Sustainability in Design and the Pitfalls of ‘Greenwashing’

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Sustainability has become somewhat of a buzzword over the last few years, with brands across every industry promising to roll up their sleeves and be kinder to the planet. But what does it really mean to be a sustainable brand in the design industry and what are the pitfalls of ‘greenwashing’? Decorex explores this very topic.

With commentary from Jeff Hayward – Presenter and Producer of The Interior Design Business Podcast and Susie Rumbold – Founder of Tessuto Interiors, we also give a glimpse into what will be covered in the Decorex Virtual discussion – Sustainable Sourcing For Interior Designers: Cutting Through The Greenwash – airing this November. 

tessuto interiors past project
Tessuto Interiors Past Project

 

Making a change 

Some say that it was Sir David Attenborough’s poignant documentary series, Blue Planet – which aired in 2001 – that turned the tides and jolted the public into the realisation that reversing the effects of climate change would require a joint effort: both from consumers and brands themselves.  

After years of damaging processes, the high-end design industry is slowly changing its attitude and switching to healthier methods of procurement by using more materials that are less damaging to the environment. Conscious interior design consumption can help conserve energy, reduce waste and pollution and help create more positive interior environments that are better for the planet and the economy. 

Designers in the high-end sphere that have been making this change and reconsidering the materials they use are gradually growing in numbers. In the Financial Times article, The Morality of Marble: Interior Design’s Crisis of Conscience, Marie de Beaucourt – Parisian Illustrator and designer – discussed her conundrum of whether to use real or imitation slab marble in the bathroom of a luxury private jet she was designing for a client.  

Her main consideration was that of the impact of using slab marble, which is heavy and expensive and also incredibly resource-intensive. The process of procuring marble involves it being cut out of quarries in huge blocks, sliced into slabs and shipped across the world before being cut to fit. For every slab of precious marble that is used, an equal or greater amount of off-cut marble is left in a quarry “graveyard”, or landfill.   

The article goes on to explain: “De Beaucourt began to feel her high-end design work, much of it in luxury hotels that were perpetually redecorating to stay relevant in an Instagram age, was also generating huge amounts of waste and damaging the environment.”  

This sentiment and concern is shared by many others in the industry; Susie Rumbold, Creative Director of Tessuto Interiors comments that: “We need to have a better understanding of the provenance of the materials and FF&E we are specifying and we need to educate our clients so that they understand the damage that the production and transport of certain materials is causing.”  

Jeff Hayward agrees that “we all have a responsibility to lessen our impact on the environment. If interior designers can ask the right questions and buy better for their clients and for the planet, then they can make a positive contribution to all our futures. By raising the profile of sustainability in this way, they will also help change long-term thinking and behaviours for the better amongst clients and the whole supply chain.”  

tessuto interiors past project
Tessuto Interiors Past Project

 

‘Greenwashing’ – what is it? 

While the general consensus is that the design industry needs to change its ways and move positively towards a more sustainable practice, there are brands whose commitment to sustainability is more about consumer perception than a genuine desire to be Earth-friendly. 

Recognising the lean towards ‘greener’ brands from consumers, a select few may use exaggerated or misleading claims about the environmental impact of their products – this is known as 'greenwashing'. At best, greenwashing is used to make a company appear 'greener' than they are; at worst, it's a way to distract buyers from other business practices they are using that are actually damaging the environment.  

The damage created by ‘greenwashing’ is huge and it comes down to a lack of information. For example, timber might come from a sustainable source, but if it’s been harvested by children and shipped all the way from Thailand then that’s still not okay. Suppliers tend to be selective when describing the provenance of their products, and this can be really difficult for designers who are trying to do the right thing,” Rumbold says. 

“Sustainability is open to selective interpretation from suppliers. Greenwashing results where certain facts in the provenance, production and supply of a particular product may be amplified at the expense, or complete ignorance, of others. Clearly, such behaviour is misleading which is why it’s important to be armed with the right questions, and the knowledge to understand what the answers mean and their implications for the environment,” Hayward concurs.  

tessuto interiors past project
Tessuto Interiors Past Project

 

Sustainable Sourcing for Interior Designers: Cutting Through The Greenwash 

Decorex Virtual discussion Sustainable Sourcing for Interior Designers: Cutting Through The Greenwash will be airing at Decorex Virtual: 17th November 15:00 – 15:45 GMT.  

Presenter: Jeff Hayward – The Interior Design Business Podcast 

Speakers: Chloe Bullock – Materialise, Stefan Dodds – Dodds & Schute, Nicola Keenan – Co-Founder & Director of Boxx Creative, Susie Rumbold – Creative Director of Tessuto Interiors 

Synopsis: 

Pooling together some of the key change-makers from the industry, Decorex Virtual’s discussion will give sound advice and insight into how designers can source more sustainably.  

We have put together a panel of designers, all of whom have put sustainability at the heart of their businesses, to explore in detail the questions we need to be asking of our suppliers to make sure the environmental claims they make for their products are accurate,” Rumbold explains. 

The team of panellists each discuss their experience of the industry and the ways they have moved towards more healthy and sustainable methods in their work. The spirited debate goes on to cover how the Covid-19 pandemic has shaped and sharpened consumer attention in this area – particularly after enjoying less traffic on the roads and in the air.  

The panellists agree that we’ve yet to see this consumer interest take a mainstream hold in the interior design sphere, and therefore designers will likely play a major role in educating property developers, clients and suppliers to do the right thing. 

We think it’s important to focus designer minds on the key questions they need to ask when talking to their suppliers about sustainable products. Sustainability is an incredibly broad topic, and it’s easy to fall victim to greenwash. We’ve assembled a panel of experts who know the subject and are willing to share their experiences and insights with designers so that they can side-step the misinformation and source more sustainably,” Hayward concludes.  

If you are interested in seeing the full talk, register free for Decorex Virtual here 

sustainablity talk decorex
From Left to Right: Jeff Hayward, Susie Rumbold, Stefan Dodds, Nicola Keenan, Chloe Bullock

 

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