Environmental Design: Balancing aesthetics and sustainability

Environmental design is a concept that encompasses a broad range of arts, sciences and considerations related to the ‘human-designed’ environment, which also have implications for the non-human world. Urban planning, architecture, landscape design, lighting and interiors are just a few examples. And believe it or not, environmental design is an ethos that dates back to the Ancient Greeks and the very first iterations of solar power.

When we talk about environmental design, we’re referring to the development of practices, policies, spaces and products that enhance the health and wellbeing of both humans and our wider natural environments. It’s a big thing to grapple with, but it’s becoming increasingly urgent that we do so.

Here at Volume, environmental design principles have always anchored our creative passion. For us, you can’t have one without the other, and our motivation for setting up shop was to move away from the traditionally extractive design model to one that champions reciprocity with nature. Sustainability, waste reduction, energy consumption and responsible site management are ingrained in our process, whether we’re working with a client to develop a unique interior space or building a piece of negative-waste furniture.

Our biggest hope is that we’re at the beginning of a movement whereby the things we create will never come at the cost of the planet. So we wanted to share a few of the ways in which we’re embodying environmental design in everything we do.

“This is where we differ from traditional design companies; what we create is beautiful, memorable, unique and sustainable. We don’t have to make compromises”.

We bring our clients on our environmental design journey

It’s really important to us that our clients chime with our values. And we want to help them not only create amazing experiences but also cultivate a positive relationship with nature and their wider communities. So we never just pitch a product or design, we pitch sustainability, reciprocity, circularity and longevity.

We talk to our clients about the true cost of their project – a set of costs that can’t be listed on a CAPEX sheet. Material choices and procurement, for instance, have a carbon and lifecycle ‘cost’, too. So we work with our clients to define a project plan that can best meet our shared environmental goals. And we have Climate Partners on board to support projects through lifecycle analysis and carbon footprint calculation.

We don’t care about trends, we care about longevity

We want to tell our clients’ stories and express the essence of who they are, which has nothing to do with what’s trending right now. And this is good for both the environment and for our customers, particularly from an interior design viewpoint. By creating spaces led by authentic brand stories rather than fads, we’re designing interiors that are fit for the future. And who wants to have to rip out and reinvent entire spaces each year, anyway?

When it comes to product design, many so-called sustainable products don’t have a sustainable lifecycle. You can build a stunning piece of furniture or an art installation from waste seaweed, for example, but if it has to be replaced within a year you’ve completely undermined its environmental design credentials. So, again, when we’re researching and developing  innovative ways to use waste materials, we’re testing our theories for longevity of use, not just how pretty the finish is.

We trust our network, and we love to spread the word

Part of our process is determining the sustainability criteria of our partners and suppliers; understanding their manufacturing techniques, how much waste they produce and how they manage it, etc. We’re very selective of who we work with, and we ask a lot of questions! But in doing so, we ensure we have full traceability and can make responsible recommendations to our clients. We are, afterall, their interpreter.

We’ve put in years of groundwork, and we now have an amazing partner base that we can confidently recommend. For instance, we have contract furniture partners that can supply globally and economically with full traceability and are able to provide sustainable/carbon neutral procurement options. So, everyone wins.

“We’re eagerly anticipating a world where sustainable design is the norm, not the anomaly”.

We’re looking forward to a world where sustainability isn’t a thing

We realise this sounds a bit odd, but bear with us. We can proudly say that responsible, sustainable design is so deeply rooted within what we do that it’s a no-brainer for us. It’s not an afterthought, nor is it forethought, it’s just inherent, in-built and completely intertwined in our creative process. And for that reason, we’d love to be able to stop talking about it. Not because we’re not passionate advocates of sustainability, but because we’re eagerly anticipating a world where sustainable design is the norm, not the anomaly.

So, sustainability or aesthetics? We don’t have to choose

When we started Volume and, subsequently, our negative-waste furniture and product design company, Spared, we set about making beautiful products and experiences that were inherently ‘good’ in every sense. Sustainability and aesthetics sat beside each other at our core from the get go. And this is where we differ from traditional design companies; what we create is beautiful, memorable, unique and sustainable. We don’t have to make compromises.

So, when it comes to environmental design and balancing aesthetics and sustainability, that comes easy to Volume because we’ve always done it. To us, each is equally as important as the other, and we wouldn’t be doing what we do if we couldn’t honour both.