Expert panel: Consumers see beyond greenwashing

The Los Angeles design community prides itself on being the epicenter of all things wellness and sustainable, and when the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood held its Fall Market on Sept. 21, it hosted engaging events centered on these topics.

Luxury outdoor furnishings producer Sutherland and upscale game table source 11 Ravens put their own twist on the topic. And Laura Eckstein Jones, editor-in-chief of Angeleno and other Modern Luxury group magazines, led an insightful discussion on the pervasiveness of green interior design and what consumers want now with designers Lori Dennis and Greg Roth, architect Michael Katsibas, green real estate agent and home adviser Izumi Tanaka, and designer and marketer Sea Zeda.

Looking beyond the label

Designing products and homes through the lens of wellness was once fringe, only for the “hippy-dippy” Los Angelenos, one of the panelists joked, but it eventually permeated the industry some 15 years ago and spread beyond the state.

Prior to that, homes were often considered spaces that would isolate or protect people from the outdoors rather than connect them with it. Now consumers and design clients everywhere are doing their research and reading content and construction labels on their decor and furnishings the way they do food packaging. And they want two things, the panelists said: affordable green products and companies that go beyond greenwashing.

Consumers are on to you, brands! One major takeaway from the panel’s discussion was how often consumers are asking about what goes into making a product green, which brings the issue of greenwashing centerstage. Unfortunately, to find out if many products are sustainably produced and sourced, “you gotta go a few lines down” on a brand’s website or product label, Dennis said.

Consumers and design clients are taking many factors into consideration when shopping green products instead of simply accepting that a product is “eco” because it is labeled as such. They also want to know:

  • How long will it last?
  • How easy is it clean and maintain?
  • Where was it made and how was it transported?
  • How are the workers and makers who produced the item treated?
  • When building or remodeling: How much waste is produced? Where is it going? How is that being offset?

Tanaka talked about the San Francisco-based Good Future Design Alliance, a coalition of design-build professionals dedicated to reducing waste. The alliance is an excellent resource for design professionals looking to go beyond greenwashed labels and wanting to offer authentic, sustainable products and services to their clients, she said. Tanaka also emphasized the importance of talking about the benefits of the green features in the home the way you would use “great natural light” as a selling tactic. Rather than simply labeling a product green because it’s made from natural materials, those in the home industry should explain why that’s beneficial.

What does a sustainable home look like?

Another thing that complicates the marketing of green products is that “green” does not have one look. “Many green features are invisible,” Tanaka noted.

Roth, senior interior designer with CarbonShack and Home Front Build, a design-build firm focused on restoring historic homes in Los Angeles, emphasized that designing green is an approach rather than a singular aesthetic. “There are opportunities in every home (to incorporate sustainability). It doesn’t matter the style,” he said.

As a result of spending more time at home since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, consumers and design clients are finally asking the question designers have always wanted them to ask: “How can I use this space better?”

This opens up the discussion of sustainability as an approach to home furnishings, interior design and home building more than ever before. 

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