More people are now warming up to the idea of leading greener lives because the planet, too, is warming up (pun intended). There are numerous ways to lessen our environmental impact and help battle climate change, but one of the simplest is to choose sustainable furniture proactively. Furnishing our homes with products we enjoy but are simultaneously good for the planet is the way of the future.
This guide is intended to demystify the world of sustainable furniture by outlining some of the concepts to understand and factors to consider. It draws on some of the guidance provided by Interiorbeat in their series of articles on sustainable furniture, which you might find helpful if you want to dive deeper.
Sustainable furniture defined
In essence, sustainable furniture is manufactured with materials and processes with a low overall environmental impact. These steps include using wood from recycled or renewable sources, using less toxic chemicals, and emphasizing local manufacturing to reduce the need for transportation, to name a few. Furniture is also considered sustainable if the materials used in its construction are recyclable or reusable.
How to buy sustainable furniture
As with most purchases, the first step is conducting your research. And with information right at your fingertips, it shouldn’t be too hard. It’s worth noting that manufacturers may easily claim their offerings to be green or eco-friendly, so you must educate yourself about genuine certifications and which products are considered sustainable.
Still, having to comb through countless furniture brands’ reputations, history, and environmental initiatives could be a daunting task for most. Luckily, there are companies that have done most of the heavy lifting in this regard. Interiorbeat, for example, is a startup with the inspired concept of bringing all retailers and brands onto one platform, eliminating the need to hop from site to site evaluating items. With this platform, people can get the most comprehensive overview possible and easily pick the most eco-friendly products.
Here are some major factors to consider when looking for sustainable furniture. The list below might look like a tall order to fill but look for brands or products that check more boxes.
Materials account for about 80 percent of a product’s ecological impact, so find out what went into the items you’re thinking about purchasing. Sustainable components come from various sources, from repurposed wood to LED lights. The type of material and how it was collected also play a role in its designation as sustainable.
Source of wood
The most critical thing to ensure with wood is that it did not aid in deforestation and was legally collected from kept forests. Look for wood that has been certified, salvaged, or cultivated on a plantation.
Textile manufacturing is responsible for more water contamination than any other sector because toxic chemicals are used in virtually every step. You may limit hazardous substances in your home and workplace by going for organically grown natural fibers as much as possible.
While leather is mostly a durable byproduct of the beef industry, its tanning can be an extremely harmful process that uses a lot of water and various chemicals. Leather items also have a large carbon footprint because they originate from South America and Europe. If it’s an absolute must-have for you, choose leather items that are exceptionally durable so you won’t have to buy them repeatedly.
VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, are harmful contaminants emitted by some coatings on furniture items. They “off-gas” hazardous chemicals while manufactured and continue to do so until the product reaches your home. Look for finishes with minimal or no VOCs, many of which should also be water-based.
Another significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions is transportation. Look for furniture made locally and constructed out of raw materials procured from within a 500-mile radius of the manufacturing site. Buying locally reduces pollution while also supporting homegrown businesses. Even if a faraway manufacturer boasts efficient logistics, it cannot make up for the carbon footprint left by its long-distance delivery.
Renewable energy initiatives
Electricity generation is the single most significant cause of global CO2 emissions, and companies that have a sound strategy to reduce their energy use are a vital part of the solution. If you find a brand that uses renewable energy sources or is on pace to do so, it’s typically a good indicator.
Look for companies that incorporate recycled parts in their production processes. Some companies utilize repurposed materials such as wood, glass, and iron to make eco-friendly items so beautiful you won’t even notice the recycled components. There are even brands that use flawed wood pieces to add a unique touch.
Affiliations with environmental organizations
If you can find a brand that is particularly outspoken about its ties with green advocacy groups, that’s typically a good sign.
While some believe that “sustainability” has become nothing more than a marketing ploy for manufacturers, there are furniture producers who are earnest in their efforts. The problem is, most companies struggle to quantify their operations’ environmental impact. As mentioned in this post, one solution to this is to rely on certifications and eco-labels as they provide guidance that is often substantiated. As end-users, it is on us to proactively seek out and support sustainable furniture simply because it’s collectively the wise thing to do.