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5 Things You Can Do to Make Your Interior Design Business More Sustainable

Interior design can be wasteful, and I’m always thinking of ways to make your interior design business more sustainable. Think about the number of samples we …


5 Things You Can Do to Make Your Interior Design Business More Sustainable

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Table Of Contents

Interior design can be wasteful, and I’m always thinking of ways to make your interior design business more sustainable. Think about the number of samples we collect that cannot be returned, the amount of packaging that arrives with every sample we receive, and the air miles or distance that sample has travelled.

You might be surprised that the construction industry is responsible for a quarter of the world’s waste and a quarter of the world’s water consumption. (1). We can do small things to make a difference in our days to help reduce the impact of our actions as designers and help our clients feel that working with us is a responsible choice.

Once you know how damaging the construction industry is, it is surprising that it is still a niche offering to use green, sustainable technologies or ethical sourcing in an interior design business. Yet, it is the responsibility of all of us designers (especially those who are just starting) to push and drive this change to help educate our clients, industry and suppliers. Every little bit helps.

Below are five things you can do to make your interior design business more sustainable, although this is the tip of the iceberg. As a designer and someone who educates interior designers, today, I’m asking you to commit to doing at least one thing from this list.

Choose one thing and do it well. You can add this to your services as a signature service or as a proud part of your brand. It will form a good habit and help you make a difference in the future of our earth and our industry. Keep it top of mind and feel proud that you are driving change and doing your bit, and hopefully, over time, you will be able to do more.

Make Your Interior Design Business More Sustainable By Selling, Re-using, Up-cycling Or Recycling Items

It seems obvious, but the first thing you can do to make your interior design business more sustainable is to consider your design ethos. Instead of starting fresh or sending old furniture to landfill, why not consider creative ways to upcycle or reuse existing furniture? I'm saying that every designer can have a different style; I suggest finding a way to make your style more long-lasting rather than fast fashion. (And for those who don't follow "trends", - please note that to understand if you're following a trend, you need to understand trends!)

And if you can't reuse the furniture, why not find a way to sell it instead of sending it to landfill? This could become a unique selling point for your design business and allows you to prioritise other budget areas. You'll be amazed at what people buy and for what reasons and of course what is possible. A past student of mine (the lovely @rebelinteriordesign ) sold an old pink vanity, bath and sink from a 1950s house refurbishment project to a set designer! Even if we don't see value in the item, someone else will.

Here are some ideas to get you thinking about how you can make your interior design business more sustainable by upcycling furniture:

Some Ideas To Get You Thinking About How You Can Make Your Interior Design Business More Sustainable By Upcycling Furniture:

  • Reuse the item in the new design.
  • Sell the item "as-is" (such as FB marketplace, Gum Tree, Craig's list etc.).
  • Upcycle the item or change the way it looks by painting it, replacing part of it or repairing it. Get creative.
  • If the item has come to the end of its life, please make an effort and try to recycle the item. If it is an old timber chair, make sure it goes to the recycling centre or leave it out for the council to pick it up (and they will recycle it most of the time).
  • Save it for another project.

You can add these to your services at an additional cost, or you can think about how you design and see how you can integrate one or all of these strategies into your interior brand or style.

Make Your Interior Design Business More Sustainable By Buying Better Quality Or Second Hand Furniture & Materials

The throw-away economy is damaging, and as interior designers, fast fashion plays a significant role. We can propose long-lasting, more timeless designs that don’t follow short-lived trends. (Of course, as a designer, you are now responsible for recognising the difference between a trend and a timeless design). In addition to this, if you suggest buying better quality main pieces, you can help your client to see that their decision means that instead of throwing the item out in a few years, they can re-upholster it, and it will add value to the piece and become even more loved.

Finishes such as quality timber flooring rarely go out of fashion. People often choose to sand it down and reuse it because they see waste in ripping up a beautiful floor and throwing it away. If the flooring or finishes are cheap, your client will likely rip it up and start again. A better quality finish also allows you to design around what the client already has, which informs the design with some history and context.

My favourite lecturer taught me that architecture without meaning is never a successful piece of design. That means you need to identify the better quality items your client already has on their property and help them see the value in keeping them, upcycling them or reusing them in the new design. Can you see how much of the design you can influence? Why not try to find the story behind an item and help them see its value?

