Get Green with Style Blog

What Is Sustainable Design?

by Hilary Sopata

Sustainable design is another term for green design or eco-friendly design.  Basically it means designing in such a way as to be able to continue doing it the same way indefinitely.  This means using natural resources wisely and focusing on the use of renewable resources or materials that can be recycled indefinitely with little or no impact to the environment. 

When Michelle and I promote sustainable design, however, it is not only about focusing on the environment.  Being green to us also means concerning ourselves with the health of the people using the spaces we design and with the health of the people who manufacture or promote the things we purchase during the process of designing.  For instance, low or no VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints are a better choice because standard paints off-gas (emit toxins into the air).  The pollutants can make us feel sick even if we don’t know it at the time.  This can contribute to sick building syndrome which is when we feel ill because of breathing in toxins from our environment. 

Another more obscure example is that polished aluminum is a better alternative to chrome because of the manufacturing processes.  In this case, it is not the VOCs off-gassing into the air of our spaces that is the problem but instead the factory workers making these products.  The process of chrome plating involves dipping items and is actually quite messy.  Workers have to protect their skin from exposure, but they also have to wear masks so that they don’t breathe in the toxins.  In some countries, the employment laws are more relaxed than others contributing to a hazardous work environment for many.

So, as you can see sustainable design is a complex process and there are different angles from which products and processes can be thought to be considered sustainable.  This blog will continue to educate you steadily over time about what to look for, what to watch out for, and what other residential design industry professionals are doing to further this cause.  Our next post will be the our first of many interviews of eco-professionals.  I have been excited to talk with these leaders in our field, and I think you’ll be interested to learn from them also.


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