Greener by design: 10 new ideas for a sustainable home
According to NASA, 2018 was the fourth hottest year on record, continuing a nearly two decade-long trend of scorching global temperatures.
Experts warn that we have just over ten years, at best, to attempt and avoid, well, nothing short of climate-induced disaster -- or, at the very least, temper its onset. The Paris Agreement -- the closest thing to a cohesive and ambitious global plan of action against climate change agreed by the United Nations -- is due to formally begin in 2020, kick-starting various efforts to mitigate global warming at the legislative level, although the United States, the world's second carbon emitter, have backed out of the agreement in 2018.
At the individual level too, global warning has become a pressing everyday worry -- from older habits like recycling and LED light bulbs, to newer everyday concerns like avoiding plastic straws and single-use water bottles, private citizens have increasingly become advocates for a greener lifestyle.
The dramatic headlines are hardly spiriting, but perhaps have served as a welcome reminder that we can all do our part and make more intelligent choices: from the cleaning products we use to the clothes we wear and the furniture that we invest in. In fact, across the creative industries, sustainability has in recent years become more than just a buzz-word: increasingly, it is a rally cry actually being put into practice -- not least in the design sector, which will swing into high gear this week, as the 2019 edition of the Salone del Mobile furniture fair kicks-off in Milan.
Salone is arguably the most significant annual event for the international interior design industry. On the one hand, the week-long event reads like a display of excess -- endless expensive sofas and plenty of prosecco -- but amidst the frenzy there are also earnest appeals from brands and designers looking to instigate real change, with objects and ideas that address environmental gloom and doom, even amidst the glamor.
"Most brands understand today that sustainability isn't a quality they choose to align themselves with, but a necessity," said design curator and critic, Hugo McDonald, "But there is also a lot of lip service and green washing in the design industry. Though it's not for lack of trying."
McDonald notes that systems of industrial production are inherently unsustainable and that it is difficult for producers to rewrite the rules of manufacturing at scale overnight. Meanwhile, developments in material innovation take time to reach mass market, so consumers are often drip-fed prototypes or small-run designs with sustainable intent. "In truth, these products aren't going to save the planet, but they aren't negligible either: they help get the message into people's minds that they can make choices in their lives, which can add up to make a big difference," he said.
"The goalposts have shifted, it's no longer enough to make something elegant, if you haven't considered the consequences," said Rory Hyde, curator of Contemporary Architecture and Urbanism at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and an author on the subjects of design and architecture.
"One of the catch-cries of critics in recent years has been to ask 'do we need another chair?!' And you could say that our bums haven't changed, so why do we need to keep reinventing this thing? But the idea of a chair is a question that will always need to be answered, over and over. And hopefully with each new answer we get closer to something that will give back to the planet, rather than destroying it."
Many designers are thinking about the impact of their work beyond aesthetic and commercial concerns, but McDonald says the next real driver of change will come from elsewhere. "The next significant shift won't be led by designers" says McDonald, "But (as with plastic bags and veganism) by consumers, actively rejecting the need or desire for new things."
From haute-design lighting to an alternative type of duvet, there are plenty of ways to incorporate more sustainable objects into your everyday -- though the best fix of all, as ever, might be to work with what you've already got and not replace anything at all.
Browse the gallery at the top to see our design-savvy ideas for a greener life.