Sustainability has become a key factor in most areas of modern-day life. Far from being the fad that many considered ‘greening’ to be just a few years ago, eco-friendly products are now the norm. With the obvious results of climate change being seen across the globe many areas of industry are now strictly regulated.
The architecture and interior design industries have seen a particularly rapid growth in sustainable materials This rise in new products has also brought about a spate of false information and claims that has become known as ‘Greenwashing’. In this month’s blog we will try and steer you through the hype with some important considerations for the green home.
In a nutshell, sustainable furniture uses materials that have low negative impact on the environment. The obvious choices of minimal chemicals and sourcing materials from renewable resources is just a part of the eco-positive story. An often-overlooked factor is where a product is manufactured. Transportation and distribution logistics have their own eco pitfalls that must be taken into consideration
With the range of locally available eco-friendly paints, floor coverings and fabrics now available it has never been easier for the homeowner to practice green principles. This has become even more important recently due to the rise of people working from home. Less chemicals means less harmful pollutants such as VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) being released into your home. VOC’s can be found in fabrics, paints, flooring and furnishings and are often the cause of various allergies, headaches and raspatory complaints. Children and the elderly are particularly susceptible to the side-effects of these compounds.
Labels can be deceiving. Check for official accreditations when in doubt.
When investing in an eco-friendly furniture piece the rule of thumb is that you get what you pay for. Inexpensive furniture normally uses cheap materials like formaldehyde-rich particle board, toxic sealants and shoddy workmanship. Bargain furniture stops being a bargain when it needs regular replacing and negatively impacts the environment.
When using fabrics consider if a chemical heavy spray-on stain guard was, or needs to be applied, or if maybe using a microfibre or leather is a better and friendlier option? With developments in vegetable-based leather substitutes and sustainable fibres like graphene we are on the brink of an exciting new era for furnishings.
Green furnishings may be a little more expensive but you have the peace of mind that your furnishings are not poisoning you. Reputable furniture manufacturers will be happy to discuss their green practices with you.
Some consider wood amongst the best of sustainable building materials. For each cubic meter of wood used in construction an average of one tonne of carbon dioxide emissions are prevented. In the furniture manufacturing world, veneers have maximised the use of harvested woods, especially rare and endangered species, so relieving the ecological pressure of the past.
An environmentally-conscious approach to anything has sustainability, respect of nature and natural resources as a core ethic. Sustainably conscious designers regularly test and research new materials and processes to assess the ecological footprint and possible negative side effects. They also have to take the end user into the equation. The easier the customer accepts a new green technology, the quicker and more positive the impact on the environment.
The sustainability philosophy has been embraced by companies, government agencies and NGOs who are constantly promoting the wiser and more responsible use of natural resources, so driving change in numerous industry sectors. On the global scale Ikea is one of the large companies looking at the closed-loop cycle system where a furniture piece can continually be used, disassembled and reused again throughout a lifetime. They are running tests on certain of their flat-pack items that can be ‘traded-in’ on a new item. The old item then get repurposed in other products. Although Ikea may not be everyone's top choice, it is a bold and positive move from one of the world's largest furnishing empires.
A selection of wood veneer coated MDF and mild steel tables from the Leonardo collection. - Image: www.leonardodesign.co.za
Two of the favourite materials used in our collections is mild steel and Oak veneer. Not only can they be crafted into show-stopping décor pieces but also offer the durability that is demanded of our professional and corporate clients.
Apart from the obvious attributes of strength and resistance to daily wear and tear, mild steel is more environmentally friendly than laminates and joinery and is guaranteed not to end up in a landfill at some stage in its life. It is also one of the least reactive of metals and will not corrode over time.
All of our mild steel collections are finished in Ferrugrain powder-coated colours chosen to blend into today’s colour palettes, but can also be customised to your client’s brief. Powder coating is considered a green technology and does not generate harmful solvents or airborne pollutants. This makes it safe for those who work with it, and the environment.
Image: The Cone Dining Table. Perfect for small apartments and micro-living. The Monocoat finish not only allows for a wide range of colour options but is also eco-friendly with a low VOC count. Credit: www.leonardodesign.co.za
The range of green floor coverings has increased in recent years. Bamboo is a key player in the environmentally-friendly arena with a fast regrowth rate (3-years average) making it far quicker than hardwoods to regenerate. Bamboo looks good, has an interesting grain and texture, and takes stains well.
