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Environmentally Responsible Design Tips

Lately I've been more seriously considering the impact I have on our physical world and I'm ashamed to admit I've gotten out of touch with what it means to be a good steward of the environment. I studied Environmental Science in college and at the time tried to live with a very light carbon footprint (well as light as you can while being a broke college student). I even elected to work in solar for six years after I graduated because I was so passionate about changing peoples' impact on our environment. But since then I've slowly gotten - let's just call it was it is - lazy about minimizing my environmental footprint. But no time like the present to reengage, right?

One area I've been partiularly giving thought to is design. Home design and construction are typically very wasteful industries, especially the way things are done today (hello two-day shipping for everything). But they don't have to be! Below I've outlined a few ways we are being more environmentally responsible as we renovate and design this home. This list is just the start but I hope it helps you think about where you can make some changes in your own design journey.


Shop Second Hand

These tips are in no particular order, however this is my number one (and favorite!) action you can take to limit your environmental footprint. Live it UP at the thrift, consignment and antique stores! Look, I love Target as much as the next woman but when you buy furniture and decor from the big box stores it can have detrimental environmental impacts (fuel required to ship from overseas, often unregulated factory production, shipping materials, potentially poorly sourced materials, etc.). Second hand stores are ripe with gorgeous pieces that will add so much character to your home. Plus you're saving the production and transportation impacts or buying something new. Yes the hunt may take a bit longer but it is always worth it. Lower environmental impact + unique style = win win.


Buy American Made (even better - Locally Made)

There are the obvious economic benefits of buying items made in the US, but have you considered the lower environmental impact as well? Even if an item is shipped from California to Florida, that same item would have to travel over 3 times that distance to make it over from India. Transportation makes up the greatest percentage of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States (read more about that here), accounting for almost 30% of emissions. By purchasing US products - furniture, decor or otherwise - you can drastically reduce the amount of fossil fuels your lifestyle requires.

In addition to transportation, there's the benefit of US regulated production facilities. Often (please note I said often, not always!) countries that have attracted manufacturing operations have less demanding regulations around emissions and pollution relative to the US. This is not to say the US is the gold standard - we still have so far to go to be truly environmentally responsible - however we're often ahead of manufacturing-heavy countries (this short piece has a few good examples). The more local you can purchase, the better. Here is a great list of American-made furniture companies for those in the market!


Select Environmentally Responsible Materials

Whether it's paint, fabric, flooring or otherwise, take the time to research what items are available to you and seek out those with a lower impact. An easy one is paint! VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are gases that can have adverse effects on your health. VOCs are more concentrated indoors (2-5x greater than outdoors) and when you use paint inside, the concentration can get out of control (1000x+). Opt for low- to no-VOC paints to create a non-toxic environment as you renovate. We've historically used Benjamin Moore Regal Select paints which are low-VOC, however I am so thrilled to try paint from Clare Paint for our next project. Clare is a black- and female-owned business that focuses on low-waste production, uses recycled packaging and all of their paints are Zero-VOC and Greenguard Gold Certified. And if that wasn't good enough, the colors are absolutely g o r g e o u s. I'm sold! (more on VOCs here). Another tip is to look for building materials second hand. Places like Habitat for Humanity and Restore have hoards of unused or lightly loved building materials at deep discounts. Saving money and saving the environment, can I get a hell ya?


Low Impact Lighting

By now we all know our lightbulbs should be switched out for LEDs (90% more efficient than incandescent, if you haven't switched out your bulbs what. are. you. doing.), but what about not using the lights at all?! Okay I realize this is very unrealistic, however we have incorporated significantly more candles in our home and we're loving it! Candles create the most inviting environment and allow us to keep the majority of our lights switched off at night. We try to use US-made natural soy candles (this is a great article about eco-friendly candles). If you are in need of some, check out my sister's company Black Barn Home! The Lavender and Tennessee Tobacco candles are my favs.


This list is just a small start but I'm feeling hopeful about the direction we're heading with these environmentally responsible design tips. What other ways can we minimize environmental impact through design? Let me know what you think!

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