Sustainability in design has transitioned from a trend to a necessary factor as we face the impacts of the negligent use of natural resources in the past. The Industrial Revolution was a time of great advancement in terms of technology and infrastructure but it also resulted in the steady decline of ecological balance. The Oil Crises in 1970 was only the beginning of the repercussions that the world would face due to its impulsive attitude.

This led to the origin of various assessment tools for built environments that would control and possibly promote the designers to build sustainably. LEED (USA), BREEAM (England), GRIHA (India), CASBEE (Japan), Green Star (Australia) are some tools followed by countries around the world that assess their building’s sustainability based on Energy and water efficiency, Land Use and innovation during the design process, Material selection and other important components that contribute into making the building eco-friendly and Green.

As a designer, it is the Architect’s responsibility to design a building consciously, an Interior designer’s role to maintain the indoor environment and a product designer’s role to create elements with an awareness of eco-friendly materials and techniques. This collaborative effort leads to an ideal design that minimizes the negative impact our industry has on the environment.

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Proximity Hotel: USA’s first LEED Platinum-certified hotel

An Interior Designer’s role in Sustainable Designing

Sustainable or Green Interior designing can be defined as improving the quality of life of the people utilizing the indoor space by determining their relationship with the built environment and enabling maximum efficiency while minimizing negative impacts on the environment in an aesthetic manner. One of the main categories for assessment in the LEED is Indoor Environmental quality. This category emphasizes the use of eco-friendly materials, reductions of indoor pollutants and improvement of the quality of air, lighting and thermal comfort. Interior designers have the power to influence and educate their clients about the merits of sustainable living and promote this practice for a healthier future. The 3 important elements of Interior designing that determine the extent of sustainable living are:

Materials

While selecting materials for a project, it is the responsibility of an Interior designer to consider its production process, functionality based on the type of project and its life cycle to minimize wastage. Materials can be classified as green based on their Biodegradability, Chemical content, Longevity, and Renewability. Promoting materials that are easily available in the vicinity and have minimum embodied energy can reduce the overall project cost drastically. Materials that utilize less energy during production, like Wood, Bamboo, and stone are categorized as low embodied energy materials while materials like concrete, plastics, and steel have high embodied energy. The type of materials required in a hospital varies greatly from the type of materials required in an office environment. To utilize the maximum potential of a material, the designer needs to use it accurately based on its characteristics and functionality. Similarly, the potential for the material to be recycled after use without drastically affecting the environment must be considered.

Lighting

Lighting mostly depends on the orientation of the building and the size and depth of the room.  Ample availability of sunlight, which is the primary source of daylight is known to enhance productivity especially in an office space and improve the quality of life. The primary objective of an Interior designer is to plan a space that does not hinder the natural light from entering the room and to reduce electricity consumption due to artificial lighting. This provides a healthy lifestyle and a sustainable future due to decreased energy consumption.

 Furnishing

Furnishing plays an important role in the productivity of a space. Size, type, and alignment of furniture can affect the functionality and aesthetics of the space but the material used, its durability and efficiency will affect its sustainability. Practicing minimalism in Interior Design can help minimize wastage and contribute to sustainable designing.

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Bullit Center “Living Building”: Opened on Earth day of 2013 as the world’s greenest commercial building

Design Principles that promote Sustainable Interior Planning

Identifying the components that impact sustainable living, further leads to studying and using these elements correctly. Certain principles that can be followed to achieve optimum efficiency while designing an eco-friendly space can be derived from the definition of Sustainable Living itself.

Keeping in mind the Environmental Impacts while Planning

Both indoor and Outdoor Environmental quality are directly or indirectly influenced by the decisions taken by the designer. Most people spend their time indoors, at home or in their office. Therefore maintaining a healthy indoor space is as crucial as maintaining the ecological balance outside. Air quality, ventilation, temperature, and acoustics are some of the factors to be considered while planning for a safe indoor environment. Indoor air pollution is primarily caused by the toxins released due to the harmful chemicals used for the production of certain furniture, HVAC systems, and even paints. Therefore selecting products that emit low emissions must be encouraged. Materials like fabrics are known to be great heat and acoustic insulators. They act like filters that trap the germs in the air and can be cleaned periodically to maintain a healthy environment. Similarly, Indoor plants are the best-known air purifiers. Allowing in natural light, beneficial for both mental and physical health is a part of Biophilic designing or Indoor-Outdoor living, a design philosophy that encourages the connection between Nature and Humans.

Enhance Energy Efficiency

Built Environment is one of the major contributors of greenhouse gases that result in climate change. Not only during its construction stage, but the amount of energy consumed for the thermal, lighting, electrical and other miscellaneous activities in the building also makes up for the major harmful emissions. An Interior Designer can influence the energy consumption that stems from Lighting and heating in an internal space. Usage of fabrics to retain the heat and light colors or reflective surfaces to control the amount of light in a room can largely help in avoiding external energy consuming appliances required to regulate room temperature and illumination.

Promote Longevity and Flexibility to avoid Wastage

Space must be planned while keeping in mind its long term use. An Interior Designer must convince their clients to avoid the excess. Elements that are subject to constant wear and tear due to daily usage must be carefully considered with materials that are durable and have a long life span. Replacing or repairing only a damaged portion, instead of the entire unit, not only avoids wastage but also avoids unnecessary spending. Furniture that can be remodeled and repurposed to satisfy the changing needs of the clients, will avoid unnecessary redesigning of the entire space. The children’s bedroom in a residence or an expanding open workspace of a commercial office are examples of spaces that may require modification with a change in requirements.

Meghna Madanmohan
Author

Meghna Madanmohan, an Architect by profession, Anxious by nature and an Aspiring Author by choice. She believes that empathy is the true path to being a successful Human and Architect. Her quest to seek answers continues now from one design to the next article. Topics of Choice: Good Architecture or Bad? Impact of History on the future of Architecture. Music and Architecture. Can Architecture be studied in school? Architects and their Philosop

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