Ethics in interior design
Interior design involves sourcing a number of products, from paint to accessories. Over the past couple of decades, designers have begun to pay more attention to how these products are manufactured and the ethics behind buying choices. For example, many large companies manufacture their products in less economically developed countries (LEDCs), in order to save on labour costs. Whilst it is true that the cost of living is cheaper in other countries, workers are often paid low wages and may be forced to work unreasonably long hours. Fortunately, many large companies have appeared to take notice of complaints made against them and have begun to make their policies public. If you are planning to acquire materials from a business that sells mass-produced goods, look at their website for more details about their supply chain, how they audit their factories and how they decide how much to pay their workers. Companies have also come under increasing pressure to describe their policies on waste disposal and the ways in which they source their raw materials.
It is also worth noting that the wages paid to workers in the UK are also coming under increased scrutiny. Although companies must pay all employees the National Minimum Wage – currently £7.50 per hour – some campaigners and charities have argued that this is not enough to sustain a reasonable quality of life, when the typical cost of housing, food and other necessities are taken into account. If possible, buy from companies that pay their workers a fair wage. Their products may cost more, but you (and your clients) will be upholding fair labour practices.
Source: 775 million people make up the Chinese workforce, offering Western companies opportunities to secure cheap labour.
Disposing of waste products in a responsible manner
Designers should advise clients how to dispose of unwanted furniture and materials in a safe and environmentally-friendly manner. When starting a project, they should familiarise themselves with local recycling centres and second-hand markets, so that when the time comes to remove existing items, they can free up space on the site quickly. Do not underestimate the number of unwanted items generated by the average design project. For example, if a client is looking to overhaul their living room, they may plan on getting rid of their current furniture to make way for an entirely new collection of chairs, sofas and tables. If they are refurbishing their entire home, the potential amount of waste is huge.
If a piece of furniture is still in working order, the chances are high that someone on a tight budget will be able to make use of it. Tell your client to let everyone in their social circle know that they are clearing out their unwanted furniture and accessories, because their discarded possessions may be precisely what someone else is looking for. A client may also choose to donate useful items to a good cause. For example, community centres, women’s shelters and even schools sometimes lack sufficient funding for new furniture.
Another option is to repurpose or redecorate the item, so that it can become part of the new interior. It is relatively easy to repaint a piece of furniture, or to see how it looks in another room. This can save your client a lot of money, so they will probably be happy to hear your suggestions. If an item is beyond repair, the most responsible course of action is to recycle it wherever possible. Take it to a local recycling centre. Before you go, sort the items into categories according to material (wooden items, electrical goods, plastics and so on), so that the process goes as smoothly as possible.
You also need to know how to dispose of chemical waste, such as paint and varnish, in a manner that does not harm the environment. Never tip paint down the sink. If you have only a small amount of paint left, then you can simply paint it onto a thick piece of board and place it in with the rest of your household waste, but paint in a can needs to be hardened prior to disposal. This is best done by mixing the paint with sawdust. Check with your client’s local council, because each area has its own policies in place that govern how hazardous materials should be handled. For example, Ipswich Borough Council charges residents £55 for their hazardous waste collection service and £80 for asbestos collection. Fly-tipping is illegal and there are stiff penalties in place for anyone caught dumping waste in an unauthorised location.
You can also donate spare paint via websites such as Freecycle (freecycle.org), or take part in community programmes that allocate unwanted paint to charities and non-profit organisations, who then use it to improve their facilities. Visit communityrepaint.org.uk to locate your nearest scheme.