Image courtesy Outer
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By Cara Gibbs
Whether you live in seasonal climates or warmer temperatures year-round, our yearnings for being outside are stronger than ever. Biophilia and connecting to nature is one of the biggest trends in green building, and as we continue to relish time spent outdoors, it’s important that we surround ourselves with furnishings that remain mindful and inherently true to the environments they inhabit. Whether through their intentional materiality or their generational heirloom quality, the eco-conscious designs of the following brands offer endless opportunities to engage with sustainable outdoor furniture. Read on to discover how each brand leader puts sustainable practices to use outside.
OUTER’S ECO-FRIENDLY MATERIALS
Turning heads with each sleek debut, Outer certainly doesn’t hold back on creating modern-minded outdoor pieces. And the same can be said of their eco-conscious craftsmanship. The California-based direct-to-consumer brand set out on a mission to reinvent the approach to outdoor furniture through conscious design, eco-friendly materials, and relying on sustainable supply chains, all while on a quest to become a carbon-neutral business. More than 100 recycled plastic bottles make up each of their fully recyclable all-weather wicker furniture pieces, handcrafted by artisans. And their durable yet soft-to-the-touch custom performance fabric resists stains, fading, and mold.
Most recently, they’ve debuted a Teak collection, made using FSC-certified wood sourced from responsibly managed fields in Indonesia, where multiple carbon-capturing trees are planted to replace the ones they harvest. And the Aluminum collection—weather-resistant and outdoor-ready—is 100% recyclable. Chief Design Officer Terry Lin, who co-founded Outer with Jiake Liu, weighs in on the brand’s design intentions and the power of responsible materials. Image courtesy Outer
Caretakers of the Earth
Q: What strides are you making to bring more sustainability outside?
A: We are getting desensitized to the changing natural world. Studies have shown that getting outside makes you healthier and happier, yet we are spending far less time outside for good reason. You don’t have to look far to see the effects that decades of industrialization have had on our planet. The world is getting hotter, colder, wetter and drier.
As the caretakers of the Earth, we have to take a unified effort to do our part before we cause irreparable damage. That means that we have to look high and low and perform acts great and small. At Outer, our impact is not in the volume of the materials used, but the thinking into the choices that were made. We are currently working with a clean tech partner on developing new material formulations that sequester carbon. The approach is harder, slower and more expensive, but it’s the right one for us.
Q: What’s the lasting impact of your outdoor furnishings?
A: We believe the small acts that we make shine a spotlight and demonstrate to consumers that small companies can make an impact. The collective small acts that consumers, communities and small businesses choose will eventually become big acts. That’s where lasting change can be made.
SUNBRELLA’S SOLUTION-DYED FABRICS
Arguably the leader in durable outdoor textiles, Sunbrella puts their innovation to the test once again with the release of Retweed—the brand’s first sustainable line of performance fabrics. Brought to life by their partnership with Richard Frinier, the collection’s fibers contain up to 93% recycled content while bearing a hand-loomed textural appearance—a textile game changer by all accounts. Available in neutral palettes and earthy hues, Retweed recalls mid-century-modern style and fashionable vintage tweeds.
On a broader scale, Sunbrella is known for the color-fastness and strength of its yarns, ensuring long-lasting furnishings that result in less waste. Though if you do find yourself wanting to update your outdoor scene, you can dispose of your old furniture through their Recycle My Sunbrella program, which has recycled almost one million pounds of fabric to date.
In its own manufacturing processes, Sunbrella is committed to sustainability in a variety of ways. They currently divert more than 90 percent of their waste from landfills and are working toward zero waste in 2022. Their solution-dyed fabrics—which are GREENGUARD Gold-certified with most fabrics meeting the Standard 100 by OEKO-TEX—waste less water than conventional coloring processes, and the Sunbrella factory, along with parent company Glen Raven, operate under solar power. Director of Upholstery Sarah Dooley expounds upon the extensive efforts of sustainability they’re bringing to the outdoors. Images courtesy Sunbrella
Sustainability and Safety are Not Buzzwords
Q: Tell us why sustainability is so important to the Sunbrella brand.
A: Sustainable home design certainly influences everything from color to texture and materials. At Sunbrella, sustainability and safety are not buzzwords—they are central values that define the approach we take to create fabrics that are wear-resistant, cleanable and retain their look and feel over time. It’s also a core tenet of what homeowners today expect both outside and in their homes.
Q: Why is it important that our outdoor furnishings exercise sustainability just as much as indoor furniture and building materials?
A: Homeowners are no longer casually creating outdoor spaces–they’re building intentional expansions of their homes that are increasingly critical to their wellbeing. Research shows that spending more time in nature can help combat feelings of stress and anxiety.
We’ve also seen data that suggests people used to spend up to 90 percent of all their time indoors. Anecdotally, we’re seeing people recast their routines and reprioritize time outdoors, regardless of the season or climate. While the concept isn’t new, many people are taking this to heart and finding new ways to embrace their surroundings and invest more thoughtfully in outdoor spaces that feel comfortable year-round, while still meeting and exceeding their expectations for sustainability.
Q: What are you seeing in the market?
