23 Jan

Design trends for 2020: carbon neutral

We are looking to the year ahead, to discover the fashionable design and build trends predicted for 2020. We were not surprised to see an ever-prevailing focus on creating sustainable, carbon-neutral products…

With the number of environmental issues affecting our planet, protecting our world is high on the agenda. Sustainability seems to run through every element of our lives now, from our homes to the food we put on our plates. As an example, 2020 has started with a massive number of people taking part in Veganuary. If those #veganuary food posts in your news feed have made you consider veganism yourself, it is worth understanding that many are choosing plant-based diets for the environment. A study at Oxford University found that cutting out animal products could reduce an individual’s carbon footprint from food by up to 73%. 

Recent reports from NASA confirm that 2019 was the second hottest year on record, and that rising temperatures are due to the increase of carbon dioxide levels emitted into our atmosphere. 2020 will see people searching for an eco-friendly, sustainable way of living on a larger scale. Consumers know they can influence climate change by spending money on eco-friendly products and supporting businesses who reduce their carbon footprint. The design world will continue to produce sustainable products and carbon-neutral alternatives to meet demand. 

The right kind of carbon

Our atmosphere has always contained carbon dioxide. Without it, our planet would be uninhabitable. Carbon dioxide creates a natural greenhouse effect that keeps our climate warm. A natural carbon cycle balances our environment, sets the Earth’s temperature, and allows complex life forms to evolve. 

Animals breathe in oxygen and turn it into carbon dioxide, which they breathe out. Plants and trees do the opposite; taking carbon dioxide from the air and using it to make energy, before releasing oxygen, meaning that plants would not survive without carbon dioxide. Animals consume the plants, and the carbon dioxide continues up the food chain until it reaches either humans or other predators. When a human or animal dies, the carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere through decomposition, back into the carbon cycle. 

Fossil fuels and carbon dioxide

In the late Jurassic period, the Earth’s cycle contained seven times more carbon dioxide. Geologists believe that during this time, decomposition stopped working effectively. Dinosaurs, insects and plant matter ended up in swamps and shallow seas in large numbers, which prevented them from fully decomposing. Their carbon was trapped, unable to get back into the atmosphere and instead sunk into the earth.  Over the next hundred thousand years, the carbon cycle slowly adapted to the change and re-adjusted to the atmosphere that we have today.

Meanwhile, heat and pressure transformed the carbon lost under the ground into coal, oil and natural gases. These million-year-old plants and animals have been turned into our fossil fuels, and they are potent sources of energy. When burned, they release carbon that has nowhere to go. Our natural carbon cycle has changed and cannot take in the additional carbon, so it remains in our atmosphere and unnaturally increases the greenhouse effect. 

How can the design industry help? 

We are burning fossil fuels at a tremendous rate. Even if climate change were not an issue, we would still eventually run out of these non-renewable resources. As a society, we need to switch to greener alternatives. The options are there, with everything from solar and wind-powered electricity to plant-based ‘faux’ plastic now available on the market. 

These products make less impact on climate change because we source them from materials that produce carbon as part of our own, natural carbon cycle rather than from fossil fuels. It is at this point that design can be a positive influence. Designers are the ones who can create change by using innovation to invent new, carbon-neutral alternatives.

Consumers have realised the influence that they have by spending their money with eco-conscious companies. They are choosing to support brands who use alternative plant-based materials or recycled fossil fuels and reduce their operational carbon footprints. 

There are some fantastic companies out there, and we are sure they will be big news in 2020 and beyond. We love British-based design company Weaver Green who make beautiful textiles like blankets and cushions entirely from recycled plastic bottles. Eskayel in New York makes beautiful fabrics using eco-friendly methods, including water-based pigment ink. Fashion designer Stella McCartney has always created sustainable, eco-friendly collections since she began in 2001, and now other fashion names are following suit. Rag & Bone has a denim recycling programme, and DÔEN only uses natural fabrics in their clothing lines. Californian jewellery brand Jennifer Fisher has just announced a partnership with Diamond Foundry, the leader in carbon-neutral, sustainable diamonds, so this is a brand to watch. 

How Westbury stay carbon-neutral

At Westbury, we use a modified timber called Accoya that has been Cradle-to-Cradle Gold certified since 2010. Accoya is CO₂ negative through its full life cycle, from start to finish. It is produced from an abundantly available, fast-growing tree called Radiata pine grown in certified, sustainably managed forests. Its rapid growth rate makes it a renewable alternative to slower-growing timbers like tropical hardwoods and fossil-related materials such as PVC. The pine goes through a non-toxic chemical process called acetylation, giving it both superior thermal insulation and astounding durability. Structures made from Accoya have a guaranteed lifespan of up to 50 years and can be sustainably recycled. 

The most sustainable buildings and landscapes are those that never need replacing. There is nothing worse than an uPVC conservatory that ends up in landfill after a few years because the manufacturers used inferior materials and made shortcuts. By building garden rooms and orangeries designed with longevity in mind, we are not adding to a throwaway culture. The latest techniques and highest quality materials go into the making of every Westbury product, ensuring our garden rooms and orangeries maintain a quality finish for years to come. 

We recently went to see one of our older projects that still has an exceptional finish even though we built it over 20 years ago! At that point, we were not using Accoya, so the fact that it has lasted for so long is a credit to the structure’s design. We hand-finish everything and invest in extensive research and technology to ensure that every aspect of our garden rooms is of the highest quality. 

Even the paint we choose makes a difference to our carbon footprint. We use Teknos, a water-based microporous paint guaranteed to last for up to 12 years. With three spray-applied coats, our timber extensions have an extremely durable and highly protective barrier against weather conditions, moisture ingress, and exposure to high levels of UV and bacteria. 

Without compromising on quality, we are continually developing our techniques to ensure our low-carbon footprint. We think ahead and order materials in bulk to reduce the number of deliveries required. We invested in larger vans so we can make fewer journeys and transport more products at once. We use high tech machines that cut pieces from timber with accurate precision, meaning we produce less offcuts.  We burn what minimal waste offcuts we do have in a biomass boiler to heat the workshops during the winter.

Innovative thinking and a carefully planned approach have been essential when it comes to successfully streamlining our construction processes in an environmentally friendly way. Ultimately, 2020 will see more companies producing low-carbon-footprint products by putting durability at the forefront of design, using sustainable materials and streamlining production processes at every level.