What factors should be considered when designing an eco-friendly commercial space.

With climate change on the pages of newspapers and at the forefront of many people’s minds, it is becoming more and more vital for designers to think about sustainability and the environmental impact of their designs.

With climate change and sustainability on the pages of newspapers and at the forefront of many people’s minds, it is becoming more and more vital for designers to also think about sustainability and the environmental impact of their designs. To create a sustainable and eco-friendly commercial interior, decisions need to be made from the conception of the design onwards and luckily, as designers, we are often involved from the beginning of a project. From the building of the space to the materials and finishes used, to how the space is used in practice, every decision at design stage will have a knock-on effect to the impact that space will have on the environment later down the line. In this post we will explore what factors designers can consider to reduce the environmental impact of their interiors.

As designers, we take time to understand the building and space we are working with. When we are working on new-builds we should encourage the architects and clients alike to invest in sustainable construction and materials, whether that is an eco-friendly concrete alternative, such as Hanson EcoPlus or Hempcrete, or energy efficient windows and doors. It could even go as far as installing renewable energy sources to offset the energy used within a commercial space. Usefully, architects and clients must now meet regulations for energy efficiency on new builds. However, there is meeting these regulations and there is going the extra mile and considering the impact of each material and each element of the construction, even if that is just reducing waste materials.

When we are working on a refurbishment of an existing space, we think about how we can re-use existing finishes within the new design, saving money and materials for the client, as well as being more eco-friendly. Why waste a beautiful timber floor, or a rustic brick wall, or even an old shop shutter when it can be incorporated into a design to create a unique and original space.

We also think about making the existing shell more energy efficient, whether that is installing additional insulation or LED lighting or double glazing, there are countless ways to make an existing building more energy efficient for every budget. For example, if a client’s budget cannot stretch for more energy efficient windows, architectural films could be considered instead. Glazing is generally the weakest point of heat loss in buildings, especially in commercial spaces that generally have a large amount of glazing but, by applying films, this weakness is reduced. This will not only save a client money in the long run, through a reduction in heating and cooling, it is also generally 80% cheaper than replacing the glazing with an energy efficient alternative. Low – E film is boasted as an effective way to keep spaces warmer in the winter but cooler in the summer, with a much cheaper price tag than Low-E glazing.

Now for the fun part, the design of the space! Interior Designers spend their time creating an interior that works for the user, client, and the aesthetic so sometimes the environmental impact is put on the back burner. However, by taking environmental impact into account with each of these initial factors, the design can have eco-friendly elements integrated from the conception, rather than becoming an afterthought. 

First, we think about the client’s brief, does the clients budget stretch to all eco-friendly factors, or do some need to be prioritised?  For example, adding solar panels to a roof is all well and good, but if the space is not energy efficient to begin with, the renewable energy created might not even balance out that energy loss, let alone offset it. And so sometimes the smaller, seemingly less important ideas can have a greater impact overall. For instance, when it comes to lighting a space, as well as fitting LED lighting, designers can take advantage of natural light and, if suitable, use light colours for the decoration as this allows light to be reflected more than a darker space. This can minimise the use of artificial light, at least in summer months!

Then we ask, what the desired life span of the space is? If it is permanent, we need to look at hard-wearing finishes and materials. And if the space is temporary or has a shorter lease, then we explore how that design can be taken apart, how materials can be re-used elsewhere or using recycled materials to begin with – offering a more flexible design.

The user experience is also considered, not just how the space looks and feels for them but how the interior reacts to the user. Improving indoor air quality is vital to an effective interior environment, whether that is through mechanical ventilation or more naturally, using plants as air purifiers and fresh air through windows. By creating a space that air can flow through, pollutants such as dust and VOC’s from furniture can be reduced. Carpet is also incredibly useful for a healthy interior environment as it traps dust from the air, as well as acting as an acoustic softener in the space.

Next come the finishes, using more hard-wearing finishes allows for longevity within the design. However, it is often worth investigating what features make that finish hard-wearing, is it naturally hard-wearing, such as tiles or timber? Or is it that it has a non-recyclable plastic compound within it? Using fabrics that are made of recycled materials, or a more-eco-friendly paint, in the past often meant sacrificing the aesthetic, but that is no longer with the case. Eco-friendly products are now at the forefront of many suppliers’ minds and so the materials and finishes market is becoming more environmentally friendly.  Ege Carpets and Kvadrat are just a couple of the companies championing eco-friendly product design. These companies have been in the green game for years and have challenged themselves to become more efficient companies without losing the aesthetic or quality of their products, and by doing that they have paved the way for other companies to do the same.

Another simple way for spotting a more environmentally friendly product or material is to check its certification. Eco-friendly products and materials will often be FSC certified, Cradle to Cradle certified or Green Guard Gold certified. These are just three of several certifications that can usually be found in specifications, and if these products have the certification, there is no doubt the supplier will be shouting about it.

When working with our client, Outsiders, WDC implemented many of the factors above whilst designing a new concept store. A framework and shelving system was designed that could be dis-assembled and re-assembled as needed and, of course, it was constructed with FSC certified timber. We also streamlined the design of the framework so less material would be used or wasted. When choosing new materials, we investigated their environmental impact. We specified Marmoleum for the floor finish as it is made with natural ingredients and is produced without any harmful VOC’s or other toxic chemicals, found in many other flooring products. We also used recycled materials, old defunct climbing ropes, to make stool seat pads creating a unique look suited to the brand and their customer.  Where possible, we also used original features of the building, including retaining a tiled floor and even using the shop shutter as a feature of the design. Again, this emphasises the importance of thinking about eco-friendly design from the offset.

More than anything, what designers need to do when creating an eco-friendly commercial space, is just take some time to think about the environmental impact of their decisions. The answers are often readily available, all designers need to do is apply their imagination to implement a creative yet effective solution.  

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