The Best Furniture is Green
10 Keys to Eco-Friendly Furnishings
Our furnishings say a lot about our values, vision and philosophy. But our buying decisions might also say that we think it is okay to contribute to global warming, purchase products of child or slave labor, or select disposable furniture that won’t last.
Fortunately, responsible consumers are beginning to think twice about their purchases. And the furniture industry, aware of their contribution to global deforestation and climate change, and the huge potential to help preserve dwindling rainforests, is producing more eco-friendly furniture. For smart choices, start with the list below.
1. Choose certified sustainable wood.
Because trees absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen, cool Earth’s surface, hold soil in place and provide habitat, deforestation produces devastating consequences. Wood furniture made from sustainably harvested forests and tree farms or from reclaimed wood, is the responsible choice. Look for furniture certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (see FSC.org).
2. Find furniture made with reclaimed materials.
Some furniture is reclaimed from old homes, furniture or factory scraps, or resurrected from river bottoms (logs lost in transport to sawmills) and reservoirs (forested areas submerged in creation of man-made dams or lakes). Look for the Rainforest Alliance’s Rediscovered Wood Certification label.
3. Buy bamboo.
Bamboo includes a family of fast-growing, versatile grasses that can be flattened into flooring, molded into furniture, pressed into veneers or sliced to make window blinds. Most bamboo is grown in China, with few or no pesticides.
4. Embrace recycled metal and plastic.
Furniture made from recycled plastics, aluminum and other metals requires less processing and fewer resources, while supporting the market for recycled materials.
5. Check for easy disassembly and recyclability.
Eco-friendly furniture should be easy to repair, disassemble and recycle. Products certified through MBDC’s Cradle to Cradle protocol exemplify the principle. Avoid hybrids made from an inseparable amalgam of materials, difficult both to repair and recycle.
6. Seek furniture that’s durable and fixable.
Tough, repairable items are less likely to end up in the landfill. Although initially more expensive, they’re more cost-effective than flimsier products and can be passed along to others.
7. Look for low-toxicity furniture.
Furnishings made of synthetic materials or treated with synthetic substances, such as flame retardants and formaldehyde, often off-gas toxic chemicals known as volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. Studies show that indoor air quality is often worse than outdoors, due in part to VOCs, which have been linked to birth defects, endocrine disruption and cancer. They’re a particular hazard to children and pets.
Check for Greenguard product certification (GreenGuard.org) to ensure low toxicity. Look for furniture that is untreated or treated with natural substances—natural wood finishes, naturally tanned leather or organic cotton.
8. Buy vintage.
Pre-owned goods can be the greenest of all. Vintage and second-hand furniture requires no additional resources to manufacture, is often locally sourced (cutting transportation), is already off-gassed, and eases the load on the landfill. Note: avoid buying painted furniture from the early to mid-20th century, which may contain lead, or use a paint-testing kit from a hardware store.
9. Buy local.
Just like food, parts of a piece of furniture might have traveled thousands of miles to reach us. Look for furniture made close to home to support the local economy and independent craftspeople, while decreasing the environmental costs of shipping.
10. Give furniture a makeover or find it a good home.
Furniture tastes and needs change over time. Why not repurpose or freshen furniture with a new finish or paint? If it’s time to discard an item, make sure it gets reused: sell it via CraigsList.org, eBay.com, the local paper or the next yard sale; donate it through Freecycle.org; or place it curbside with a “Free” sign. No sturdy artifact should have to live for eternity in the landfill.
Source: Adapted from TreeHugger.com
Click here for A Consumer's Guide to Buying Wood