When it comes to making sustainable choices, we take great care that the good is not the enemy of the perfect. Just because it’s difficult to get everything just right doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to make better decisions wherever we can.
And if you’re looking for sustainable living, design and decoration is an easy place to start. We always try to support brands worth supporting, people tackling the bigger issues so you don’t have to. From fully recycled packaging to reducing mileage in transit, when producers and manufacturers get it right, it’s easier for us as consumers to get it right too.
“To know if a product is sustainable, the word ‘circular’ conjures up useful images,” says designer, manufacturer and eco-expert Sebastian Cox. “Even if the material is recycled into the product you buy, could it be recycled again at the end of its useful life, or will it end up in landfill next?”
Sebastian is known for taking a relatively hard line on sustainability – he’s previously said that it’s better to think about ways to not use plastic at all than to embrace an innovative reuse idea – but we are ready to offer a soft approach. “The planet doesn’t need a few people doing everything perfectly, it needs millions of people doing what they can,” says author, TV host and design expert Michelle Ogundehin.
So here are a few small changes you can make to your home that, if we all get involved, will make a big difference going forward.
Eco-boosting for the bedroom
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 tricks to improve the eco-friendliness of your bedroom, many of which can be applied to other rooms as well.
Lower the temperature: “Setting the radiator in the bedroom lower than usual is a good way to save energy and protect the environment,” says Ida. In fact, as a general rule and way to reduce bills, lowering the overall temperature in the home is generally a good idea. “When you travel, keeping it at 20°C indoors is enough,” says Ida.
airing: “In order to get cool and fresh air for sleeping and at the same time to ventilate sustainably, it is best to open a window wide for 10 minutes, preferably with a cross wind,” says Ida. However, avoid leaving the window ajar for hours. Why? “Fast ventilation exchanges air without cooling the furniture, floor and walls, so you don’t have to turn up the heat to recover the heat,” explains Ida.
bedroom curtains: Ida believes timing is everything. “Draw the blinds and draw the curtains at dusk so less warm air can escape from the house,” she suggests.
potted plants: Houseplants have become a huge interior trend in recent years, but they have a function that goes beyond aesthetics. “Put a potted plant on the windowsill,” says Ida. Why? “Green plants are good for indoor air quality, and some are particularly good for keeping in the bedroom. Spider plants, devil’s ivy, snake plants, peace lilies, ivy, palm trees, jade plants, weeping figs and aloe vera all have excellent air-purifying properties.’
The bed: “If possible, buy an eco-certified bed,” says Ina. “Or at least an eco-mattress topper. Look out for organic cotton, horsehair and various grains. There are different types of eco-certifications and what you really need to keep in mind 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 key items to avoid are flame retardants, synthetic latex, foams and chipboard, all of which can release toxic chemicals.”
Leaves: “Old sheets are best,” says Ina. “Possible chemical treatments are washed away and are therefore even better from an ecological point of view than biologically produced new panels. If you still want to buy new, opt for responsibly produced organo sheets.”
Wash Less: Instead of turning on the washing machine, Ina suggests other ways to keep the linens fresh. “Shake comforters and blankets and occasionally hang them out to air instead of washing them,” she says. It’s an obvious point, but one we certainly all feel guilty about, as she goes on to say, “Not washing when you don’t need to saves energy.”
Be more considerate of decorating your home
Author, TV presenter and design expert Michelle Ogundehin says that making a few simple shifts in perception about how you decorate and live can help create a more sustainable home. On the back cover of the Rated People’s Home Improvement Trends Report, she says “it’s about making considered decisions at all levels for a long time,” while having these specific suggestions.
Avoid plastics, vinyl, or synthetics wherever you can. An obvious one perhaps, but worth mentioning nonetheless as these materials creep in in unexpected places. “From nylon carpets and polyester fabrics to formaldehyde-yielding MDF,” says Michelle. “They all contain chemicals you don’t want in your happy, healthy, and soon to be pollution-free home.”
Complete your design review. “It’s boring, but it’s important,” says Michelle. “There’s no point installing solar panels, roof insulation or underfloor heating when all that lovely warmth and energy is whistling straight through leaky windows and doors. Seal them and save them.
Isolate wisely. “Ask your contractor to look for eco-friendly options — like hempcrete, cork, sheep’s wool, cellulose (made from shredded paper), or wood shavings,” 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 becoming easier and easier to install. “It’s easy to turn the temperature down with home technology, and one degree less could result in significant annual savings.”
Choose natural lime-based paints. “Did you know that most paints are 37% plastic?” Michèle asks. “And one of the main causes of global pollution from microplastics? Choose natural lime-based paints to help you and your home breathe easier. Lime-based paints also naturally inhibit bacteria and mold. If possible, ask for lime plaster when renovating.” There are many eco paint brands on the market and most are very open about their credentials.
Shop sustainably for your home
It can be difficult to know if what you are buying is truly sustainable. Aside from the danger of greenwashing, where companies emphasize 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 shop. Designer and manufacturer Sebastian Cox has some simple questions to ask yourself that will help you shop better for your home.
“I think it’s about the idea of being able to fix something and keep it for a long, long time,” says Sebastian. “Are its parts different? It may have a wooden part, a glass part and a brass part, and if one breaks it can be easily repaired, which contributes to its longevity.’ The idea of the ability to fix something is compelling when it comes to estimating how long it will stay with you.
Sebastian has other suggestions. “Are you also asking yourself before you buy: ‘Will I still love this in 3 years’? he says. “Check how good its finish is – will it age well, or has it been finished with a high gloss polyurethane or a veneer, it won’t? If it’s solid wood, it’s more circular, which means it’s easier to recycle into something else later.