Sustainable Interior Designer

Sustainable interior design creates interior spaces using design principles such as functionality, accessibility, and aesthetics and expands the focus to include environmental considerations. For example, sustainable design projects are influenced by such factors as planning efficient use of space, choosing materials with low environmental impacts, and reducing energy consumption, pollution, and waste. Sustainable interior designers are committed to finding ways to balance aesthetics and functionality with choices that reduce the environmental impact of their designs.

Entry-Level Salary:
Senior-Level Salary:

At a Glance

Imagine you are standing in the middle of a busy emergency room in a brand-new, state-of-the-art hospital. But you are not injured; you're here to evaluate the hospital's interior. You are a sustainable interior designer and part of the team that created this space. You and your team spent countless hours working with architects, engineers, and suppliers to create a design for the hospital's interior that balanced the functionality necessary to operate a busy hospital with environmental considerations.

As a sustainable interior designer, you didn't have an easy go of it, designing the interior of an environmentally friendly hospital. For example, all materials and products had to meet environmental standards as well as the durability needs of a 24-hour health care facility. You chose to use linoleum rather than vinyl flooring because linoleum is made substantially from jute, a naturally occurring fibre, and possesses natural bacteria-resistant properties that make it a perfect choice for a hospital. You also chose to use scrubbable cotton wall coverings because vinyl is known to be highly toxic. Even the choice of carpeting in the hospital's offices was based on the sample's high percentage of recycled content, and the adhesive used to glue down the flooring was chosen because it has a low toxic emission rate.

Wherever possible, you chose to use local materials to reduce the need for long-distance transportation. The finished product also incorporates strategies for reducing energy consumption and highlights opportunities for reducing, reusing, and recycling waste, including numerous recycling bins on every ward. Every design element in the new hospital is a choice to reduce environmental impact while still being durable enough to prove functional in this busy hospital.

Job Duties

Duties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as a sustainable interior designer:

  • Participate on project teams with other consultants to find integrated, innovative, and interdisciplinary solutions to design.
  • Consult with clients to establish design concepts and parameters, including how space will function, budget considerations, and aesthetic preferences.
  • Generate conceptual designs using a variety of graphic techniques, including hand-drawn and computer-generated visuals, and prepare preliminary cost estimates.
  • Present design concepts to team members and clients for approval.
  • Prepare written specifications, working drawings, and construction documents, including verification that designs meet applicable building codes where necessary.
  • Prepare tender drawings for contractors to price.
  • Choose materials and suppliers and coordinate installation.
  • Supervise construction and monitor quality, progress, and cost.

Work Environment

Sustainable interior designers work in a variety of locations, including:

In the office:

  • Doing paperwork, administering contracts, and preparing reports
  • Developing design plans and construction details and coordinating with other disciplines
  • Communicating on the phone and in meetings with clients, contractors, colleagues, consultants, and suppliers
  • Researching new materials

In the field:

  • Visiting construction sites and performing site inspections
  • Making presentations to stakeholders, clients, and contractors
  • Visiting suppliers to select and buy materials and researching the processes used to make certain products
  • Attending seminars and trade shows

Where to Work

There are a number of places sustainable interior designers can find employment. They include:

  • Interior design firms
  • Architectural firms
  • Self-employed consultant
  • Construction firms
  • Material suppliers
  • Large corporations designing offices and retail space
  • Federal, provincial/territorial, and municipal government departments

Education and Skills

If you are a high school student considering a career as a sustainable interior designer, you should have strong marks or an interest in:

  • Art
  • Mathematics
  • Computer Science
  • English
  • Biology

In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as a sustainable interior designer is a university undergraduate degree. If you are a post-secondary student considering a career as a sustainable interior designer, the following programs are most applicable:

  • Interior Design
  • Architecture
  • Environmental Design

In most cases, sustainable interior designers must be registered or licensed with the necessary provincial association. Most sustainable interior designers are also LEED-accredited professionals. (LEED is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.)

Role Models

Tanya McLean

A backpacking trip through Southeast Asia drastically changed Tanya McLean’s view about the environment and her career. “I saw people who were living with very few material possessions and were very happy. I also witnessed the negative effects of our consumptive western ways on the area’s people and their environment.” The interior designer returned from her travels with a new perspective and a big question. “How do I fit into the design industry, which is so materialistic and consumer-driven, when that is not important to me anymore?”

Today, Tanya is trying to strike a balance between her love of design and her desire to live in a more environmentally friendly world. Tanya has a certificate in interior design and a diploma in architectural and building engineering technology from the British Columbia Institute of Technology. Recently, she completed a sustainable design course and became LEED (Leadership in Energy and Design) accredited, an internationally recognized standard for green building design and construction. A member of the Canadian Green Building Council, Tanya has her own eco-friendly interior design company, Mango Design Co. Tanya usually works on a number of decorating and renovation projects at a time.

Most often she can be found working from her home office, spending the majority of a typical day at her drafting table drafting house or decorating plans and working through schematics. The rest of her day is given to communicating with clients and taking care of the demands of running a small business. When she’s out in the field, Tanya loves visiting local shops and suppliers, searching for eco-friendly materials and furnishings. “Shopping locally and implementing the talents of local artists and artisans is so important to a sustainable society.” It does take more energy initially to seek out natural and eco-friendly materials over the mainstream, but Tanya believes it’s worth it in the long run. Tanya’s largest responsibility is interacting with her clients. “I try to get them to think more about the future. The construction industry is one of the biggest threats to our environment. The less we need to renovate and rebuild, the better.”

When renovating, Tanya implements strategies such as reusing and recycling construction materials and installing alternate energy systems. She also encourages clients to simplify their lifestyles and their surroundings. “A big house filled with furniture and objects means more time sorting and cleaning. That time would be better spent enjoying family and friends, community and nature.” Trying to convince clients to go green is not always easy. “The majority of people make decisions based on the short-term effect on their pocketbooks. They aren’t thinking about the long-term economic and environmental effects.” Tanya is not out to change the minds of the masses but to provide a service for the niche market of environmental and social enthusiasts.