Job: Sustainable interior designer
The role: Sustainable interior designers create spaces that adhere to traditional design principals while also incorporating environmentally friendly practices.
“They have that layer of design and understand how to structure a space, but looking at it in a way that will positively impact the environment,” explains Angie Huk, vice-president of marketing and customer engagement for ECO Canada, a non-profit online resource for environmental careers.
Ms. Huk adds that sustainable interior designers are given the task of incorporating sustainable practices into “planning, efficient use of space, choosing materials that have low environmental impacts, and reducing energy consumption, pollution and waste.”
Sustainable interior designers are typically employed as independent consultants or as part of a larger interior design or architecture company, and split their time between office and field work. Working as part of the project team, they have the task of offering solutions, designs and concepts that will reduce the environmental impact of a development project.
“They could be involved in writing specifications, working drawings or construction documents, preparing tender drawings for contractors, choosing materials and suppliers to co-ordinate installation, and forcing environmentally conscious products that would be leveraged in the projects that they’re running,” Ms. Huk says.
Salary: According to research conducted by ECO Canada, the starting salary of a sustainable interior designer depends on their level of education.
“If somebody had gone to school and only earned a diploma, they would only be starting around $36,000 to $45,000 [per year],” Ms. Huk says. “If they have gone to school and have an undergraduate degree in interior design or architecture specializing in environmental design, they could be earning around $54,000 per year [to start], eventually making upward of $100,000 per year, depending on the type of industry they’re working in.”
Ms. Huk adds that those who only earn a diploma could also reach a six-figure salary, although it will likely take longer. Furthermore, salary in the industry is often tied to geographical location and local economic conditions, as sustainable building practices are more often used in a strong economy. “That influences how successful you’re going to be in this market because of demand,” she says.
Education: Sustainable interior designers are typically required to complete some form of relevant postsecondary training. Many employers, however, require a minimum of an undergraduate degree as well as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.
“Most folks that would have an aptitude for this role should have strong marks or an interest in design and communication arts, math, computer science and English,” Ms. Huk says. “A lot of folks that get into interior design go on to get their master’s in architecture as well.”
Job prospects: Employment opportunities for sustainable interior designers will often depend on local market conditions, as well as the individual’s level of training and experience.
“Over the last couple of years, jobs in sustainability have grown about 20 per cent over all,” Ms. Huk says. “We’re expecting to see that growth continue at a rate of about 4.5 per cent per year until 2024, so there’s a lot of opportunity.”
Challenges: As an industry often closely tied to local economic conditions, opportunities for sustainable interior designers can be inconsistent year to year, especially for those who are self-employed. “A lot of these roles are project-based, so there’s a lot of peaks and valleys; sometimes, you have really good years, some years are going to be really lean,” she says.
Why they do it: Sustainable interior designers often enjoy working in a field that combines creativity with the ability to solve complex problems, and have a passion for environmental sustainability.
“For someone who’s got that creative thread in them, this is a chance to really let those skills shine,” Ms. Huk says. “It’s about making things beautiful while creating a space you can feel good about.”
Misconceptions: While sustainability has long been a topic of consideration within the interior-design field, it has only recently been established as a unique position with additional training requirements. As a result, many in the industry are yet to recognize the position as being distinct from traditional interior-design roles.
“There’s a misconception that it’s a bit of a fluff role, that anyone can do it,” says Ms. Huk, adding that many industries in Canada are in the process of gradually introducing new roles specific to sustainable practices.
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