How Can We Sustain Sustainability in a Black Friday Culture?

Image: Lived In 365

As I reach the end of my first year running my own interior design business there are a whole host of things that I have learned about myself as a designer.

I like to paint other people’s houses green but I couldn’t live with it in my own living room.  If you look at too many tiles you’ll dream about tiles.  And that sustainability is going to be a big motivation for me going forward – both in thinking about client design and in my own house.

First of all it might be worth defining what I mean by sustainability as it can feel like a term that gets bandied around with many uses.  I like this definition: “Avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance” but I think it misses something around the impact on people and cultures.  As Investopedia puts it: “The concept of sustainability is composed of three pillars: economic, environmental and social – also known informally as profits, planet and people.”

Although I still have much to learn about sustainable materials and production I am already thinking very differently about how I shop for and decorate our home.  Now that’s not to say that I’m not still sorely tempted by a good browse on H&M Home or that the 40%  off La Redoute sale doesn’t have its appeal, but more and more I’m asking myself if I really need that new thing and quite frequently deciding that I do not.

I am also looking at what I am able to do with what I already have, which for most of us is really so much, before deciding that I need anything additional.  And finally I am also learning more about sustainable brands that offer a realistic alternative to big brands with a bigger environmental impact.

Luckily enough it is now becoming easier and easier to find sustainable brands that offer good design as well as having minimal environmental and social impact.  I have highlighted a number of great brands doing amazing work in some of my Meet the Maker posts recently including mosnox, who use sustainable timber to make forever furniture, and The Basket Room who support traditional weaving communities across Africa.

Image: mosnox

Documentaries such as Stacey Dooley’s recent expose on fast fashion, which I also mentioned in a previous post, have done so much to highlight the issue to a wider audience so that it is something covered more and more by both mainstream press and across social media and consequently more of us are seeing this not so much as a lifestyle choice but as a necessity in a time of crisis.

But how do we make sure this hard fought awareness is something that ushers in permanent change rather than becoming a passing fad, forgotten in the wake of Black Friday deals?

Historically there are a small number of factors that dictate whether or not we adopt a new way of living – the availability of product, the cost of the product and what ING refer to in their article, “Sustainability: Will the Hype Fade?” as “societal preferences” – our general leaning towards something as desirable as a group.

For example, we may have had a preference for streaming services long before they were a reality, and the technology may have existed to make it theoretically possible, but until we had access to fast and stable internet connections at relatively affordable prices it was a distant dream.  Now that we do, however, we are all binge watching to our heart’s content.

There is more to be done but there are a burgeoning number of sustainable products available both when it comes to interiors but also in fashion and other areas of our life.  It also feels as though there has been a shift in the general understanding that this is something to which we really need to turn our attention but what prevents so many of us in making different choices still is the cost.

Image: Lived In 365

I recently read an article on The Daily Mail (for shame, but to be fair it was partly research…) in which interior designers demonstrated how they could makeover a whole room, furniture included, for under £500.  Admittedly, one designer had used second-hand pieces but most had not.

Realistically we should not be able to makeover an entire room for under £500 but it is pieces like this and “fast interior” brands that tell us that we can and make us reluctant to wait, save, and pay sensible prices for things that don’t come with such a costly social and environmental price tag.

There have been successes in the resetting of price expectations in other spheres where we have been made very aware of particular issues. A large proportion of us are prepared to pay more for free range eggs, for example, than eggs which we know have come from hens farmed in dire circumstances.  We have been presented with enough images to give us cause for pause.  However, it is a gargantuan task to convince a majority that this needs to be the case for so, so many more products.

And surely, you might think, this is something that should be championed by our noble leaders (when they aren’t too busy messing up Brexit).  And to some extent you would be right.  In 2015 the UN agreed on a whole host of Sustainable Development Goals – the “2030 Agenda” – which cover a range of issues including poverty, health and education but also global warming, responsible consumption and production and affordable and clean energy.

Goals set by the UN include eco-friendly production methods, reduction of waste and an increase in recycling targets as well as better regulation of emissions.

So far so good you might think and yet the more aware we become of what a crisis we are truly in, the slower the progress seems to be.  Indeed we are still dealing with those who refuse to acknowledge that global warming even exists despite an overwhelming amount of evidence to the contrary.

This dynamic is highlighted in Naomi Klein’s brilliant book, “This Changes Everything” – in which she purports that the issue is not really any real ambiguity around climate change but a need, from the global leaders of the world, to protect capitalism at all costs.  Changing production methods, resetting our expectations of pricing, it is theoretically possible but at the cost of capitalism which for many is too high a price to pay – even to save our planet.

I didn’t want to get overly political  – I’m aware that this is ostensibly an interiors blog after all! – so I’ll leave the politics there.  It is frustrating that things won’t change at a global level any time soon but that shouldn’t prevent us from doing our bit and encouraging that slow but progressing change in societal preference around us.

Klein is right to say that this is no longer just about us changing our light bulbs, it’s far more than that.  But if we put all of those small changes together and spread them through our communities we can get the ball rolling.