Cork has become a popular flooring alternative being an excellent insulator, sound dampener and naturally repels mould, mites and certain allergens. The cork flooring industry has embraced recycling with many brands incorporating recycled corks from wine bottles (of which there are many!) into their flooring.
Linoleum has changed its image considerably and no longer has the negative connotations of the past. It now consists entirely of biodegradable materials such as tree resin, cork dust and linseed oil. Additionally, cork resists moisture well, is flame retardant and available in a wide range of colours.
Engineered Hardwood (which includes MDF) is a truly environmentally friendly product and used widely in the construction and manufacturing industries. It is widely used in furnishings and shouldn’t be confused with chipboard which is notoriously toxic and destined for the landfill. MDF finished with a hardwood veneer it is indistinguishable from solid wood although retaining all the benefits without the environmental impact.
One has to acknowledge the use of recycled materials being used in green flooring in recent years. Reclaimed hardwoods, recycled glass, tyres, and even PET bottles are being used by design creatives in an exciting collection of flooring, carpets and textiles.
In the world of carpets and floor coverings, Belgotex are local leaders in environmental consciousness and a visit to their website shows why. Every aspect of their manufacturing process is water, energy and resource friendly, an act that has won them numerous international and local awards and accolades. Marketing services manager, Helen de Villiers, is quoted to saying that more consumers are learning that it is not only whether a carpet is made from a natural material, but how it’s made that determines its ‘greenness’.
“They are learning that some synthetic carpets, particularly the stainproof/colourfast ones are better for the environment than post-dyed ranges because they use dry manufacturing processes that make them water-wise as well as easy to clean”
You can find out more about this process and their range of green products on the Belgotex website.
Natural floor coverings like sisal and seagrass are hardwearing, always look good and are 100% green friendly and sustainable. South African Rebtex has been in operation for 50-years and offers a wide range of sisal, coir, mountain grass, jute and seagrass carpet options. Their BBBEE-accredited Polokwane-based business is committed to developing products that offer genuine environmental solutions to domestic and commercial markets. Their website is well worth a visit for those looking for a sensible alternative.
Paint has changed drastically over the last 4 decades. Where lead and chemicals were commonplace, there have been huge advancements in eco-friendly paints and coatings in a bid to minimise paint's traditionally negative impact. Cape Town based ProNature are local leaders in manufacturing natural paints, sealers and various maintenance products. Their products are all locally manufactured and based on 40 years of international paint chemistry experience. A visit to their ProNature’s website is an eye-opening insight into the new world of paint.
I would like to conclude this article with a look at green architecture. Green certification programs like the LEED (Leadership in Environmental Design) has set key parameters for evaluating sustainability in buildings and interior design as stated on their website:
Image: Discovery Place, Johannesburg. A landmark of Green architecture Image: www.sbid.org
Location and transportation - You should take into consideration the location of your project and how it can be combined with the transportation option within the area, in other words how the users of the facility can get in and out of the facility.
Materials and Resources- Earn credits by using sustainable and earth-friendly products, while reducing waste promoting better indoor air quality.
Water efficiency - The building must be designed in such a way that potable water usage is reduced or resources can be reused, minimizing the needs of water inside the building.
Energy and atmosphere - The building must enhance energy performance and promote great indoor air and environmental quality.
Sustainable sites - Design the project n such a way that the natural resources and ecosystems nearby can naturally take part of the design minimizing environmental pollution.
Indoor environmental quality - Increase daylight usage and promote natural ventilation.
This list covers every aspect of the design process and intelligent choices in everything from lighting to indoor pollution levels are essential to achieving the desired result of sustainability driven by efficiency.
Image: The Cage Dining Table from Leonardo Design collection
The future of design is exciting and we look forward to the constantly evolving technologies and materials. Clever design can only enhance the wellbeing and comfort of the user and positively impact the future of the planet and humanity as a whole. Not something to take lightly.
The Leonardo design team take sustainability seriously and are proud of our commitment to environmentally friendly practices. We hope you have enjoyed this month’s look at this fascinating and important topic.
Yours in Style - Frank