12 Eco-friendly ways to decorate your home sustainably

13 August 2021 | Celia Topping

DIY and interior design have become national obsessions – particularly during the pandemic, with us all spending more time at home. We love showing off our new feature walls, slick kitchen cabinets and huge comfy sofas. But all those paints, papers and plush furnishings have a carbon footprint. 

Try our 12 sustainable ideas for environmentally friendly alternatives that’ll help reduce your carbon footprint while decorating or renovating. So do your bit for the planet, and you can rest on your eco-friendly laurels in a clean, green home fit for a carbon-kicking king!

1. Insulate your doors, walls, windows and lofts

You may not think about insulation as part of sustainable home decoration. But if your home is insulated, you’re reducing heat loss, saving energy and money as well as cutting carbon emissions – and what’s more sustainable than that?! Green home improvements aren’t only about the aesthetics, but about your general wellbeing, as well as the health of our planet. Remember, the way your home feels is just as important as the way it looks. 

To find out more about the best ways to insulate your doors, windows, walls and lofts – we have lots of practical guidance in our content hub, Planet OVO, to help you find the best ways to make your home more energy efficient and live a sustainable lifestyle.  

2. Replace carpets for wooden flooring

We’re not saying you have to rip out all your carpets all at once! But if yours is reaching the end of its lifespan and looking a bit threadbare, maybe it’s time to think of some other options. 

Remember that “new carpet” smell? That’s because synthetic carpets are full of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as benzene and toluene – chemicals and pollutants that harm the planet when produced, and are released into your home for years to come. Going for eco-friendly flooring is an essential first step in decorating your sustainable home, and keeping toxins at bay. Any asthma sufferers in your family will thank you for it too. 

Choose living-green flooring, such as cork, bamboo or reclaimed wood floors. And if you finish the look using water-based paint, stains and sealants with no VOCs, you won’t introduce any nasties into your home environment.

Having said all that, carpets can act as a good insulator and reduce your heating bills. So if you prefer that wall-to-wall look, try to go for hard-wearing natural fibres like 100% biodegradable jute, seagrass or sisal, which are all sustainably farmed. Or if you prefer a softer feel underfoot, check out 100% British wool carpets or cashmere goat-hair carpets. And earth-friendly rugs on wooden floors always look good – but more of that later on…  

3. Use eco-friendly paint and wallpaper

woman choosing paint for interior wall decorating

Giving your room a fresh lick of paint is a relatively quick, easy and cheap way to give your home a new lease of life. But many paints contain nasty VOCs that can release toxins into your home. Be sure to select tins of “low-VOC” paint that don’t contain titanium dioxide, from companies like Earthborn Paints or Lakeland Paints.

Alternatively, you could use recycled wallpaper, or try using stencilling techniques as described in our blog article on DIY ideas to transform your home on a budget. Not only will you create an environmentally friendly space, but it’ll be unique too! 

4. Choose eco-friendly materials for your rugs and textiles

Scandinavia has a lot to answer for, in terms of making us all lust after clean wooden floorboards, artfully strewn with gorgeous snug rugs. But not all rugs are created equal. Make sure the rugs you choose are made from natural fibres like wool, hemp or jute.

Or you could go the recycled route, with rugs made from discarded plastic bottles, like those from Weaver Green. All their rugs and textiles are hand loomed, have the look and feel of wool, yet are machine washable and environmentally friendly. Total win! 

5. Upcycle, recycle, reuse, repurpose

Our nation’s love affair with pre-loved items is in full swing. Vintage, second-hand, antique, or salvaged, we want it all! Vintage textiles can be repurposed into all kinds of eco-friendly decor, including cushion covers, wall-hangings, curtains or even lampshades. And there’s nothing like the thrill of finding a unique one-of-a-kind piece of furniture in a flea market that will be perfect for your home. 

Reusing and repurposing means we put less strain on landfill and eases the energy needed to ship new furnishings. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t like to show off a bit about that mid-century sideboard they found for a few quid down the market?

6. Source sustainable stuff

If you can’t recycle, repurpose or find what you want in a vintage shop, then you could buy new, from sustainable sources of course. Many designers and brands are becoming increasingly aware of their environmental impact (and of their customer’s preferred greener choices) and are creating sustainable products to meet demand. 

Look for the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) when looking for wooden furniture, and hemp, flax, organic cotton and wool for your soft furnishings. There are plenty of modern designers creating beautiful furniture from sustainable sources. Even IKEA are getting in on the eco-friendly act with their kitchen cupboards and chairs made from recycled wood chips and plastic bottles. Just because it’s earth-loving doesn’t mean it has to be expensive. 

