Future Cities - Africa Green Building Summits 2024
  • July 1, 2023
  • futureci
  • 0

By Jacqueline Aki

Interior design for many years has been synonymous with the creation of functional and aesthetically satisfying spaces. However, in light of the pressing global concerns surrounding sustainability and the urgent need to reduce our carbon footprint, interior designers are now expected to transcend the realm of visual appeal.

In response to this, the concept of sustainable interior design has gained significant traction in recent years. This approach centres around the creation of planet-friendly spaces, with a primary focus on ensuring that the materials, products, and decisions made throughout the design process have minimal impact on the environment and the planet.

Recent statistics reveal that The built environment generates 40% of annual global CO2 emissions. Of those total emissions, building operations are responsible for 27% annually, while building and infrastructure materials and construction (typically referred to as embodied carbon) are responsible for an additional 13% annually. Consequently, professionals operating within the building sector, interior designers inclusive, possess the capacity to influence these figures by making conscious choices that reduce the built environment’s adverse effects on the planet.

The aim of this article is to provide guidance on how local interior designers can positively impact these statistics and respond to global concerns within their specific context and challenges.

1. Designing for People

The International Well Building Institute reports that the average person spends nearly 90% of their time indoors, where the quality of air can be 2-5 times worse than outdoor air. Recognizing the interdependence of people and the planet, designers must prioritize the well-being of individuals and the environment in their designs. The events of 2020 have underscored the fact that indoor climate and interior spaces can significantly influence mood, productivity, and health. Therefore, designers must be mindful of people’s comfort and employ design principles that seamlessly integrate the well-being of both individuals and the planet through biophilia.

Biophilic design seeks to enhance occupants’ connection to nature through spatial design and the specification of products.

2. Materials

The materials utilized in the design process have a profound impact on the environment. Consequently, interior designers must select sustainable materials that are both eco-friendly and have low emissions throughout their lifecycle, from source to use. Bamboo, clay, raffia, recycled materials, and FSC-certified or sustainably sourced wood are excellent choices for sustainable interior design. Furthermore, designers should consider the circularity of materials and the assembly design of products, favouring reusable and recyclable options that can be utilized for an extended period without the need for replacement.

3. Energy Efficiency

The energy sector accounts for approximately 40% of global CO2 emissions (source: The World Bank). The majority of these emissions (92%) result from the use of fossil fuels, particularly in electricity generation, heat production, transportation, manufacturing, and consumption.

Energy consumption is therefore a significant contributor to environmental problems. In the design process, interior designers should strive to maximize passive cooling through efficient spatial design while specifying energy-efficient appliances. Choosing long-lasting, energy-efficient fixtures and appliances not only reduces the carbon footprint associated with landfill waste and CO2 emissions but also offers economic benefits by significantly reducing energy bills.

4. Design with the 3 Rs

The United Nations predicts that in 2021, we will generate 52.2 million metric tons of e-waste, which represents one of the fastest-growing waste streams (source: UN report: ‘Time to seize opportunity, tackle the challenge of e-waste’).

Designers should adopt a proactive approach by considering the end result from the outset. Applying the principles of reduce, reuse, and recycle enables the minimization of waste during the design process. Designers should aim to reduce waste by selecting durable materials and eliminating excess in their designs. Additionally, reusing furniture and decor items in good condition eliminates the need for purchasing new items, conserving resources and energy. Finally, designers should prioritize recycling and proper disposal of waste materials that can be generated during the design process.

5. Water Conservation

Water conservation is an integral aspect of sustainable interior design. Designers should explore strategies to minimize water usage throughout the design process. Implementing low-flow and sensor fixtures in bathrooms and kitchens, as well as incorporating water-efficient landscapes and rainwater harvesting systems, helps reduce water consumption while providing an eco-friendly source of irrigation water.

6. Indoor Air Quality

Enhancing indoor air quality is another crucial aspect of sustainable interior design. Designers must consider, at all times, the health impact of the materials employed in their designs. Materials containing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can release harmful chemicals that affect air quality, as experienced with a number of uncertified paint brands in Nigeria. 

Designers must prioritize materials with low VOC emissions, particularly in finishes. Another strategy is to work with locally sourced and natural materials such as bamboo and clay. At the very least, designers can integrate air-cleaning plants into their designs to help purify indoor air.


As the field of interior design continues to evolve, the demand for sustainable interiors will grow in tandem. To design more sustainably, interior designers must prioritise minimizing negative impacts on both people and the planet. This involves conscientiously selecting materials, prioritizing energy efficiency, reducing waste, conserving water, and improving indoor air quality. By embracing this mindset, interior designers can continue to create inspiring spaces while contributing to an improved environmental impact of the built environment on both people the planet.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *