By Quynh Le Truc  

  Sustainable interior design has been applied in numerous different ways in our lives and can be considered as a reply to this day and age, the age of Information and Ecology. Our need for sustainable environment is much more of an obligation than a desire, in professional interior design practice. ‘Form follows environment’ - a term addressed by Richard Hyde - is a simplification of this concept. Understood as a relationship between individuals and their current natural environment, its degree of impact depends on the selections of materials, furnishing and lighting.

    Green interior design practice requires addressing a number of primary issues. First, to decide which are the most reliable and useful sources of knowledge base taking into account the amassment of information available. Second, to engage the clients and users  by providing accurate understanding of the benefits which, in turn, make for more confident in decision-making process. Third, to find a way to assist and encourage the manufacturers and builders to apply and deliver more environmental architecture.  As an interior designer, sustainability in design primarily focuses on the specifications of furnishing, fixtures, equipment and lighting.

    One of the criteria for specifying sustainable materials is the aspects of function. A carpet being used in a commercial building must be more durable than the one used in a residential space due to its high traffic. Considering all of the possible contexts and maximizing the potential and longevity of the material is of great importance. Additionally, the process of how materials are made should also be taken into account. The energy being used in this process is called embodied energy. Each different materials has a different amount of embodied energy. Natural materials such as wood and stone require less energy to be manufactured than plastic, concrete or steel. The gas emission during the period the material is in use as well as the future recycling potential of the material should be considered not only for the sake of the environment but also to ensure a high level of indoor air quality for the occupants.A typical example of sustainable materials are cork, straw, wool or bamboo. Rapidly renewable materials are known to be less energy-intensive to produce. For example, bark from the cork oak tree can be harvested every nine years. Ultimately reducing the use and depletion of finite raw materials and long-cycle renewable material. Cork is also being used in acoustic and thermal insulation for its sound-proofing quality and is a resilient building material that is less affected by impact and friction.

Interior design by: Sarah Barnard  -  Photo by: Brad Nicol

An Ocean Avenue penthouse with a bird's eye view of Santa Monica's coastline. Eco friendly furnishings, natural textiles and organic rugs provide a perfect Zen retreat.

  Sustainability also can be demonstrated through lighting choices. The use of lighting plays a great part in the total consumption of electric energy. This requires not only the clients but also the interior designers to consider the possibilities of other alternatives to maximize the light coming into the building without increasing the energy consumption. This can be achieved either by taking advantage of natural light source through bringing light into a building interior and distributing it in a way that provides better illumination and considering pleasing, light-friendly interior objects and surfaces as well as flexible light controls; or using products that assure more energy saving than traditional ones. 

Interior design by: Sarah Barnard  -  Photo by: Brad Nicol

Taking advantage of natural light source through bringing light into a building interior and distributing it in a way that provides better illumination

Modern technology allows installation of light piping system and/or laser cut panels to carry daylight to the deep interior space of a building, even to the basements. Such advanced techniques like the piping system can provide 25 - 50% (Kadir, A., Ismail, L.H. & Kasim, N) of the workplace illuminance in commercial  or office building and overall reduce energy consumption. These light tubes acts as a light transport guiding the light into the room, increasing the efficiency without producing extreme warmth. This is because the tube is made with highly reflective internal surfaces, like aluminium sheeting with a reflectance of about 95 - 99% (Kadir, A., Ismail, L.H. & Kasim, N).

    Last but equally important, the furnishing choices have a significant impact on the environment and occupant’s health. Manufacturers can control the emission of volatile organic compounds by limiting the use of solvents in paints, stains, and glues. However, it is also the designers’ role to help their clients be more environmentally conscious with the furniture they choose. Purchasing the FSC certified or reclaimed wood helps to prevent the deforestation of tropical rainforests. Another example is in the choices of mattresses. The concern about what really is in a mattress, is important, not only because you spend a third of your life in bed but also it is believed that any product made with synthetic materials carries potential health risks. Because such items like mattresses, furniture cushions, pillows, carpet pad, and clothing, all contain a certain level, if not mainly, of petroleum-based foam, which is known to affect the nervous and immune system and cause illnesses.Therefore, lessening the dependence on petroleum is a commendable attempt. Manufacturers are experimenting with vegetable oils like soybean and latex foam producers are replacing some or all of the synthetic content for natural latex. Besides all of these efforts, the easiest way a responsible purchaser can do is to choose a mattress that can be kept for a long time.

Interior design by: Sarah Barnard  -  Photo by: Brad Nicol

A master bedroom outfitted with eco-friendly finishes in leather, rattan, maple and wool.

Overall, the main objective of choosing and using sustainable products, either under the role of customer or interior designer, is not only to improve the quality of life of the occupants but also to maximize positive impacts on environmental, economic and social systems over the life cycle of a building. These all start from the awareness of the surrounding environment and the availability of eco-friendly choices.


Ayalp, N. Environmental Sustainability in Interior Design Elements. Retrieved from

Kadir, A., Ismail, L.H. & Kasim, N. Optimization of daylighting system by using light pipe system in a building. Retrieved from

Rainforest alliance (2012). Cork oak. Retrieved from

Varela, M.C. Cork and the cork oak system. FAO. Retrieved from


Quynh Le Truc is a dynamic designer who has experience in branding and incorporating ideas into tangible objects to strengthen the identity of a brand. Her practice encompasses interior design, media design including editorial layout, photography, website and application interface to illustration. She loves travelling and studying within diverse cultures and countries. She is also an active member of the KOTO project to help street children and disadvantaged youth in Vietnam.

Sarah Barnard is a member of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), is certified by the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA), and is recognized by the International Institute for Bau-Biologie & Ecology as a Building Biology Practitioner (BBP) and by the United States Green Building Council as a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional (LEED AP). She has served on the Santa Monica Conservancy's board of directors and specializes in sustainable interior design and historic preservation.