Interior designers & architects alike are given the responsibility to create & build your home, packaging function, serenity & safety together to make it your sanctuary. With that goal in mind and understanding that the materials surrounding us translate most of the energy into a space, our teams hold the responsibility to research the origin of all materials and holistically consider their impact on the overall build & furnishings we select. Whenever possible, we strive to ensure each input of material comes from a naturally sustainable, eco-friendly, local source to minimize its carbon footprint. Second to materials, your lifestyle is the most impactful element of energy in your home, and thus we also help educate our clients on sustainable lifestyle changes that can improve the quality of your health & overall psyche in your personal space, while simultaneously throwing the earth a bone.
In honor of Earth Day today, when more than 1 billion people from 192 countries will mobilize to take part in the world's largest civic-focused day of action, we'd like to start this post by promoting reduction of waste and embracing a more minimalist lifestyle. We all need to take a step back from consumerization and think about how our desire for "more" is harming the environment. The Earth is something we all have in common as our collective home, and while the concept of moving to Mars may seem like an appealing alternative (some days I feel like signing up!), unfortunately for us, the reality is this Earth is all we've got right now, and thus we are all equally responsible for keeping it healthy. Start by donating things you don't truly need or haven't used/seen in over a year, and think twice about purchasing something new if it's more of a want than a need. In the Shea household, we follow Marie Kondo's KonMari method and highly recommend it, since it helps open up space in your home for clarity and light (in both the physical and mental sense). You'll be shocked at how much "stuff" you can purge when you take the time to hold an item and ask yourself, "does this bring me joy?" If the answer is, "kind of" or "no," donate it or recycle it. I promise you won't miss it. Cultivating a minimalist way of life will open your mindfulness, and you'll see it becomes a daily practice in all facets of your life; you may even find yourself saying, "no thank you" to that plastic straw at a restaurant by the time you're done!
While certainly not an exhaustive list, here's a few other things you can do to shift gears and live a more earth-conscience lifestyle:
- plant a tree or ivy (indoors) -
I know it may sound crazy, but don't be afraid of this idea! Even though a tree can grow to be 30 ft +, keep in mind it'll take years for your tree to get big enough to be an imposition on your day to day, so grow something indoors until your space can't contain it anymore. If the tree ends up getting too big, you can donate it to a school, garden or library or see if family/friends have interest in its adoption. There are countless opportunities to pay that tree forward, and it'll add so much life and happiness to your psyche in the meantime. We have both a Southern Magnolia and Fiddle Leaf Fig in our little NYC apartment! They keep the air clean & will bring a smile to your face each and every day.
- Living Walls -
I'm so fond of these installations for their impeccable finished look when properly designed and all the good they do for the world. Beyond being a work of art, they're functionally proven to offset the problem of urban materials increasing temperatures, because plants don't store solar energy, they reflect it. As an added bonus, they also help filter pollutants and dust particles naturally (one less air filter needed!). Psychologically, the color green invokes a sense of harmony and calmness, and is a soothing addition to any space whether it be at work or in your home. Some may not favor this as much, but it's important for our overall ecosystem: Living walls create habitats for birds (when outside) and beneficial insects, which strengthens biodiversity in our communities.
- Paint -
Painting is an easy way to enhance your space in an impactful way without adding "more" to the planet, which is something we're approached about frequently. We love the application of any color on the light to dark spectrum, but we're a hard "no" when it comes to any paints that are not zero VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) interior paints. We have our preferred lineup of paint manufacturers that contain zero VOC, which our contractors use and we always recommend to our clients. Check out our top 4 zero-VOC paint brands:
- Invest in quality furniture -
When we're/you’re on the hunt for something new to layer into your home, keep longevity a top priority and think about investing in something lovingly made locally vs. mass-produced globally. By shopping with this mindset, you're contributing to the overall mission of reductionism and sustainability. It may cost a bit more up-front, but the makers producing at a smaller scale "as needed" vs. those producing poorly-constructed, mass-volume items that will ultimately end up in a landfill are the guys you want to purchase your pieces from. Not only will your piece be of higher quality, contain the maker's handmade energy and last generations, but it's highly unlikely you'll have friends over who say "I have that same piece! Did you get it during the spring sale?!?" It's also important to have the conversation about wood that is Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified with your makers (most of these guys follow this practice by trade, by the way.) Forests provide us with oxygen, they filter pollutants and free radicals, and they certainly help mitigate global warming, so it's important that we follow responsible forestry practices to help our world. As the proverbial "pot of gold at the end of the rainbow," you're receiving a product that has gone through a million quality checks to make sure it's perfect, the materials used were carefully curated to construct a state of the art piece (couch, console, tables, pillows etc.), and that maker likely did a happy dance when they received your order as you support the local economy.
- Water Filters vs. Plastic Water Bottles -
Switching from plastic, bottled water to home water filtration is one of the most impactful steps to improving and protecting our planet. Adding this incredible system to your kitchen or wet bar is pretty easy as well; here's a how-to from This Old House. If you're renovating a home, make sure to consider a water purification system in your early-stage plans. It's seriously the most economical, convenient and effective way to give back and give yourself healthy, clean water. Of course it's not always feasible to add a system like this, so as an alternative, the tried and tested Brita or other filtered water pitcher is the next best thing, especially when combined with a S'well or similar insulated bottle. To give you an idea of impact, if each person considered this or simply used a refillable water bottle from the tap, we could reduce the current consumption of 1500 plastic bottles per second to minimal numbers. It's a serious problem you guys; our oceans are drowning in our pollution (the "Pacific Garbage Patch" is now THREE times the size of France). In fact, Earth Day 2018's focus is specifically highlighting the enormous challenges we face directly related to plastic's impact on the planet's, and humans', ability to pull out of the hole we've created. It's not too late, and each little decision we make respectively plays a part in our collective future.
In summary, here's a few options to start the shift towards a more "eco conscience" way of thinking & living:
- Use Zero VOC (volatile organize compounds) in construction and fabric materials
- Source solid vs laminate products so they last
- Install water filters when possible & pair with reusable water bottles (no plastic)
- Invest in quality furniture that is made from Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) wood or other sustainably sourced, recycled materials
- Plant trees in your home and consider living walls to embrace nature & its benefits
At the end of the day, every effort from a simple change in mindset to launching the next major initiative to help improve our environment is a step in the right direction, especially if we do it together.
Happy Earth Day! Love our planet, it's our only home xx Becky