The findings suggest a rapidly growing number of consumers are conscious to reduce their environmental impact, rejecting mass-produced goods in favour of considered, handcrafted alternatives with longer lifespans, low-impact production and higher rental and resale value.
Future generations of consumers – most notably Millennials and Gen Zs – are committed to a ‘buy less, buy better’ mentality. The Craft Council’s 2020 Market for Craft report found that of the 73% of UK adults investing in craft during 2019, 32% of buyers were aged under 35 and that 10.3 million British consumers (33% of buyers) are now purchasing craft online. While younger generations are leading the charge, the shift in mindset can be seen across all age groups. For example, in a 2022 US study by First Insight, 90% of Gen X consumers – those born between 1965 and 1981 – said that they would be willing to spend an extra 10% or more for sustainable products.
These changing mindsets, coupled with the fact that by 2030 Gen Z will represent 27% of the world’s income, indicate that sales of handcrafted products are only set to increase.
Knowing what to look out for when buying and sourcing sustainable design can be challenging, especially when greenwashing is commonplace and time and budget are limited. Systemic change starts with education. Learning to be a responsible consumer, designer or business owner is primarily an individual journey. While we can draw on the advice of others and work with colleagues to extract solutions, we must take personal responsibility and invest time in finding ways to contribute to positive change.
Books such as ‘The Future We Choose’ by Christiana Figueres and short courses provided by trusted resources such as the Ellen Macarthur Foundation offer in-depth information, but for those eager to make immediate change, here are eight actions to implement now:
1. Select energy efficient light bulbs
Lighting currently represents about 20% of global electricity consumption. LED light bulbs use around 85% less electricity than their conventional counterparts. They also contain no mercury or hazardous chemicals, making disposal much easier and cleaner. Switching to LED is a crucial part of reducing our home’s environmental footprint as well as its running costs. For specialised, contemporary LED bulbs, UK lighting brand Tala is a great option. For lighting which has integrated fixtures, opt for LED designs such as the Diva Floor Lamp by Nicola Cecutti.
2. Beware of secondary impact
As part of a circular design approach, many brands are launching homewares using fabric made from recycled plastic. While this is commendable, in some instances the brands are not clearly communicating that these fabrics require special care to lessen their environmental impact. Domestic washing machines are not designed to capture microplastics, so small plastic particles are fed directly back into water streams during cleaning. While the creation of the product is diverting waste from landfill, it is also important to recognise the secondary impact products such as this can have.
3. Opt for solid wood furniture
Solid timber furniture is a more conscious investment as it is more amenable to restoration and repair. If the surface is damaged it can be stripped, sanded, and refinished whereas veneered options can sometimes be more challenging to restore. If a veneered item is water damaged, the substrate layer (often MDF) can swell and prevent it from being fully restored. When buying or specifying a veneered design, always prioritise natural veneers over melamine or synthetic alternatives to maximise its capacity for restoration.
4. Choose upholstered items with natural fillings
While some materials within a product may not be visible, their contribution to its environmental footprint is just as important. Soft furnishing fillings are often made using plastic foam but responsible designers are opting for organic and non-toxic alternatives such as natural latex, coir, and wool. Benchmark’s collaboration with Naturalmat is a good example of how designers are working towards more sustainable solutions.
5. Buy local crafts
Sourcing locally is paramount to the environmental efficiency of any interior design project. By sourcing as close to home as possible the logistics footprint is automatically minimised. Small design studios such as Granite and Smoke and Rupert Bevan offer supply chain and production transparency providing customers with the opportunity to create bespoke designs. Having a conversation with the maker directly also allows you to challenge the manufacturing process to ensure you are happy with the way it is being produced.
6. Invest in responsible art
In the art world one of the most challenging materials is acrylic paint. Difficult to dispose of due to its toxic ingredients such as micro-plastics and heavy metals, many artists are turning to natural solutions. Artist Lisa-Marie Price is one of those looking to challenge the way art is created by using natural pigments from foraged materials such as chalk and red brick. En masse, small changes such as this can have a big impact on the wider industry.
7. Take note of certifications
The world of certifications can be confusing with no central structure and a variety of organisations providing similar accreditations. However, there are three certifications to look out for which not only offer transparency but have rigorous procedures in place to ensure that brands comply.
– B-Corp bcorporation.net
– DECLARE Labels declare.living-future.org
– Cradle to Cradle Certified c2ccertified.org
And remember, when buying wooden furniture, all timber should be FSC certified.
8. Check off the 3 Rs
When buying a new item for the home always ask: can it be restored if damaged, recycled if it comes to the end of its life, reused (or rented) if circumstances change and the piece is no longer required. Checking off this list for every purchase will eliminate investing in anything that might have a short lifespan. Also, opt for designs which can be broken down into components to make repair more convenient. And lastly, before buying something new, check if a vintage alternative is available first.