Being environmentally conscious, or going "green," is no longer just of interest to a select few. It has become a mainstream direction for businesses with foresight and want to survive and be profitable. Many people have finally come to grips with the fact that each of us, individually or as a business, are responsible for protecting our fragile ecosystem. Our paradigm, perspective or outlook must shift from one of unaccountable consumption to one of environmental responsibility.
If, in your business or your home, you haven't yet begun these simple and effective practices, you could find yourself behind the times. In fact, concern for the environment not only has become so widespread as to be appreciated by everyone, it can be a respectable marketing tool as many businesses have advertised their efforts to reduce waste in the environment.
Another view of this concept is found in the word eco-efficiency, which can be summarized as reversing our older, destructive lifestyle through reduction, reuse and recycling. This is a place for all of us to start. Yet, a higher ideal is the concept of eco-effectiveness, which is design that lasts indefinitely, never needing to be replaced, and even regenerates. From this lofty goal comes the simpler concept of sustainable design, which is taking materials from a source that can be maintained or sustained as opposed to using a non-renewable resource. Lastly, from the viewpoint of interior design fashion, the term going green has particular meaning. Let's explore a few of these concepts.
What are we reducing? Our consumption of energy and resources. For electricity and other forms of energy such as gas, oil and coal, here are a few proven conservation techniques:
• Turn off lights when not in use. If we look around, we might find many electricity-consuming gadgets that could be turned off. However, don't turn off then on again those devices that require more energy to restart than to leave running such as fluorescent lighting fixtures, or those that can possibly be damaged by continual shut-down and rebooting like computers. Install and use dimmers on light fixtures.
• Consider compact fluorescent lamps (bulbs) rather than incandescent bulbs. Fluorescent bulbs use far less electricity and last longer, resulting in energy savings and less waste.
• Let in more natural light by designing with lighter colors at the window and more transparent or translucent window treatments. This concept is known as daylighting. Supplement daylighting with artificial lighting only where needed. Use lighter colors indoors that have more reflection and rely less on artificial lighting.
• Be creative in finding ways that electricity can be used more effectively. Using less electricity is a win-win situation in most cases because your pocketbook also benefits from the exercise.
• Reduce gas usage; consider alternative sources of power like walking or cycling rather than driving, car-pooling or taking mass transit. Doing this not only saves money, it builds strength and stamina and reduces excess weight.
• Reset the furnace and air-conditioning thermostat. Turning down the furnace or adjusting up the air conditioner can save a lot of energy (unless you live in California where these energy conservation measures are already crisis-mandated).
• Use less water. Water flow control devices on toilets and showers are recommended in states where water consumption threatens dwindling sources. Turning off the water while you lather or brush teeth is a simple and low-effort way to reduce the waste of this precious resource.
• Scraps of fabric can be donated to any of several charitable organizations that re-sell fabric. Rag rug makers will buy fabrics at a rate per pound.
• Window treatments, bedding, furniture or other items customers plan to discard should be donated or sold to a person or organization who can use them. Never encourage customers to have items that will be replaced taken to the dump or put out in the trash.
• Be inventive! An item that might have been used for one thing can often move to a new life in another realm. Wisely purchased furniture does this. A classic chest, for example, can start out by being purchased for an entry way, but be just at home in other places around the house such as the dining room, living room and master bedroom.
Recycling has become a viable program in many cities and even in smaller towns across America. When you participate in the recycling of paper, cardboard, plastic, glass, metal—whatever your community is able to process—you are joining a much larger effort to save resources by providing them secondhand. For example, in my community, each school has a dumpster into which junk mail, newspaper and other office paper can be placed. These items are later turned into insulation.
Our city also has a curb-side recycling program in which everything but glass is recycled—even used appliances! In some cities and states, sorting and recycling is required. Separate containers for glass, plastics and paper/cardboard, for example, are provided to all residents with incentives for participation or penalties for not. Call your local Chamber of Commerce to find out how you can join a recycling effort. Even if it costs a small fee, it's rewarding to know you are saving natural resources by reducing the need to produce and consume more.
Interiors using materials that will not wear out, but will wear gracefully, will be long lived. There are classics in style that can be enduring and endearing. These include natural materials, of course, such as wood floors, stone countertops and other hard materials such as tile and brick. These are good candidates to use as long as the style holds and no one wants to rip them out prematurely.
Better quality window coverings with mechanisms that are unlikely to break and require repair or replacement are always a point to make in educating clients. The concept of life cycle costing states that the amount of money required to make the purchase and have the item installed is divided by the expected or actual number of years it will remain useful and beautiful. The longer the wear, the lower the cost per year. This is wise planning.
From the fashion point of view, going green means going natural. The way that nature clothes herself results in beauty that is not passing, but enduring. Creating interiors based on nature has a formula, and here it is:
• No colors in nature are uniformly even, rather they are shaded, containing many variations of the same color.
• In any natural landscape, there is no color matching. In a green landscape there are thousands of greens, and besides greens there are other natural colors: bark, stone, soil, water. These naturally blending and inter-relating colors are easy to live with for a very long time. And they eliminate the worry about matching colors.
• Pattern and texture are everywhere, but they do not show from far off. You have to come up close and examine to find them. Patterns and textures are subtle, like the veining of a leaf, the rough bark of a tree, the complexity of lichens on a rock or the myriad patterns found in a deciduous forest.
• Although there is plenty of pattern in nature, there is no monotonous pattern, repeating patterns, identical patterns or repeating identical patterns. Each leaf is just a little different from its neighbors; each rock is one-of-a-kind. Interiors furnished so they can hardly be duplicated also accomplish this goal. They achieve uniqueness that stands apart and stands the test of time.
• Any natural landscape does not sparkle, glitter or shine. In general, it is a matte finish. But there are always tiny sparks of glitter from the dew reflecting the early morning sunshine, the sun backlighting deciduous leaves, the sunlight or moonlight sparkling on lakes, streams and ponds and the stars glittering in the sky. Likewise, in interiors, a tiny bit of sparkle adds a touch of interest that keeps the interior from being boring.
• The Law of Chromatic Distribution holds true in nature. The largest areas in nature are quiet, undemanding or neutralized. Areas increase in intensity or brightness as they get smaller. The very smallest areas are the brightest. This law helps in creating interiors that will seem just as beautiful 20 years later. They are enduring, endearing, timeless and environmentally correct.
Karla J. Nielson, Allied ASID, WCAA, is assistant professor of design at Brigham Young University. She is a practicing interior designer and has authored several books including Window Treatments and Understanding Fabrics. Nielson is a regular correspondent for Draperies & Window Coverings addressing the areas of fashion, education and merchandising.