Sustainability Stats Every Interior Designer Should Know (2024)

Elise Dunbar-Smith

Elise is a staff writer at AURA covering interior design, sustainability, how tos, and more.

As interior designers, we've got an opportunity and responsibility to reduce our environmental impact through sustainable practices. 

And whether you want to accept it or not - the world is changing.

The choices we make - from materials to energy efficiency - add up to create healthier, greener buildings. And heading into 2024, it’s clear we need to put sustainability at the forefront more than ever before.

Let’s review some staggering sustainability stats in interior design today. The numbers tell a compelling story and we believe that they’ll empower designers to make more ecologically-minded decisions in their work. 

Remember: small steps by conscious designers can add up to make a world of difference.

building construction with CO2

Almost 40% of global carbon emissions come from building and construction.

What It Means:

Despite some progress made in certain areas, the latest data shows energy use and emissions from buildings backtracked in 2021. Total energy consumption and CO2 from the sector rose above pre-pandemic levels globally.

Emissions just from building operations hit an all-time high of around 10 billion tons of CO2 - a 5% increase from 2020 and 2% higher than the previous record set in 2019.

Even though we've seen some regions implement policies and technologies to reduce energy intensity, overall energy demand and associated greenhouse gas output from buildings rebounded as COVID restrictions eased up. We're still heading in the wrong direction in terms of the sheer volumes of emissions being generated.

More concerning is that emissions are now the highest on record. Clearly, the building sector needs to ramp up sustainability efforts and transition faster to renewable energy in order to start bending the emissions curve downwards. Stronger policies, incentives and investments will be key to accelerating progress.

Takeaway for Interior Designers:

As sustainable interior designers, we have immense power to reduce environmental footprints through our material and design choices. But that starts with building our knowledge. Commit to ongoing education on the latest green materials, innovations, and best practices.

It’s also important to apply that expertise. Choose recycled, natural or low-carbon finishes and furnishings whenever possible. Maximize use of natural daylight. Incorporate passive solar techniques. Put green principles into action across all projects.

By continuously expanding our sustainability knowledge and rigorously applying it in materials specification and spatial layouts, we can make substantial progress in reducing energy, emissions and waste.

Source: Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction

Furniture in a landfill

Interior design generates 10.5 million tons of waste a year in the US alone.

What It Means:

One major waste culprit in the design world is so-called "fast furniture" - you know, those cheap, low-quality pieces that fall apart after a couple years.

And the problem with trying to recycle flimsy fast furniture is that it's often made from a mishmash of different materials molded together.

That mix of wood, metal, plastics, foam, fabric and more makes it tricky to separate and recycle compared to solid wood pieces. So most of those affordable but disposable furnishings end up in the landfill after a short life.

This goes to show how poor durability and mix-and-match materials create waste. That's 10.5 million tons of holes in the circular economy that could have been avoided with quality construction and sustainable materials in the first place. 

Takeaway for Interior Designers:

As designers, these numbers tell us our role in promoting material sustainability and circularity is more important than ever. We can divert waste by choosing timeless pieces built to last over trendy fast furniture. 

Refinishing and reupholstering also extends product lifecycles. For new materials, we should specify recycled and recyclable options. And we can recommend deconstruction over demolition to clients so finishes and furnishings find new homes.

Educating clients about waste reduction through durable, eco-friendly specs is key. We can also help contractors implement responsible job site waste management plans. While the waste totals are daunting, they present an opportunity. 

Source: Environmental Protection Agency

Boho bathroom

The average American home has 300 pounds of toxic chemicals in it.

What It Means:

There’s some eye-opening research on toxic chemicals in our homes. The EPA alone has identified hundreds of concerning ingredients in everyday products on their priority watch list. And dozens of those are endocrine disruptors that mess with our hormones.

With Americans spending most of their time indoors, all these toxins degrading our air quality is concerning. They can make existing health issues like asthma worse and cause chronic breathing problems over time.

It's clear the chemicals lurking in common furnishings, cleaners, building materials and more are a serious health hazard. 

Takeaway for Interior Designers:

Numbers like these underscore how crucial non-toxic materials are in our work. We should thoroughly vet products for off-gassing and chemical content before purchasing. Prioritizing natural, organic materials like organic cotton textiles and solid wood over composites reduces exposure. We can recommend green cleaning products to clients too.

