Collage of sustainable interior design products

My top 10 ways to source sustainable materials for your green home

If you’ve read my article on avoiding greenwashing, you’ll know I’ve encountered some questionable products on my sustainable house odyssey.

But on the positive side, there are some really excellent options out there for design materials, fixtures and fittings. Try these 10 tips on for size.

1. Give new life to old

Choose vendors who recycle or upcycle their raw materials when possible. Buying second-hand or refurbished furniture pieces and lighting fixtures is usually better than buying new. If you’ve got the interest, and the time, you could also upcycle some pieces yourself.

Part of my renovation includes converting the attic to a study. We’re searching for a recycled spiral staircase to make the attic accessible.

2. Buy forever pieces

Invest in quality designer products that will last for decades and be passed on to the next generation. This is the best form of sustainability.

3. Repurpose your existing building materials where possible

With the ImPossible House, I’m keeping the front two rooms and demolishing and rebuilding the back of the home. We plan to reuse as many of the demo materials as possible in the new build. We’ll recycle the bricks and may use the old concrete to create a thermal envelope; an old kitchen cabinet will be refurbished and relocated to serve as a bathroom counter / shaving cabinet. I also have a large built-in bookshelf which my designer Denby Dowling is going to repurpose for me, by breaking it into smaller shelves for use in several areas of the house.

4. Consider the chemicals, energy, and water used

Try to find a supplier who uses as little water as possible in the processing and doesn’t release toxins into the environment. Wood, ceramics and fabric can all be coloured with environmentally-friendly dyes, stains, or paints. Ask your supplier for this information. If a product is truly sustainable, the supplier is usually proud and eager to share.

For wallpaper at my place, we’re using a Sydney-based company, Publisher Textiles, that uses non-toxic ink. The ImPossible House floors will be a mix of handcrafted, ceramic porcelain tiles from Skheme, with a non-toxic glazing, as well as wool and sisal rugs, and Australian hardwood. At the bottom of my Interior Design solution page, I’ve put a list of suppliers we love.

5. Consider the packaging

Does the product come with excessive packaging? Is the packaging environmentally friendly? It might sound nitpicky but the best way to support good businesses is to choose them over ones that don’t double down on detail.

Collage of sustainable interior design products

6. Check for groundwater toxins

Research any toxic off gassing or soil leaching in the final product. If you’re going to live with this product in your home, you don’t want to breathe toxins or put toxins into groundwater.

7. Source from artists and craftspeople close to home

Support local artisans and cut down on transport pollution.

8. Learn from Indigenous communities.

Often the most eco-friendly ways to produce products (particularly ceramics and tiles) is the same way that they’ve been produced for thousands of years. If you can find a company that does things the old way, it’s more likely to be sustainable. In Australia, wool coloured with plant dye is one of the greenest options available. In the ImPossible House, we’re using wool insulation rather than synthetic fiberglass.

9. Look for internationally-recognised seals and certifications

But also know that not all small, local manufacturers will be able to obtain these certifications, as the process can be expensive.

10. Ask lots of questions

The origins of the materials matter. But not all of the above information is going to be obvious from a supplier or a manufacturer’s website, or from their sales materials. You might not be able to trace a product’s path from raw material to manufactured end result, however much research you do. So you might have to contact the company and ask things like:

  1. Where and how is the product sourced? Can I have the name/contact info of the mining/logging/etc. company?
  2. Is this product officially “certified” in environmental terms? Where can I read about this certification?
  3. What is this certification based on? Is the product independently tested, or did the manufacturer deem the product to be meeting these criteria?
  4. Do you have any proof of your green claims? (E.g., percentage of recycled material, “nontoxic” manufacturing process, Energy-Star certification, no off-gassing)
  5. Do you have any research to back up your claims? Who authored/commissioned this study?
  6. Is your company carbon neutral?
  7. Do you have an ethical certification for how workers are treated at the manufacturing end? (It’s not sustainable for a company to misuse any sort of resources, including their human resources.)

If they don’t know or don’t want to tell you, next!

Collage of sustainable interior design products

Avoiding Greenwashing is tough

Kermit the Frog said it best: “It’s not easy being green.”

If we want our planet to continue to support human life, we’re going to have to get a lot more serious about being green consumers and making climate-smart choices. Be patient with yourself, and don’t give up.

If you’re custom building, renovating or even just redecorating, keep an eye on our Building & Design and Interior Design pages. We’re going to keep updating them throughout this process, so hopefully you can shortcut your own research by borrowing some of ours.

And finally: thank you to all the purveyors of second-hand gods, the upcyclers and architectural salvagers, quality makers and sustainable manufacturers who make good choices possible.