

Step 3: Scrap Trends

I've said this before and I'll say it again: all trends do for us is spend our money to give us the same things as everybody else, thus making us quickly bored of the things surrounding us. Those things then inevitably end up in landfill when nobody else wants to buy them, because they already have them too and are also trying to get rid of them!

Trends aren't worth it!

We've all been guilty of following a trend - even if it has been entirely unintended. I have - on very many occasions - found myself at the very beginning of a trend when I have fallen into something which then becomes the next big thing. I've always found it infuriating, as someone who doesn't like to be like everybody else, but I have always ended up sucked into the trend because I'm more easily able to access the one thing I love, now it is being sold everywhere!

I absolutely promise myself I will never do it again. I am going to choose the things I like and disregard the things which become popular. I do not like to scrap anything; I would rather give something away than take it to the tip if it can't be sold and yet I know so many people who don't think twice before taking perfectly good items straight to a recycling centre to throw away.

Don't be these people! Remember, "one man's trash is another man's treasure"; if you can't be bothered to sell something, or you can't get what you want for it - then give it away!

Anyway - back to the point!

Trends are always going to end up boring you; you will always get sick of them and all the time you are following trends, you will follow the next one, and the next one - constantly spending your money on wasteful items that will get boring, fast!

Save yourself the money and give yourself the joy of owning things you truly love. Anything you truly love will never go out of style and will always have its place in your home. If everybody did this, imagine the positive impact we'd have on the environment in the long run.

Step 4: Think Twice Before You Buy

Always choose carefully. Ask yourself these questions:

Do I need it?

Will it truly benefit my life?

Will I regret not buying it?

Will it last?

Will I love it long term?

If the answer to any of these questions is 'yes', then go ahead! So long as you really love it and you think you'll love it for a long time to come, then it's worth taking home; if you only see yourself loving it until you redecorate, or see something better, then leave it behind and save it from ending up in landfill!

Step 5: Use Ethically Sourced Products

I've mentioned repurposing old furniture and saving pieces from landfill, but you don't need to banish new items in order to be sustainable and eco-friendly. With sustainability being at the top of everybody's list these days, it's easy enough to find brand new products being made in an ethical way.

You may have to pay more money for these items, but knowing they are made to last and that they are manufactured from eco-friendly materials is a huge step in the right direction for our planet; and you will end up with a piece that you will love for many, many years to come.

In order to help you to identify some of the brands offering sustainable interior design products in the UK, I have compiled a list of some of the certificates to look out for, below:

Greenguard Certificate - products proven to have low chemical emissions; thus improving air quality.

FSC Certified - Wood from sustainable forests, helping to prevent deforestation.

Blue Angel Certificate - The oldest worldwide label, for companies and products that are comprehensively sustainable.

SCS Indoor Advantage - For products with low VOC emissions, with the most transparent indoor air quality (IAQ).

Furniture Industry Sustainability Programme (FISP) - The benchmark for sustainable practices in the UK furniture industry.

As well as looking for these certificates, you can also help yourself by making sensible choices with the products you buy; for example, choosing natural materials over synthetic materials. Cotton, linen, wool, hemp, bamboo, cork, jute, clay, stone, wood, lime, straw and coir are all examples of the natural materials used in interior design.

Step 6: Use Low VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) Paint Brands

Products high in VOC have a high vapour pressure at room temperature. This can be harmful to our health and breathing in these VOCs can cause irritation to the eyes, nose and throat - causing breathing difficulties and other side effects, such as nausea and even damage to the central nervous system and other organs. Some VOCs can also cause cancer.

So it is important for us to choose our paint wisely and thankfully, more and more brands are lowering their VOC emissions as sustainability becomes ever more essential to our homes and our health, so they are becoming easier to find as time passes by.

Some of my favourite low VOC paint brands are as follows:

Mylands of London - Virtually solvent free and odourless with quick drying times and easy clean up, Mylands use natural earth pigments, making them deep and rich in colour and eco-friendly. Having used Mylands myself, I can vouch for this statement; it's a joy to paint with; it's thick, silky and has beautiful depth, no smells and near-perfect coverage on the first coat.

Lick - Sustainability is the driving force behind Lick's business ethics and for this reason, they are partnered with '4Ocean' and 'One Tree Planted' to remove plastic from our oceans and restore our forests. As well as being low in VOCs, all of Lick's products are sustainably sourced and recyclable. Their boxes can be recycled up to seven times and are also 100% biodegradable. Their paint is also lovely to work with and covers really well.

