American spend tens of billions of dollars each year on furniture. Many of them will visit a high street store to browse and purchase and get to pay a hefty premium, particularly if the item is a designer brand.
When the item becomes worn out (usually fairly quickly) or the fashion changes (even more quickly) the old furniture is often thrown out and the whole process starts again.
Since each item of furniture needs resources (wood, metal, plastic, rubber, etc.) and energy for both material extraction, manufacture and transportation, the environmental cost and unit price rise together.
Fortunately, it is now trendy to be green so many eco-aware consumers are now ignoring the marketing and looking for ways to look after the planet when they buy furniture.
Here are five tips for sourcing sustainable & eco-friendly furniture:
1) Choose Sustainable Materials
Sustainable materials are those which can be replenished when used. Timber from ancient forests is not sustainable so should be shunned at all costs to avoid damaging habitats and even the climate as a whole (big forests absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide, helping reduce global warming).
Ask questions about the source of any wood you buy. Looking for the FSC label is a good start but be aware that this organization has come under fire from environmental groups who challenge some of its practices.
Bamboo is a versatile material and some varieties can grow as much as four foot per day making plantations easier to manage sustainably. Better still, use driftwood or Rainforest Alliance certified Rediscovered Wood (e.g. sunken logs, diseased trees, unproductive orchard trees, etc.)
2) Think Durability
The longer a consumed product lasts, the more environmentally friendly it is. With every passing generation it seems that the lifespan of furniture decreases with cheaper components used in their assembly. Then there is the power of marketing promoting the latest designs and features. These are rarely necessary for comfort and can make a piece of furniture more likely to wear out and more difficult to repair.
Simple, timeless items of furniture made from good quality materials are more likely to stand the test of time.
3) Find Flexible Items
Durable items that are also versatile are better still. For example, rather than buy a huge dining table that you will only fully use once a month, opt for a small, extendable table. Not only will it be easier to transport (saving fuel costs) and provide more space, you will be more likely to find a use for it around the home if you do invest in a full size dining table further down the line.
4) Avoid VOCs
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are responsible for that ‘just out of the factory’ smell that comes with brand new furniture. Unfortunately, they are also linked with endocrine disruption, birth defects and even cancer. Concentrations of VOCs can be a hundred times higher indoors and pets and very young children are particularly vulnerable as they often lick materials.
Buying second-hand furniture or items that have been naturally treated (or untreated) will help keep you and your family safe and healthy.
5) Don’t Throw Out
Sending your old furniture to landfill removes it from circulation and increases the demand for a new product – with all the production costs and resources that entails. It is far kinder to the environment to maximize a product’s lifespan.
If you have simply become fed up with a piece of furniture, consider either re-purposing it (turning it into something else) or refreshing it with some TLC. For example, this blog post explains how to reupholster your own furniture. If you like it, you could even sell your services to others in your neighbourhood.
If you have to get rid, online sites such as Craigslist and eBay have made it so much easier to sell on old furniture it is almost unethical not to use them. However, if you really don’t want the bother, placing your old furniture outside with a ‘Free to a Good Home’ sign is a convenient alternative.
These five tips will hopefully have stimulated your imagination and kick-started your drive to reduce your ecological footprint.