Originally published in STIR®
Despite the current economy, consumers are spending money on eco-friendly products for their homes.

Green living is fast moving from the fringe to the mainstream. Consumers aren't afraid to invest in eco-friendly options for their homes – even in the context of the current economic state. "You can find a green solution to anything and everything," says Jackie Jordan, director of color marketing for Sherwin-Williams. "The consumer is responding to that, and they're doing a lot more research before purchasing products. The demand is definitely there, and it is increasing daily."

The reasons for going green vary. Some want healthier indoor spaces, while others want to save on their electricity costs. Of course, protecting the environment continues to be a driving force among many consumers. From purchasing compact fluorescent bulbs to installing countertops made of recycled glass, homeowners are making changes both big and small that are positively affecting their lives – and the planet.

Simple solutions

Small, straightforward projects can make a big difference in making a home greener. Plus, they're a great starting point for those who may be new to the green lifestyle. Case in point: painting. These days, low- or no-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints and primers resonate with consumers looking to improve their indoor air quality while lessening their effect on the environment. "It seems there are more people now who are more chemically sensitive than there have been in the past," Jordan notes. "People with allergies and asthma are very concerned with what they're putting in their homes. They want a product in which they're not going to have to smell that paint odor."

Sherwin-Williams offers four brands – Harmony®, Duration Home®, ProgreenTM 200 and Builders Solution® – that are considered green. In fact, the water-based paints either meet or exceed Green Seal criteria (GS-11) and the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED certification, thanks to their low VOCs. Furthermore, homeowners don't have to sacrifice color when using these paints. Duration Home, for one, is available in all of Sherwin-Williams' colors.

In addition to their low-VOC content, these four paints provide other green benefits from a sustainability perspective. "You want a product that's durable, which means that you can clean, maintain and wash it without having to repaint," Jordan says. "You also want to apply fewer coats."

Others in the design industry are seeing similar interest in environmentally friendly products. Greenspace, a shop specializing in eco-friendly items in Santa Cruz, Calif. carries such home-improvement products as flooring, stains, tile, countertop materials, furniture, plaster, lighting, linens, and energy- and water-saving devices. Bedding and beds are top products drawing serious interest from buyers. "People are realizing that they spend one-third of their lives in bed, and maybe it's not such a good idea to sleep on a toxic mattress," says Lydia Corser, owner of greenspace and an interior designer who has implemented green techniques for the past 13 years.

For consumers looking to buy new furniture that leans green, manufacturers such as Viesso have committed to environmentally friendly practices and materials; their sofas, for example, are composed of an alder frame certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), springs and legs from recycled steel, recycled or natural fibers for upholstery, and water-based glue and stains.

Accessories offer another simple way for homeowners to go green. Consider products made with sustainable materials such as bamboo or developed by manufacturers who have shown their production and delivery methods are socially and environmentally sound. Another easy green solution: switching from incandescent bulbs to compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs). CFLs consume 75 percent less energy than incandescent lights and last up to 10,000 hours. Saving on water usage is also important to many homeowners. Flow-control valves, aerators and low-flow showerheads are all relatively inexpensive green options.

Thinking bigger

Designers who are helping their clients make more-substantial changes to their homes can find numerous environmentally smart options. A kitchen remodel, for one, provides plenty of opportunities to go green. Homeowners can replace old, energy-draining appliances (which should be properly recycled, of course) with ENERGY STAR®-rated refrigerators and dishwashers. Reusing existing cabinetry and painting or staining it with no- or low-VOC products offers another eco-sensitive outlet.

Changing out surfaces is another hallmark of a major kitchen remodel. Granite countertops are often the go-to choice for many consumers, but its energy- and mining-intensive characteristics – not to mention that it isn't a renewable resource – have prompted eco-conscious homeowners to think twice about this stone's use.

Fortunately, designers can find many alternatives for countertop materials. "Tile is a good countertop material, but people hate it because they're tired of cleaning the grout," Corser says. "However, it's probably the least expensive, most environmentally stable option out there for countertops. You can get large-format tiles, such as 24″ x 24″, which minimizes grout lines."

Many manufacturers now specialize in recycled-content countertops, often available in colorful options. Corser's favorites include Vetrazzo, which uses recycled Skyy vodka bottles, along with beer and wine bottles, in its mix; and IceStone , which is made of recycled glass and concrete and offers a comparable alternative to quartz.

Like countertops, flooring comes in a variety of sustainable options. Linoleum – which has been around for 150 years – is a classic eco-friendly option, because its main ingredient is linseed oil. "A lot of people get vinyl confused with linoleum because vinyl replaced it in a lot of the marketplace after World War II," Corser says. "Linoleum is inexpensive and naturally antimicrobial, and it's a 40-year floor."

Other popular green flooring options include fast-growing bamboo, cork, sustainably harvested FSC wood, seagrass with a natural latex backing, and carpets made of recycled content.

No matter what green products your clients choose, they'll see many benefits by purchasing sustainable items or repurposing existing items in the home. A green lifestyle can reduce energy costs, improve one's health, create long-lasting solutions and, of course, help the planet. And with manufacturers responding to consumers' ever-increasing demand for green, designers can expect an influx of even more innovative, eco-friendly products.