Of course, it’s impossible to eliminate all toxins; even natural materials contain some. But being aware of major chemical exposures allows us to minimize their use and look for safer alternatives. We can also guide proper ventilation during remodels to dissipate fumes. 

Source: Environmental Working Group

Bamboo for building homes

Using green building materials can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 30%.

What It Means:

Using green building materials can make a real dent in the construction industry's hefty carbon emissions—both from the production of materials and operating energy-guzzling buildings.

Staples like concrete and steel have huge carbon footprints. Just making concrete releases tons of CO2, equivalent to over 18 million extra cars on US roads every year. And steelmaking for buildings emits as much CO2 as 12.5 million cars.

But studies show "building green" can cut emissions in half. Strategies like picking lower-impact wood over concrete or steel, designing for longer lifespans, and recycling more building waste avoid emissions. Of course, with booming construction worldwide, radically dropping emissions remains a challenge.

Green materials directly lower energy needs too. Green roofs can cut roof temperatures significantly, reducing a building's AC use by 0.7%. That saves around $0.23 per square foot in electricity annually. Even a small efficiency gain like that means less fossil fuel burning.

Takeaway for Interior Designers:

We should vet options for low-embodied carbon and specify locally-made finishes, furnishings and fixtures whenever possible. Prioritizing rapidly renewable materials like bamboo over slow-growth woods also helps curb emissions.

Of course, we can pair sustainable materials with energy efficiency strategies for amplified impact. The 30% reduction is attainable through holistic green design. We can also guide builders in achieving LEED and other certifications by selecting emission-conscious materials. 

While the potential savings are lofty, even smaller reductions make a meaningful difference. Our specifying choices pave the way to decarbonized, net zero buildings.

Source: U.S. Green Building Council

Indoor biophilic living room

Biophilic design can improve cognitive function & reduce stress levels by up to 15%.

What It Means:

Bringing nature into built spaces through biophilic design has solid science behind its feel-good factor. Even short 40-second glimpses of nature can reset our brains and reduce stress based on studies. It's the kind of micro-break we need.

Research also shows adding biophilic elements like plants, natural light, and organic shapes improves physiology, cognition, productivity and more in indoor settings. The data suggests biophilic design alleviates stress, energizes us mentally, and boosts our overall wellbeing.

Specific studies back this up too. One review found biophilic exposures frequently reduce anxiety and help people heal faster. And a virtual reality office experiment showed biophilic interventions like living walls lowered stress reactions and increased cognitive skills.

Takeaway for Interior Designers:

As designers focused on human-centered spaces, statistics like these make a compelling case for biophilic principles. We should educate clients on how biophilia improves comfort, focus, satisfaction, and more through environmental mindfulness. 

It also expands our design possibilities. We can incorporate green walls, botanical motifs, natural materials, and strategic views of nature to create biophilic havens. Even small touches like houseplants make a difference. 

While the 15% figure is significant, any biophilic boost is worthwhile. Let’s champion biophilic techniques alongside sustainability for doubly holistic, human-friendly interiors. Clients’ wellbeing and productivity will reap the benefits.

Source: Terrapin Bright Green

LED lights in building

Sustainable interior design has the power to reduce energy consumption by up to 50%.

What It Means:

Sustainable design can slash energy consumption in buildings through some clever strategies. 

For example, insulation is key. Materials like cork excel at regulating indoor temps, cutting wasted energy on heating and cooling bills. Strategic window design also prevents heat loss, with insulated frames and low-emissivity glass reducing waste by up to half.

For lighting, swapping out incandescents for LEDs and maximizing natural light are no-brainers for lower energy use. By 2050, the switch to efficient lighting could reduce consumption by over a third in commercial buildings.

Smart heating systems powered by AI that learn routines are another futuristic energy saver. They only activate when truly needed, avoiding waste.

Adaptively reusing existing buildings also conserves energy compared to ground-up new constructions over a structure's full lifecycle. And adhering to green building standards like LEED bakes in efficiency. For federal projects, those guidelines mandate at least 30% better energy performance.

Takeaway for Interior Designers:

Interior designers can and should advocate for high-performance building envelopes during project conception to minimize heat gain/loss. 

Strategic glazing placement also passively heats and cools. And we can design with ENERGY STAR appliances, LED lighting, and automated controls for efficiency.

