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Sustainable Furniture. Fad or is it here to stay?

Sustainable Furniture. Fad Or Is It Here To Stay?

If you’re looking to move into a world where everything around you is eco-friendly and sustainable, have you considered looking closer to home? If so, then it’s well worth exploring the green credentials of sustainable furniture. 

In its most basic form, sustainable furniture is manufactured using materials that are defined as renewable. Alternatively, it can also cover materials that have either been recycled or repurposed. 

However, sustainable furniture goes far and beyond just the manufacturing process. On the contrary, it makes considerations about the entire end-to-end process, such as how the furniture itself has been transported from the eco-friendly factory to your doorstep. 

If you’re interested in finding out more about what sustainable furniture is, what makes it unique, and why it’s an important part of the eco-friendly household journey, be sure to read on!

What is sustainable furniture?

First and foremost, there is often a misconception about what sustainable furniture actually is. Most people mistakenly associate sustainable furniture and green furniture as one of the same thing. This couldn’t be further from the truth. 

While you’ll often see furniture manufacturers selling their prime pieces as green, this simply refers to some, or all, of the materials used to make it. For example, manufacturers might utilize materials such as hemp, cork or straw in the design process. 

As great as this is, this isn’t sustainable furniture. 

To support this viewpoint, let’s remind ourselves of what sustainable actually means. 

The general consensus is that for something to be sustainable, it needs to be:

  • be of high quality
  • facilitate a need by consuming as little resources and energy as possible

Therefore, for furniture to be sustainable, it needs to meet the above metrics. The only way that this can be achieved is if the entire manufacturing and supply chain process remains constant with the main pillars of sustainability. 

As we noted earlier, this starts at the very offset with sourcing renewable or recycled materials, transporting the goods in the most eco-friendly of manners, and ensuring that the build of the furniture itself is of high quality to ensure long-lasting usability.

Sustainable Furniture Desk

In other words, even if your furniture has every single nut and cranny built using the most eco-friendly materials available, if you find yourself replacing it three years later, this is simply green furniture as opposed to sustainable furniture. This is also the case if your furniture is built in such a manner that the materials cannot be reused further down the line.

So now that we’ve covered the ins and outs of what sustainable furniture is, in the next section we are going to explore what you need to look out for when searching for sustainable furniture.

How to assess whether the furniture is actually sustainable

If you’re actively involved in living a life that is as sustainable as practically possible, and thus, you’re constantly on the lookout for legitimately sustainable products, then you’ll know how challenging this can be. As is the case with everything in the world of eco-friendliness, it is crucial that you start the process by conducting as much research as possible. 

Here are some of the things you should look out for when evaluating whether the furniture is actually sustainable. 

  1. Certification

Certification in the world of sustainability is still a growing phenomenon. Although no globally recognized organization is yet to surface across the entire sustainability sphere, there is still a range of not-for-profit certification entities that are worth exploring.

For example, if your furniture contains wood, have you checked whether or not it has been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council Certification (FSCC)? The organization is known worldwide as the de-facto certifier in well-managed forests. Among a number of other assurances, the FSCC ensures that the wood was grown without utilizing harmful chemicals and that an end-to-end re-harvesting trail can be transparently verified.

  1. Avoid multi-national companies

On the one hand, if you’re looking to buy reasonable quality furniture at the best price possible, then you’re probably going to want to use a multi-national furniture company. 

The main reason for this is that such companies have the manufacturing and supply chain capabilities to produce furniture at a significantly lower cost than smaller retailers, not least because they deal in bulk quantities. 

Sustainable Furniture Workshop

However, you can bet your bottom dollar that the multinationals use very little, if any, eco-friendly or sustainable products during the manufacturing process. I often find that when a large furniture company does market its products as sustainable, upon closer inspection, this is merely a certain part of the manufacturing process. 

Sure, it’s great that they are using wood certified by the FSCC, but what about the below-the-breadline wages they are paying their third-world workers? 

Once again, the key point here is that sustainable furniture suppliers must attempt to consider the entire end-to-end process of sourcing materials, manufacturing, production, storage, and delivery. 

Therefore, the only way to truly purchase sustainable furniture is to either use a local eco-friendly supplier, or a specialist manufacturer that has a clear and transparent platform to verify its sustainability claims.

  1. Consider buying pre-loved furniture

There is often a split in opinion on this point. Let me explain. 

By using second-hand online retailers such as eBay or Apt Deco, you have the chance to not only grab yourself an absolute steal of a deal, but you can avoid purchasing furniture that needs to be built from scratch. 

Sure, some will argue that by buying your furniture online, you stand the risk of having it shipped thousands of miles. I can’t dispute that ordering furniture that requires a lengthy delivery is not sustainable in the sense that it has a direct impact on the carbon footprint trail. 

However, and perhaps more importantly, in doing so, you completely avoid the need for new resources to be sourced, used, destroyed and wasted. 

Pre Loved Furniture Store

As I always say, we would be lying to ourselves if we said we are 100% eco-friendly and sustainable in each and every area of our lives. If we were, we wouldn’t buy our morning coffee in Starbucks or drive a fuel-hungry car to work. 

However, what we can do is try to implement as many positive changes in our lives as possible. “Doing our thing” as it is often called, is a lot better than doing nothing.

  1. Combine household items to avoid unnecessary production

While I admit this particular tip is slightly more extreme than the others I have brought to the table, I think it’s well worth considering. In fact, I actually came across this tip when I began researching the phenomenon of tiny houses. If you haven’t come across a tiny house before, you should most definitely check them out. 

They allow people to downsize to the absolute bare minimum, subsequently facilitating a life of long-term self-sustainability and freedom – something that a traditional property can’t offer. 

Anyway, the reason I bring this up is that tiny houses are required to utilize each and every inch that is available. As such, you’ll often find that tiny house residents will design and build sofas and beds that are one of the same unit. 

In other words, by utilizing a single manufacturing process to build two large household items, you can significantly reduce your impact on the environment. 

Once you add this into only buying products that are sustainable and eco-friendly, you’re on to an absolute winner!    

  1. Evaluate quality to the ‘t’

When it comes to buying sustainable products, we need to ensure that the underlying materials used are of the highest quality. Otherwise, even if they are eco-friendly, it would be a pointless exercise if we needed to replace the furniture a few years down the line. 

The only way to make this assessment is to understand every nut and cranny that is required to make the furniture.  

Sustainable Furniture Materials

For example, most furniture manufacturing processes require the use of wood. However, did you know that there is a huge disparity in the quality of each species of wood? While the likes of Mahogany offer the strongest and most durable characteristics, others, such as pine, are super lightweight, and thus, far from sustainable. 

If you don’t have the information to hand, you might want to look at the grain and colour of the wood, as this provides us with a wealth of information on its quality. 

Main take-away?

If you’re here reading this opinion piece, then it’s likely that you’re looking to make some distinct changes in your life that will allow you to live a more sustainable and eco-friendly existence. If this extends to your household items such as furniture, then I take off my eco-friendly hat to you! 

While sourcing suitable furniture to meet these needs is no simple feat, I hope that by reading my article you now possess a few tips to ease the process. 

Ultimately, living a sustainable and eco-friendly life is a constant work-in-progress. As such, if you have any tips or suggestions of your own, I’d really appreciate you leaving me some comments below.

David

Frugalic Founder David holds a Bachelor's Degree in Accounting and Finance and a Master's Degree in Finance and Responsible Investment. After working for multiple startups, David started his own online marketplace for durable goods and Frugalic as an outlet for his 'research based ramblings'.

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