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Sustainability in Design: Craig Harris Interview

Updated: May 1

Considering how design impacts the environment is no longer a choice - for interior design professionals it's a responsibility. However, sustainability doesn't need to be uninspiring or complicated! In our modern world of options and technological advances, we can make change happen in small and beautiful ways. We caught up with Craig Harris, Principal of LID Consulting ahead of the Seminar Series: Sustainability for Interior Design to find out more.

man smiling in blue shirt
Craig Harris, Principal of LID Consulting. Photo from

TDC: Tell us a bit about your story. How did you come to be running a Sustainability Consulting firm?

CH: Like many people I spent a little bit of time figuring out exactly what I wanted to do. Some people I know might be surprised to learn I originally studied commerce and ended up working as an accountant, but it wasn’t for me. I then spent 16 years as a Consultant and Construction Project Manager where I gained a good grounding in the construction industry. I spent a long time delivering great projects but found myself feeling that there was a lot of room for improvement in the standard methods of construction and development.

I decided to approach things from a different angle and in 2009 began Low Impact Development (LID) Consulting with a view to identifying and consulting to industry on how we could improve our practices. I felt that getting involved at a different point in the life cycle of a project provided much more power to change the final outcomes and gave me a better chance of making a difference. Now we advise on sustainability and waste initiatives nationally on both residential and non-residential projects including schools, estates and precincts as well as larger, more high level planning endeavours by councils.

TDC: In simple terms, what does your firm do?

CH: We review, consult and report on planned construction and development projects for architects, planners and project managers. We look at their projects through the lens of sustainability and intervene on mother nature’s behalf. We prescribe and integrate methods of realising those projects that negate or minimise harmful effects to the environment and introduce initiatives that really consider the wellbeing of the end user as well. We undertake a range of services including the design of effective waste management solutions, conducting daylight analyses, reviewing energy consumption and efficiency, provide sustainable materials advice and a slew of additional sustainability-related services. All our recommendations are made with a view to our larger goal, which is to assist construction and development in sitting lightly on our earth and supporting the natural environment instead of damaging it.

industrial looking building
LID Consulting Project at 78-80 Stanley St, Collingwood by SJB. Photo courtesy of LID Consulting.

TDC: You play a big part in how the built environment is emerging around us. How do you see the Design Industry evolving and responding to Sustainability?

CH: I think everyone is aware that both the need and the demand for more sustainable options is growing rapidly, which is heartening to see. I think the best and most effective response from a design perspective is actually early involvement; the sooner you can be involved in a project and inject a sense of responsibility around making eco-friendly choices, the more likely that goal will be integrated into a project. Incorporating sustainability needs to be a key goal from the outset of a project that all parties can check back in with throughout the project’s life as you would with any other aesthetic, budgetary or functional goal. This is a behaviour which I both hope and expect to see becoming a more common demand from clients as well as growing to be a standard project consideration by service providers in the industry.

TDC: Why should designers educate themselves about Sustainability?

CH: There are many reasons designers should educate themselves in this field, besides the fact they have a chance to make a difference of course! Designers have the opportunity to impact the nature of consumption habits on a larger scale as they directly impact the purchasing behaviours of their many clients. This makes them an important link in the consumer chain and also means that their behaviours are somewhat amplified, even if they aren’t aware of it. This being the case there is a huge opportunity for the Design Industry to bring clients along on the journey of sustainability.

Not only are sustainable choices the unmistakeable trend of the future, it also offers designers an opportunity to differentiate themselves in a variety of ways. Sustainable design will ideally have longevity in its appeal and function due to solutions that are more considered and thoroughly conceived, both for its users and for future environmental changes.

Sustainable design is also highly synergistic with the discipline of interior design in general as it has a key focus on better living; better amenity and comfort and lower consumption - and therefore lower cost - are huge considerations as is a better connection to the environment. These elements seem to fit naturally as part of the design equation. I could go on about this one for some time!

cartoon drawing of scales iwth industrial vs nature

TDC: You’re also a successful business owner like many of our readers. After a decade in business what advice would you give on how to balance business goals, manage a team, make a difference and be profitable all at the same time?

CH: It is definitely a balancing act, but I find delegation is very important in allowing me to being efficient and effective, and having clear goals helps too because running a firm can pull you in a variety of directions. Personally I have also learned over and over again the value in finding ways to keep yourself engaged, invested and energised – both for yourself and for the team you are leading. Bringing in new people and their energy and ideas is really useful in achieving that, as is attending industry events, listening to thought leaders in your field and surrounding yourself with passionate people.

garden state hotel front of building
LID Consulting project at Garden State Hotel, Melbourne. Photo courtesy of LID Consulting.

