Cllr Selina Seesunkur represents Larkswood Ward on Waltham Forest Council

On May 1st 2019, the UK Parliament declared a Climate Change Emergency. This has caused a visible push in the production of more electric vehicles to help reduce CO2 emissions, an increase in the reduction and recycling of plastics, and a call to replace old boilers with more economical and environmentally friendly ones. Whilst these might be high profile, can we also do more in our homes? Is it as easy as replacing a halogen light bulb for an LED, installing solar panels, or sending our old furniture to a recycling centre?

A recent paper by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation entitled ‘Completing the Picture’, suggests that changes to the five key areas of cement, aluminium, steel, plastics, and food, could eliminate almost half of the remaining emissions from the production of goods, or 9.3 billion tonnes of CO2 by 2050. This would be the equivalent of cutting current emissions from all transport to zero. Furthermore, they argue that switching to the use of sustainable wood instead of polyethene, and bamboo instead of steel, are also essential moves to further reduce our carbon footprint.

Across the design industry, Interior Designers and Architects are becoming more sustainable in their use of materials, but this is through choice as opposed to policies or legislation. And while the industry is seeing a shift, is it quick enough, bold enough, or sustainable enough?

The Reuse Flat in East London, designed by Arboreal, is an example of creative recycling as all the materials used were sourced from the deconstruction site. The project was to redesign the kitchen, dining, and living room space. The wall panelling and kitchen cabinets are made from reclaimed wood, with broken bricks, concrete, and reclaimed wood used to construct the garden walls. Arboreal states that “22 per cent of their materials are from the existing site and a further 57 per cent of materials were from reused sources. The cotton insulation was constructed from jeans deposited in French clothes banks and the reclaimed wood floor was produced using beams removed from an agricultural building in Orsova, Romania”.

Given Arboreal’s success, surely we should be seeing more recycling of construction material throughout the design and development industry. Wouldn’t it be a great project for councils to lead the way by delivering entire developments where a larger portion of the materials is recycled?

Hard materials such as bricks, concrete, and wood, are not the only items that can be used sustainably. Soft materials often used in fixtures and fittings are changing. The Yorkshire based production company, Camira, has increased its use of recycled fabric, with their new fabric collection ‘Rivet’ produced from recycled polyester. Organoid produces carbon neutral wallpaper, with a signature of pressed flowers, and all materials being sourced as locally as possible. The Italian company, Dani, claims that their leather lines now have ‘zero impact’, claiming that they have reduced their carbon emissions by five per cent and, in order to compensate for any other CO2 produced, are taking part in a reforestation programme. They also claim their processes are innovative and cleaner.

Consumers can also do their part by shopping responsibly and looking at the products and processes that go into making their furniture. We have seen a big movement towards knowing what is on your plate and how it got there. Equally, we have seen clothing production questioned and sweat shops and child labour exposed. Both these areas have made great changes in the way food and clothing are produced, so why not question “what’s in your home”.

How many of you have looked at a paint can and reviewed its content for toxins or emissions, and bought a different paint? When is the last time you donated a half-used can of paint to Dulux’s Community Repaint, which provides unwanted paint pots to schools, charities and housing associations? According to Community Repaint, 387,000 litres of paint were saved in 2012 with 218,000 litres being redistributed to these institutions. Have you ever questioned how your cabinet was made or switched to shopping at a charity shop or re-use centre? The possibilities are endless, and government can do more to sway homeowners and renters to make a conscious decision to make those small changes and not solely rely on the bigger companies, like car manufactures, housing developers, or supermarkets, to make the changes for us.