7. Source your furniture locally

The Covid-19 pandemic unwittingly started a trend of staying and shopping local – which is actually far better environmentally, as transport costs are cut out completely.

So why not find a maker in your neighbourhood and support your local community – like furniture-maker Sally Jones House, who sources her wood from felled trees in London and the South East, and reclaims timber from broken and discarded furniture in South East London’s building sites. 

8. Swap, donate, surf

woman using laptop

The idea of just chucking out what you no longer need is becoming rather old-fashioned. It’s far more sustainable to pass on what you don’t want, to make room for what you do. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, afterall. 

Charity shops often offer pick-ups for free, and you can find plenty of other places to donate your unwanted items. There are also handy online platforms like Freecycle to find new (old) stuff, or set your stuff free.  Or why not host a “swap party” with some drinks and nibbles, for friends and neighbours to meet and swap their wares. Be warned, you’ll probably end up going home with more than you came with!  

9. Add something special with ethical homeware

Once you have your home decorated to your liking, filled with vintage gems and natural fibres, it’s time to add the finishing touches. Companies like Nkuku offer ethical, eco-friendly and handmade products from around the world. Whereas others, like Wearth London keep it local, by supporting British makers and keeping their carbon footprint low.

Both stock beautiful items, from tableware to wall art. So before you go back to the old faithful stockists you usually use,  discover something a bit more unique from an eco brand. 

10. Bring in a few houseplants

Bringing the outside inside is a sure-fire way to greenify your home in the most natural way possible. Plants are known to be great at purifying the air, and have also been proven to boost our mood, relieve stress and carry a host of other health benefits. 

Even if you’re not green-fingered, there’ll be a plant or 2 to suit you and your home. Check out our blog on how to choose the best plants for every room in your house, to find one to fit. Online delivery services like Beards and Daisies and Patch mean you don’t have to worry about lugging a monster yukka back on the bus – they deliver to your door and give helpful advice on how to look after your leafy friend. 

It’s worth noting that you should be careful about the compost you use when repotting. Peat, which is used in compost, comes from peat bogs, which are invaluable carbon sinks – but they’re being decimated by the gardening industry. Make sure your compost is peat free

11. Use the right kind of lighting 

Another nod to Scandinavian interior design, and the Danish notion of “hygge”. It’s all about cosy, comfortable contentment, which can be partly created with the right kind of lighting. Go for low-light energy-saving bulbs, and candles, to produce the right kind of ambience. But beware cheap candles! They are mainly made from paraffin wax and can contain some nasty VOCs. Instead, choose candles made from natural materials such as beeswax or soy. They burn longer too.  

12. Make your home energy efficient

woman using dishwasher at home

There’s no point being an interiors eco-guru if you then leave all the lights on, turn your thermostat to a toasty 30°C and use your tumble dryer 3 times a day! Living a sustainable lifestyle is all about being efficient with your energy and cutting back where you can.

We have a tonne of energy-saving content on Planet OVO for you to pick up some practical tips, from how to keep your house cool in summer, to the most efficient way to heat your home in winter. And check out our 120 ways to conserve energy blog for small ways you can save energy every day. 

Choose OVO to power your home the green way

OVO Greenlight is our free energy-saving tool that gives you all sorts of useful info about your energy use. It’s free on all OVO plans, and helps you do loads of cool things: 

  • Get an even greener home: see where in your home you use the most electricity or gas (hello, cooker) – and spot ways you can cut waste. With our simple breakdown and tailored tips, you’ll save cash – and cut carbon.
  • Shrink those energy bills: use the tips and advice waiting for you, and you could take a good chunk out of your bills. 
  • Power up at greener times: our handy tool shows you when the energy grid is greenest. So you can do that backlog of washing when it’s kinder for planet Earth. And help the UK ditch coal – for good! 
  • Keep tabs on your home’s carbon footprint: with OVO Greenlight, you’ll see how green your home really is. And compare its yearly footprint with other homes like yours.

So if you want to power your home with 100% renewable electricity1, help fight the climate crisis and get loads of energy-saving tips with OVO Greenlight, join us! You’ll get:

  • A tree planted in your name every single year you’re with us2
  • An award-winning smart meter experience (Uswitch 2020)
  • A £50 gift card every time you introduce a friend

Check our range of plans, and see how much you could save.

Sources and references

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2 Each year, OVO plants 1 tree for every member in partnership with the Woodland Trust. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, so tree-planting helps to slow down climate change.

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