Little Greene - One of the first paint manufacturers to achieve the European environmental standard BS EN ISO 14001, Little Greene have always been dedicated to protecting the well-being of the planet. Their eco-friendly paint range is extensive and is available in both water based and oil based paints.

Coat - 100% solvent free paints in a wide range of colours - with recyclable products and packaging and bamboo supplies. Coat also support Crisis UK to help end homelessness.

Morris & Co. - Minimal VOCs over 40 different colours and two finishes - chalky matt and eggshell. Beautiful pigments, all manufactured in the UK.

Step 7: Choose Natural Flooring

With flooring being one of the larger expenses we will make in our homes, it makes sense to choose wisely and do what we can to help the environment.

There is plenty of choice available for natural flooring options, including hardwood, cork, bamboo, marmoleum, stone and recycled materials; as well as natural carpets made from sisal, coir, seagrass and jute.

Natural carpets will take a little getting used to if you like soft fibres beneath your feet, but they look beautiful and benefit us by preventing allergies related to synthetic materials and dyes, making us more comfortable in our environment.

Step 8: Use Recycled Plastic Products

It's widely recognised that plastic has damaged our planet, since some types can take up to 1000 years to decompose! But there are better choices available to those of us who like plastic products, or want to make use of recycled plastic, because, lets face it - with so much plastic already in the world, recycling it for further use is probably more sensible than sending it to landfill.

Buying sustainable kitchens, worktops, splash-backs, garden and interior furniture - and even tiles and carpets which can all be made from plastic waste are some of the ways you can keep plastic from sitting in landfill for many years to come.

Let's help our planet by buying recycled; some of the things I've seen made out of plastic waste are incredible and really attractive, too! There's no downside; the cost may be higher, but the positives way outweigh that factor.

Step 9: Use Thermal Curtains

Thermal curtains help to keep the warm inside in the winter months and help to reflect solar radiation in the summer, thus keeping your home cooler. This, in turn saves you money on heating and/or cooling and helps to reduce greenhouse gases in the environment.

According to some manufacturers, thermal curtains can reduce thermal loss in your home by up to 25%, lower heat up to 33% and block light up to 99.9%.

They can also be made from very thick, sustainable fabrics, such as cotton, linen and hemp, so they should last you a long time and really pay for themselves in the long-run.

Step 10: Research Company Ethics

With the huge rise in popularity of companies trying to be more ethical, many less-than-ethical organisations are using 'greenwashing' to dupe unsuspecting customers into buying from them under the illusion that they are more sustainable than they actually are.

Greenwashing is the deceitful practice where organisations spend more time and money on advertising the fact that they are sustainable than they spend on actually minimising their environmental impact.

Environmentalist Jay Westerveld coined the term 'greenwashing' in the 1980s and a study by TerraChoice in 2010 found that 90% of all products in our stores commit at least one of the 7 Deadly Sins of Greenwashing. They are as follows (taken from

1. Hidden Trade-Offs

There are many ways to label a product to make it sound very eco-friendly. Claims like 'made with recycled contents' or 'compostable' are sometimes emphasized and used to cover up other environmentally damaging factors the company commits when creating the product. Even though something can be recycled, environmental costs of unethical working conditions, high emissions and solid waste production, overexploitation of resources, or high resource consumption are often swept under the rug.

2. No Proof

Many companies self-proclaim themselves as environmentally friendly even though they have no factual proof of what they claim. You may see this on products claiming to be made with certain amounts of recycled materials or specific amounts of emissions being reduced but do not have the certification to prove what they are saying. These empty claims can be very damaging to the environment as it allows big companies to get around environmental laws.

3. Vagueness

You can find countless labels throughout stores claiming they are 'all natural' or 'sustainable'. These labels are misleading because the right combination of environment-related words can easily persuade the general public into thinking they are supporting a company that really cares about the environment.

4. Irrelevance

This occurs when a company promotes an environmental claim that is technically true but irrelevant to the product. The most common example of this is the claim of "CFC-Free". Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are a type of man-made greenhouse gas primarily produced within air conditioning units. However, CFCs have been banned by law since the 1970s. The claim "CFC-Free" tricks people who are unaware of current environmental laws or production standards to believe that the company is actually environmentally conscious.

5. Lesser of Two Evils

It is common for companies to make environmental claims even when the overall product has little to no environmental benefits, to begin with. For example, the automobile industry is a massive contributor to greenhouse gases and global CO2 emissions. Some car companies claim that their cars require "greener" fuel or that their cars are "more fuel-efficient" when in reality, owning a car is one of the worst things you can do for the planet. No matter how green the fuel is, the car will still produce large amounts of greenhouse gases.