Here Is A List Of My Favourite Second-hand Sites That Sell Antiques:

Sometimes it’s just a simple suggestion. You’ll be surprised how influential you are with client decisions and how important you guide your client to consider these things. The final decision is theirs, but at least you planted the seed!

Make Your Interior Design Business More Sustainable By Reducing, Reusing & Recycling Packaging

This is one thing I am particularly fond of because it’s something we can all do quite easily. I have been doing it for as long as I can remember, and it caters to my stationary obsession (yes, I’m working on that…) When I speak on the phone to suppliers, I will often ask the company to take the boxes away to reuse when they deliver the item (once I’ve checked it, of course) or ask them to send it with minimal packaging.

More prominent companies always say yes (and never charge me). Smaller companies use mainstream delivery companies, so they typically won’t. Still, you can ensure that you only place one order with the smaller companies and get everything delivered at once. You can negotiate a delay in the delivery times of items so that all items are delivered together.

I have had one company delay the delivery of bedside tables until the rest of the furniture was complete. They stored them for over a month to ensure they were delivered simultaneously. This reduces packaging, energy and time and is more cost and time efficient for you if you manage the installation.

Remember, you’re the driving force behind this change; if you’re determined, magical things happen. Often if you explain the reasons behind what you’re doing (that your company is reducing waste in the construction industry and therefore only purchases from suppliers who help their designers be as sustainable as they can), then with a bit of a push, almost everyone bends a little and goes out of their way to help you achieve your goal. So keep going; if they say no, consider whether you will work with that company again.

Make Your Interior Design Business More Sustainable By Dealing With Ethical Or Sustainable Companies

In our interior design resource platform (IntoDesign), we provide you with access to our supplier list. We have been building an ethical and sustainable library of brands you can use as a start. Specifying only 100% sustainable brands is still tricky if you’re working on full house refurbishments, but it is becoming easier.

If you only dealt with sustainable, local or ethically sourced items, you would require extra time on every project and the evidence of information about where companies source from is only sometimes available or clear, so this isn’t always straightforward to achieve. Still, after a while, you will build an excellent network of trade relationships that will add substantial cost benefits to your business, your client’s projects, and, by default, the earth.

Make Your Interior Design Business More Sustainable By Being Conscious Of How You Deal With Samples

Physical samples are a reality of the interior design process, yet they are a big problem because we need so many of them. There are things we can do to reduce the waste we create as designers, and how we deal with samples is one where we can make a huge impact. The worst are tile samples.

They typically cost us money to purchase and then cost us money to throw away because they aren’t recyclable. What if you teamed up with an aggregate company that recycled tiles locally for you? Think outside of the box. That’s what can make you unique.

These days I “rent” my tiles! I purchase them and return them. When I purchase them, I only buy them for a client. Then when I return the sample, I get the total price back, and no one questions my motive. I also do this with kitchen door samples and fine finishes such as Venetian plasters.

Here Are Some Ideas For You To Consider Adding To Your Process:

  • Go out of your way to recycle or reuse your samples.
  • Consider only working with companies that take back their samples to recycle or reuse (such as Bolon).
  • Consider sharing your sample libraries with other local designers (in a co-op style).
  • Choose to travel to the store with your client and decide on-site, then work with photographs from that point onwards (this is more for the experienced designer!).
  • Ask your suppliers to provide you with high-resolution and high-quality imagery of the finishes, so you don't need to order samples.
  • Use initiatives such as to bulk deliver your samples.

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Conclusion | 5 Things You Can Do to Make Your Interior Design Business More Sustainable

So as you see, as an interior designer, your influence on how wasteful or sustainable your designs are is more than you probably thought! Selling the long-term benefits to clients of choosing high-quality materials, paints and furniture that are more environmentally friendly and healthy for them is a very doable first step. Also, how you deal with samples, suppliers and manufacturers and how you deal with waste in your day-to-day design processes are all things within our control.

Please let me know below what one thing you’re deciding to change to make your interior design business more sustainable today.

References from this article: . Accessed 7th December 2022.

Jo Chrobak

Jo Chrobak

Jo Chrobak is an architectural and interior designer and mentor at the Interior Designer’s Business School that trains interior designers to set up professional and successful interior design businesses and gain experience working on real projects. She is trained in architecture, interiors, business and life coaching and runs her architectural and interior design studio in London UK.
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