Beyond physical design, we can encourage renewable energy use through solar panels or geothermal systems to cover remaining needs. And we can guide clients in obtaining LEED, WELL, and other green certification by designing for optimum efficiency. 

While 50% energy reduction is the ceiling, even smaller savings make a real sustainability impact. 

Source: U.S. Department of Energy

Drone shot of a suburban neighborhood in autumn

Sustainable design can raise property values by up to 6%.

What It Means:

Sustainable design isn't just good for the planet - it's also great for property values. The data shows eco-friendly spaces command higher price tags and buyer interest.

Studies in places like Austin found LEED-certified homes increased 8% in value compared to conventional builds. Even non-certified green homes saw a 6% bump. Clearly, sustainability sells.

With climate change concerns growing, sustainable properties are gaining serious appeal. Developers and homeowners alike want spaces that are environmentally responsible. This shift in preferences naturally drives up demand and prices.

It's not just a US trend either. Even in global hubs like Dubai, green design has been shown to significantly boost property worth. Sustainable features have universal value.

While exact premiums vary, research confirms properties see a rise when designed using principles like passive solar, eco materials, and efficiency upgrades. Green equals added monetary value through proven valuation methods.

For clients concerned only with the bottom line, the numbers don't lie - sustainable design pays off. And that's not even counting savings from lower utility bills. Beyond ethics, green buildings just make smart business sense.

Of course, increased value is just one added benefit on top of healthier, more comfortable spaces. But if dollars speak loudest, the data makes a compelling case for sustainable design as a worthwhile investment.

Takeaway for Interior Designers:

Investing in sustainability adds real monetary value. We should educate clients on the ROI of green design, from higher selling prices to utility savings. 

And we can back it with market data on valuation. Beyond money, eco-friendly interiors promote health and comfort—added perks for home buyers.

From an industry standpoint, the value boost opens up new opportunities. Seeking green building certification for projects validates their credibility for buyers. We can position ourselves as experts guiding clients to merge beauty and sustainability for increased worth. 

While eco design shouldn’t be motivated by profit alone, higher value provides tangible proof of its benefits. 

Source: National Association of Realtors

High end bedroom

The eco-friendly furniture market, valued at $43.26 billion in 2022, is expected to grow at 8.6% CAGR through 2030.

What It Means:

The eco-furniture market hitting over $43 billion this year shows sustainability's massive growth in interior design. And with projections expecting 8-9% annual growth ahead, green furniture is going mainstream.

This mirrors the wider sustainable design market's predicted surge to $100 billion soon - a 30% jump in just a few years! That explosive growth reveals rising consumer appetite for green homes as eco-consciousness takes center stage.

It's no longer a niche - sustainability is now a central focus and smart investment within interior design given the numbers. The data reaffirms ethical and eco-friendly spaces will only gain value.

Takeaway for Interior Designers:

These projections validate that sustainable design is the future of our industry. As designers, we should continue educating ourselves on emerging eco materials, building standards, biophilic principles and more. 

Positioning ourselves on the leading edge of green design techniques and trends ensures our skills stay relevant.

The market growth also gives us leverage to guide more clients toward sustainability. We can confidently pitch environmental benefits hand-in-hand with aesthetic appeal, thanks to high consumer demand. 

Pursuing respected certifications like WELL Building Standard can build our reputation as go-to experts. While motivations for green design should go beyond profit, a thriving sustainable market increases opportunities to create healthy, ecologically-sound spaces. Let’s leverage it to drive change on a global scale.

Source: Research and Markets

Green dining room

It’s Time To Make Greener Choices As Interior Designers

These stats underscore that now is the time for interior designers to fully embrace sustainability as standard practice. 

With awareness of these numbers, we're empowered to make ecologically-conscious choices that reduce our industry's heavy impacts. From curbing emissions to diverting waste, every small shift collectively makes a world of difference.

Want to easily integrate beautiful, sustainable furnishings and lighting into your designs? Check out AURA Modern Home's trade program for interior designers. With access to AURA's collection of vetted eco-friendly brands, you can seamlessly specify pieces that align with your sustainability goals. 

The program helps connect conscious designers like you with ethical products to create healthy, environmentally-sound spaces. Let's work together to design a brighter future.