6. Fibbing

Many companies get away with claims or labels that are straight-up, not true. An example of this includes claims of cars emitting zero carbon dioxide emissions into the air. As ridiculous as this may sound, countless companies are still getting away with lying to their customers – and their customers fall for it every time.

7. Worshiping False Labels

The average person sometimes can't tell the difference between an actual environmental certification and a fake one. This creates a very misleading claim for the customer as the company is taking advantage of and buying its way out of following actual environmental laws and standards. Another example of this is when companies put pictures of trees or use green colour for the label but don’t change the product's contents. Many people take for granted that all it takes for something to be environmentally friendly is to have the words 'eco' written in green letters.

You can help yourself to find genuine companies by looking for official government certifications on websites and packaging and by looking for signs of greenwashing on the products you usually buy.

Don't be fooled; officially sustainable products will probably be slightly higher in price, due to several factors, such as using raw materials, natural preservatives, or paying for business practices, such as solar panels and energy-efficient appliances. If something seems far too cheap to be genuine, it probably isn't genuine!

Step 11: Add Plants

Adding plants to your home comes with many health benefits, such as improving your mood, lowering stress and anxiety and reducing fatigue; but there are plenty of environmental benefits to having houseplants too.

Having plants in the home can help to improve air quality, meaning less headaches; plants are known to absorb carbon dioxide and convert it into breathable oxygen, with Peace Lilies showing an improvement of air quality by up to 60%!

Plants also help to increase humidity, keep air temperatures down, reduce airborne dust levels and mold spores and lower levels of certain pollutants, such as benzene and nitrogen dioxide.

Step 12: Swapping Candles for Soy Wax or Beeswax

Thankfully, I think most of us use eco-friendly candles these days, but I'm sure there are still people out there who are yet to latch on to the market of sustainable candle wax.

When paraffin candles burn, the wax releases toxic compounds into the air, including acetone, benzene, and toluene, all of which are known carcinogens; using scented paraffin candles therefore not only damages our health, but also the environment around us.

Swapping your candles for those made of soy wax, coconut wax, rapeseed wax or beeswax is the best way to care for the environment.

Beeswax is natural, biodegradable, non-allergenic, non-toxic and smoke-free; it naturally cleans the air by removing toxins and comes in different colours, depending on what the bees have lived on. However, it isn't vegan.

Soy Wax candles are both toxin-free and long-lasting thanks to their cooler burning temperature. There have been concerns surrounding the soybean industry, in particular its use of pesticides and fertilisers and the resulting deforestation. Many companies may also mix soy with paraffin in their candles, so look out for that.

Coconut Wax is one of the most sustainable, luxurious waxes available; it burns slowly and cleanly, whilst distributing fragrance evenly.

Rapeseed Wax is natural, renewable and biodegradable - and it burns slower and cooler.

So, if you're a candle addict who loves to burn scented candles at home, check the ingredients before you buy, in order to make more informed choices.

Step 13: Window Boxes

Our home design extends to our outside spaces and, whether we're lucky enough to have a garden or not, there are things we can do to help the environment, whilst also bringing a little outside joy into our homes.

Window boxes are a great way to incorporate flowers into our interior design schemes, bringing nature closer to us and giving us a little sense of bringing the outside in. But as well as making us feel more content and at one with the environment, window boxes can also benefit our planet.

Plants, in general are a great benefit and the more plants there are in the world, the more our ecosystem can thrive; just imagine how many extra plants there could be in the world if we all had window boxes on every window!

When creating your window box, choose pollinators; these fruit, set seed and breed, meaning less work for you and a massive boost to our ecosystem! Pollinators create food and habitat for a range of creatures, including birds, bees, butterflies and beetles. These pollinators are essential to our own health and are said to directly provide us with one out of every three bites of food. That's huge!

Take a look at this page from the Royal Horticultural Society about the best plants for pollinators, all year round and get creative!

Why Should I Use Eco-friendly Design?

To sum it up, eco-friendly / sustainable design benefits us in many ways; it can help you to lower your bills and living expenses - and clean the air around you. It can reduce stress and anxiety by lessening the clutter in your home, whilst also giving you long lasting decor and furniture which you will appreciate all the more, thanks to the well informed, good choices you've made. This in turn will improve feelings of self-worth, leading to a happier, more fulfilled life... and a healthier planet Earth.

As always, thank you so much for reading; I hope you enjoyed my 13 steps to eco-friendly design.

Lots of love

Evelyn M

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