As the green movement grows around the world, people are no longer content waiting for government and big business to act on environmental issues. They often say change begins at home, and when it comes to sustainability, nothing could be closer to the truth. With consumer demand growing for homewares that are both beautiful and ethical, retail and building industries are increasingly moving toward sustainable and responsibly sourced products and materials.
Sustainability and style haven't always gone hand in hand, with natural homewares once consigned to hippy shacks and unrefined DIY projects. However, with the rise in popularity of natural materials, organic shapes, and shabby chic designs, eco-friendly products are definitely on-trend. According to Leslyn Parker from eco-friendly homewares retailer Jasper & Eve, “There’s no reason why a product can’t be both ethically responsible and beautiful... Consumers shouldn’t have to choose one over the other.”
When it comes to homewares, the term sustainability usually describes responsibly sourced materials and the use of ethical labour. Other things that may be taken into account include factory waste and carbon emissions, fair wages, relationships with indigenous communities, and ethical manufacturing principles. However, while fair trade practices and environmental principles are becoming more widely embraced as an aspect of corporate responsibility, it's important to realise that the marketing of ethical homewares can be a fuzzy area.
With so many different issues, sometimes the old-fashioned ideas are still the most powerful. Avoiding throw-away culture at all costs is perhaps the best thing you can do for the planet, by making the simple choice to buy products that are going to last. According to Chris Weylandt from South African-based eco-friendly retailer Weylandts, “There is nothing better for the planet than choosing furnishings that are going to last for a decade or two or three... My advice to consumers is to buy quality and look for craftsmanship that will last. This way, it’s possible to bypass the cycle of disposable consumption and over-consumption.”
While the rise of sustainable furniture and decorative items is the most obvious example of the ethical homeware revolution, the building and interior design industries are also stepping up to the plate. A move toward recycled and reclaimed timber has been sweeping the building industry for a long time now, with materials from old buildings, bridges, and wharves taking on new life as flooring, ceiling beams, and everything in between. If you're looking for unique materials to use as joists, decking, posts, or bollards, recycled timber not only looks great but will stay straighter than new timber most of the time.
It's not all about natural materials, however, with a number of companies also re-using and recycling synthetic products to make everything from sustainable kitchens to brand new furniture. Recycled glass and polyester products not only look new and innovative, they can also be much cheaper than equivalent designs using new materials. According to Jessie Harvey from Granite Transformations, one of the companies involved in sustainable manufacturing, “Sustainable home building and improvement is set to be one of the decade’s prevailing trends with a reported 45 per cent of new projects using green materials.”