Ethical interiors: Buying sustainable doesn't mean sacrificing necessity

It’s not as hard as we might think to buy for our homes in a sustainable way while meeting our
consumer needs, writes Carol O’Callaghan

The Odger chair is part of the Sustainable Futures range from Ikea, made with 70% recycled plastic and 30% renewable wood (€75).

e would be hard-pressed in today’s world to find someone who doesn’t make some effort to recycle packaging that comes with virtually everything we buy, be it flimsy supermarket plastic bags for loose tomatoes, or the cardboard box for a television.

It’s all in the interests of sustainability, a buzz-word for modern times which has largely replaced ‘eco-friendly’ but with a broader definition.

“A sustainable product is something you buy and don’t feel guilty about, and are comfortable to support from the point of view of materials used and human rights,” says sustainability consultant Ali Sheridan.

100% organic and Fairtrade cotton is used in luxury bed linens by Irish company White & Green. Duvet sets come with two pillowcases from €119 and can feature a thin colour border. Pillowcase pairs from €38.

To get started, Ali has five top tips to implement at home to fulfil consumer needs responsibly.

  • Get Informed — research the brands and companies you buy from. Do they have a sustainability policy?
  • Check out eBay, DoneDeal, Freetrade, and Facebook pages for local buy and sell or swap opportunities in your area. Charity shops like Oxfam Home also have hidden gems.
  • Buy less and buy better — quality over quantity. Do you really love the product? Will it last or break in six months?
  • Can you revamp something you have by painting it or moving it to another room? There are lots of courses available to learn new skills, and video tutorials online.
  • Support ethical and eco-friendly brands and retailers.

Points 2, 3 and 4 are easy to tackle, and to help with 1 and 5 there are websites which have already done the work for us.

  • gives scores to well-known brands, including high street retailers, on the basis of their sustainability.
  • showcases all things sustainable in Ireland, including seminars and talks. Check out the lifestyle section for campaigns and the family section for sustainable domestic products.
  • offers ideas for sustainability measures at home. Although UK focused, sections like ‘Do something today’ and ‘Browse top tips’, are applicable everywhere and are refreshed and updated regularly.
  • talks about how to make homes more sustainable and save money.
  •, otherwise known as the Environmental Protection Agency, has its ‘Live green’ section with simple and inexpensive actions for waste and upcycling and cutting energy bills.

Of course, all of this doesn’t mean we stop buying new things. Happily, there are companies trading on sustainable credentials which are worth checking out.

For instance, [url=] makes luxury 100% organic cotton bed linen. Owner Rebecca Winckworth, says: “We couldn’t find really high-quality bed linen that was ethical and still affordable.

“Cotton is known as white gold. It’s an industry renowned for human rights abuses, which is why it’s so important our products are Fairtrade and pesticide-free. Generic cotton uses 25% of global pesticides.”

Ikea’s placemats are handmade from natural, sustainable materials to complement plain or patterned tablewares and textiles (€3.65 makes kitchen textiles from tea towels and placemats to coasters and felt wine bottle wraps, all from ecologically friendly materials using a manufacturing process that keeps environmental impact minimal.

Meanwhile, designs and makes furniture pieces and homewares from salvaged materials.

Using wood, metal, and concrete, it fashions chairs, benches, side tables, planters, and clocks. makes 100% Irish linen textiles including napkins, tea towels, aprons, and cushions, sustainably dyed with natural colours.

High street retailers are also rising to the challenge of becoming more sustainable. Agnieszka Wojcik, interior design specialist at Ikea UK & Ireland, says: “The Sustainable Futures range follows the theme that people are wanting to make smaller changes in their lives to make a big difference. It ensures that the fibres can be separated out at the end of a product’s life and recycled so they can be used again in production.”

Kathryn Davey’s Irish linen home textiles are naturally dyed in muted tones and range in price from €18-€80.

The Odger dining chair is the result, a hybrid of man-made and natural materials moulded from 70% recycled plastic and 30% renewable wood for a modern, design-led finish. The range of tables, shelving units, and mats are easy on the eye compared to furniture made from recycled materials in the past, which were more shabby than chic.

Another Swedish retailer, H&M, is also pursuing sustainability credentials. Using everything from recycled wool to recycled polyester, it has designed the Conscious range across its homeware and clothing ranges. Easy to identify on its website, each Conscious item photo is labelled with a green sticker.

“More and more chain stores and high street retailers are making changes,” says Ali Sheridan. “Often these brands appeal to more sustainability-aware millennials so they face the biggest challenges, but they’re going in the right direction.”

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