Most of us have homes that are already filled with stuff. It feels weird to say, “Here’s how you buy new stuff but sustainably!” Because most of us do not need any new stuff! But just in case your cat has scratched your couch beyond recognition (true story) and you absolutely need to buy a new one, it’s ideal to opt for sustainably made furniture. (It’s ideal to opt for sustainably made anything, but this post is about furniture, so…)
The furniture in our home is such a vital part of our lives, our family and even our identity. Furniture is generally expensive, so we tend to take time to choose what we really like. And it’s another way to showcase out sense of aesthetics, our financial status, our values in life. Home décor is a signifier of style, and the booming business has always been booming.
The Resource Intensive Nature of the Furniture Business
It is also one of the most destructive industries, unfortunately, since it uses up tremendous amounts of forests (deforestation), causes noise pollution, and excessive use of water and energy, among other things. The furniture industry has taken some steps (led by consumer demand) to reduce its ecological impact, but there’s a whole lot more that needs to be done. For instance, the furniture industry is majorly responsible for the thriving multi-billion dollar business of illegal and unsustainable logging in forests worldwide. The furniture demand in America is fueling deforestation in Central Africa. And, according to the WWF, consumption of tropical timber by the United States and other industrial countries plays a significant role in tropical deforestation.
We all know (or should know) that there aren’t nearly enough forests left in the world. And that deforestation leads to loss of biodiversity, soil erosion, water depletion and climate change.
But we still need furniture (do we? How much furniture do we need?), and it’s best to look for the most eco-friendly and sustainable furniture that’s out there. How can you do that? Well, read on!
Top Tips for Buying Sustainably Made Furniture
The general principles for sustainability are all the same: fewer, higher quality, less destructive purchases that will last a longer time. Let’s do our best! If you’re a bit tight on cash (like moi), then secondhand is a great solution! If you have loads of money (unlike moi), then you have options galore!
Not sure how to go about sourcing sustainably made furniture? Here’s a handy set of tips to help you out!
1. Opt for “Pre-Loved” Furniture: Vintage, Antique and Secondhand Pieces
This is my favorite option. The variety that’s available out there in secondhand stores is mind-blowing! This is also kind of a “cheat” option. If the piece already exists, then you can categorize it as “sustainable” even if it wasn’t originally made sustainably at all. That’s because it takes way less energy to use an existing item than to create a brand new one from virgin material. (This is most obvious with cars as an example, or pre-owned computers and mobile phones).
So, head over to your local secondhand stores (or go online) and look there for a super eclectic variety of furniture pieces for your home. You’re saving perfectly good stuff from being thrown away. An added advantage is that it’s way less expensive than it was when it was brand new, but looks pretty much exactly the same as it did when it was brand new. How cool is that!
Read this post on where to find awesome thrifted furniture.
2. Opt for Sustainably Sourced Furniture
You’re not convinced by the “buy secondhand” argument and would like to buy something that no one else has used. Ok, then there are tons of sustainably made furniture out there made of natural materials, that are also sourced naturally. This translates loosely into ethically made, fairtrade products. Your best bet is to look for companies that sell sustainably made furniture that’s also sustainably sourced and that follow a fairtrade philosophy in their supply chain (fair wages, no exploitation, etc).
What is sustainably sourced material? They generally mean locally sourced from sustainably managed forests. Locally sourced because that involves minimum energy use (transportation), and sustainably managed forests because that involves thoughtful management of the local ecology and communities.
Do look for Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified items. FSC certification ensures that the product has been made from responsible sources and meets FSC’s environmental and social standards. This is a pretty good indication that the furniture you’re planning to buy wasn’t part of the destruction of a forest, its wildlife and community somewhere.
3. Opt for Furniture Made of Natural Materials
You found the perfect furniture item with FSC certification. Awesome! How do you ensure the piece is eco-friendly? (Yeah, you’re not done yet.) A good rule of thumb is to avoid any synthetic materials that could be toxic. Most furniture items have some petroleum-based substances, either used as material (like polyester) or sprayed on for certain reasons (like fire-resistant polymers to make it harder for it to catch fire). These can be incredibly toxic over time, especially for vulnerable family members such as kids and pets.
Try opting for furniture made of natural, nontoxic materials such as cotton, linen, hemp, wood, ceramics, glass, etc.
4. Opt for Quality, Higher Price and Longevity
Instead of buying a new dining set every four years made of cheap material and bought for a cheap price, why not spend a higher amount on a solid, quality piece that will last you a lifetime. I know we’re all spoiled by built-in obsolescence that’s become the norm now. And your question may be, “But what if I get bored by that set and want a change?” Well, then, maybe you should sell your “old” dining set at a furniture store (and maybe choose a “new” secondhand set to take home).
The main point that I’m trying to make here is that we should look at minimizing the use of resources as much as possible. One of the ways to do that is buy buying higher-cost, high-quality, long-lasting items that won’t need to be replaced for a hundred years (or, you know, until you move to a new home and it doesn’t match your mood or your aesthetics anymore).
But why am I stressing on price? Because a high price is an indication of the quality and fairtrade aspect of an item. It indicates that the people who made the product were paid a higher amount, and that the materials were sourced from a high-quality source. Of course, brand value also plays into this, which is why some brands are more expensive than others. It’s a trade-off: don’t buy ridiculously expensive items (especially if, like, me you cannot afford them haha), but also don’t buy ridiculously cheap items – you will be trading off too much money in the first case, or too much quality in the second. (Check out this epic guide to sustainably made furniture brands!)
So, these are my top tips for opting for sustainably made furniture (or, to be more accurate, low-impact furniture). There are some great points on considering the environment in your furniture choices here. Do you have any more ideas? Please comment below!
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