This probably isn’t a question that you ask yourself often, but: just how eco-friendly is your furniture? As a matter of fact, what is eco-friendly furniture anyway? In the simplest possible terms, eco-friendly furniture is furniture that is created in a manner that has minimum negative impact on the environment. For example, where wood is used, it has to come from renewable sources, and any chemicals used in the process do not pollute or otherwise harm the environment. Also, delivery and mileage are kept to as low a level as is possible, minimizing the use of resources. The term can additionally be used to describe furniture that has been created from recycled items. It’s the dream of a sustainable living enthusiast – and business is starting to get in on the act.
Big Green Business
In the last few years, as the US economy has recovered from recession, small and large businesses across the country have learned that going green often means making green. Growth rates for green business products and services are rising faster than conventional goods, which is making more and more companies interested in the sustainability boom. Such products and services include:
- Fair trade food
- Organic food
- Organic non-food
- Social investing
- Green building
- Renewable energy
All of these sectors have seen very promising revenue growth. Of course, it’s a great thing to work towards saving the environment – but you might as well make some money doing it! And it’s driven overall by consumer demand for sustainable products. For example,e between 2002 and 2011, the organic food segment grew 238%, whereas the overall food ,market grew 33%; similarly, the use of renewable energy grew 456%, while the use of non-renewable fuels actually fell by 3.2%. So it looks like with healthy products come healthy profits.
Big Green Furniture
Coming back to furniture, a number of companies have started to explore whether there is a market in eco-friendly varieties, and several have apparently determined that there is. Alongside generally improving their day-to-day operations by making manufacturing processes more eco-friendly – such as reducing and recycling waste, reducing energy use, using less transportation, and conserving water – they have also been exploring making products out of sustainable materials.
Recycled materials or ‘rapid renewables’ such as bamboo, which grows very fast, are the obvious first step here. There is also the possibility of making products from wood from a local forest to cut down on the amount of transportation required. Products that require little processing, like granite benches, require very little energy for manufacturing, therefore improving their eco-friendliness. Another thing that companies are trying to avoid is making things from harmful chemicals and toxic compounds, like wood preservative or creosote, chlorine, PVCs and volatile organic compounds. In terms of furniture, especially for companies looking to buy for the office, perhaps a chair could be made from recycled materials, or office workstations could be constructed from reclaimed wood. After all, if a company can proudly boast that its offices are made from recycled material, that’s definitely a unique selling point!
Big Green Shopping
So how does one find this kind of furniture? It’s not like there’s an ‘organic’ furniture labelling category like for clothing and food, although perhaps it isn’t far off. For now though, you’ll have to be smart and enjoy hunting for exactly what you want. You can find a few things labelled organic; upholstered furniture like chairs and sofas stuffed with natural latex foam and covered in organic fabrics, for example, or organic cotton, latex or wool mattresses. Organic mattresses are pricey though, so look into organic futons instead if you have a limited budget. Organic isn’t necessarily the be-all and end-all anyway, so there are plenty of other options.
One option is to look for the logo of the Forest Stewardship Council (FTC), an international non-profit agency that encourages sustainable forestry, and offers FTC certification to companies that comply with its requirements. If you buy FTC-certified wood furniture you’ll be able to trace it back to exactly where it was harvested. Also consider furniture made from the previously mentioned bamboo, which grows fast (and is therefore sustainable) and with typically few to no pesticides. Finally, steer clear of toxic materials, and consider pieces made from metal or glass, or solid wood – but watch out for finishes that might contain environmentally harmful VOCs. Avoid stain-resistant or inflatable furniture, or furniture made from manufactured wood products.
Finally, consider buying local, to keep those carbon emissions from long-distance transport right down. Or shop for vintage – many old pieces of furniture have no manufacturing costs associated and they’re not going to offgas any more. When all else fails, recycle, reclaim or repurpose… or, if you’re inclined that way, just make your own! There are many options but it’s never been easier to find sustainable furniture. Good luck!