TDC: What are you and your team working on at the moment that you are excited about?

CH: In addition to our ‘business as usual’ services, we are also working on a range of additional services that serve the wider community and help us contribute to our goals of promoting sustainable living. These include School Sustainability Plans, where we review and make recommendations on a diverse range of methods for improving and/or creating sustainable practices in schools, Climate Change Adaptation Plans, where we look at expected changes to the climate and ensure new buildings have accounted for those changes in their design and Life Cycle Design where we analyse energy consumption through the period of construction of a building or development, just to name a few. There are so many opportunities to consider how we can change our behaviours in order to lighten our footprint on the earth and we like to get involved to contribute these valuable insights wherever we can.

TDC: What are some of the most impactful elements that can increase sustainability in Interior Design?

CH: One really impactful element is interrogating the size of the build itself. The quantity of materials used are directly impacted by this, and sometimes simply questioning clients as to why they might need the things they request is a conversation that just doesn’t happen. We seem to live in a time where we often have more than we need, so questioning the need for an excessive footprint is a great place to start, and can have positive flow on effects for many other elements of a build – including budget of course!

Optimising daylight and ventilation are also incredibly important considerations, as are

the right materials and fixtures selections; elements that are used in large quantities such as floor coverings and joinery should be well researched to ensure their longevity, integrity and minimal environmental impact where possible.

Another major element is helping clients understand how to use the high performing inclusions they have; lots of fancy inclusions may be installed but without the knowledge to use them correctly they may never reach the intended level of benefit. A thorough and well documented handover cannot be underestimated in this sense.

mock up of outdoor space with people
LID Consulting project at Soho Village, Point Cook Victoria. Photo Credits: LID Consulting

TDC: What are some quick sustainability wins when specifying products for a project?

CH: One way to incorporate sustainability into a project is to specify products that are made using waste or recycled products; as sustainability becomes more mainstream the number of products that meet this criteria have grown enormously which is great to see. Another easy win is to concentrate on the larger items or more harmful items and get them right first.

Specifying products that are made locally or minimise packaging are also very helpful. It’s good practice to simply ask suppliers and contractors or tradespeople how they deal with packaging and waste. It starts with a conversation but really promotes accountability and could result in significant changes over time. This is particularly important on construction and demolition sites. For example, if new walls are going up in a project, plasterers should always be given their own bins for waste and should not be adding it to the general waste skip. Plaster is simply made of paper and gypsum which is readily recyclable at a variety of locations across Victoria and other states, and need not be thrown into the trash with other waste.

Continuing along the same vein, it’s also a good idea to ask suppliers about the process of manufacturing what they sell so you know about where it comes from and how it was produced. Were there harsh chemicals involved or a large amount of unnecessary waste generated in the process?

green maple leaf
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

TDC: What kinds of resources are available to Interior Designers and Decorators who want to make more environmentally conscious design choices?

CH: There are a range of 3rd party certification schemes that exist to help people identify environmentally friendly products. FSC timber categorisation is a little more commonly known and helps identify responsibly sourced timber in line with responsible management of the world’s forests. Another useful resource is the Global Green Tag website which compiles and classifies an international range of products with relation to the sustainability credibility. You’ll find well known brands such as Herman Miller, Muuto, Laminex and Navurban included here. The Declare label is also a useful tool in deciphering what is and is not a ‘healthy’ product according to its manufacturing and composition.

a label specification  example
Declare Label Specifications. Image taken from:

We recognise that determining whether products are ecologically friendly is not an easy task, so we are trying to make things easier by building a useful website platform for the design industry which helps simplify decision making for sustainability - it's still under construction at the moment but should be ready in time for our upcoming Seminar Session with the Design Coach in December which I’m really looking forward to. I believe if we all do our small part to contribute, we can absolutely change the trajectory of our industry and lead it in a much more favourable direction.

green tag label
Screenshot taken from Global Green Tag website.

With the right information, guidance and resources, sustainable design will easily become a valuable extension of your design business. Join us for an inspiring and informative Seminar Session to learn more from our expert, Craig Harris. Personally, I'm looking forward to learning more about their latest initiative - a dedicated website to help us make the right choices.

If you have any topics that you’d like covered by our Masterclasses or Seminar Series, let us know by emailing and we’ll make it happen! Limited tickets for the Seminar Series: Sustainability are available here.

Time & Location


DATE: Thursday 12th December 2019

TIME: 5.00pm - 7.00pm

LOCATION: Ink & Spindle, SH1.32, Level One Sacred Heart Building, Abbotsford Convent, 1 St Heliers St, Abbotsford VIC 3067, Australia

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