A: As consumers look to feel a greater connection to nature, we’re seeing preferences for a warm, minimalist aesthetic using comforting, durable textiles and understated furniture that are inherently sustainable and multifunctional.
NO VOCS FOR HEIRLOOM BRAND MCKINNON AND HARRIS
Long revered for their classic silhouettes and reputation for exceptional quality, Richmond, Virginia-based McKinnon and Harris has been making innovative strides in the world of outdoor furniture for over 30 years.
Through sustainable measures like employing responsible craftsmanship, using 100% recyclable aluminum, and recycling all internally produced aluminum scraps, batting and foam scraps, cardboard, bottles, paper and plastic, McKinnon and Harris remains mindful of reducing the impact of their furnishings on the environment.
What’s more, they use an EC2 substrate conversion coating to finish off their pieces. This eliminates the need for chromate, which has historically been considered industry standard as a metal pre-treatment but is now known to be carcinogenic to humans and toxic to the environment. The brand’s architectural-grade powder coating instead is a solvent-free process with no VOC emissions.
But it’s their creations’ inherent tendency to be passed down to the next generation that perhaps most renders them a sustainable brand. Their enduring styles and handcrafted artistry continue to evolve through pure ingenuity, explained here by McKinnon and Harris co-founder Will Massie as he dishes on the brand’s unique creative process. Image courtesy McKinnon and Harris
Permanence, Beauty and the Eternal
Q: McKinnon and Harris furniture is handcrafted to last a lifetime. Talk to us about the heirloom nature of your outdoor pieces.
A: Our parents were passionate gardeners who passed on their love of nature, the enduring value of outdoor spaces, and well made things achieved through hard work. McKinnon and Harris grew out of this passion. Our company mantra—the Latin words Sublimis, Virtus, Sempiterna—speaks of our belief in permanence, beauty, and the eternal. We are so certain of our unsurpassed craftsmanship that we guarantee our handmade aluminum furniture for life.
As a company, Mckinnon and Harris is committed to being an environmental leader, which includes striving to sell, buy and use environmentally friendly products. That’s why we’re so proud that each McKinnon and Harris piece is innately sustainable—from process to purpose and performance. By engineering furniture to last for many generations, we avoid contributing to landfill.
Q: And this philosophy doesn’t only extend to the finished product. Tell us about your manufacturing process.
A: We are fully committed to responsibly crafting enduring outdoor furniture in an eco-conscious work environment. This includes recycling aluminum shavings, pieces and parts, as well as reticulated foam. We responsibly dispose of resources used with performance-enhancing technologies like EC², and continually strive to reduce our carbon footprint.
THE SUSTAINABLE COMFORT OF MITCHELL GOLD + BOB WILLIAMS FURNISHINGS
For acclaimed North Carolina-based furniture brand Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, the art of sustainability has been inculcated into the fiber of the company since its inception over 30 years ago. Long-known for its comfort-first collections of indoor furnishings crafted by skilled artisans, MG+BW is also an active member of the Sustainable Furnishings Council, with Mitchell Gold serving on the board. Using ozone-friendly foam, cushions that are free from fire-retardant chemicals, recycled materials, water-based biodegradable glue, and energy-efficient efforts, they’re reducing the furniture industry’s effects on the environment one design at a time.
At the helm of the Earth-conscious brand is President and CEO Allison O’Connor, who continues the eco-minded legacy of this modern furniture brand beyond the threshold of our interiors with the debut of their sustainably crafted outdoor furnishings collections, complete with umbrellas and outdoor pillows from MG+BW and Sunbrella. Images courtesy Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams
Artisans of Comfort
Q: Tell us about MG+BW’s history of sustainable practices.
A: Sustainable practices have gone hand in hand with our iconic comfort and long-lasting quality since our company was founded in 1989. Key to our journey has been having our own factory in North Carolina, where each piece of upholstery is hand-built by generations of skilled artisans of comfort using high-quality, sustainably sourced materials. As a founding member of our industry’s Sustainable Furnishings Council, we have championed sustainability for more than 30 years.
Q: What has been the guiding principle for maintaining eco-friendly traditions?
A: What we have found is that quality itself is a key to sustainability. Building furniture to last a lifetime helps keep it out of landfills, and instead it can be passed down in a family and see new life. It also allows us to provide our customers with the security of a Lifetime Warranty.
A major initiative is our work with partner suppliers to support new and innovative ways to produce materials and products that create a healthy home. For example, we were first in our industry to use water-based foam in our cushions that doesn’t add CFCs to the atmosphere, beta-testing it to ensure the comfort met our standards. Recently we worked with a fabric supplier to offer a durable, easy-care performance fabric with a plant-based finish. And we are always testing sustainable packaging that ensures safe arrival of furniture to our customers’ homes.
Q: Can you expound upon some of the innovations made in your furnishings?
A: Working with top suppliers has led to many sustainable improvements aligned with quality. Our comfortable cushions are CertiPur-US certified, wrapped in regenerated fibers, and free of fire-retardant chemicals since 2014. Our sturdy wood frames are locally sourced, and suppliers must use FSC-certified lumber or show certification of responsible harvesting. Our durable springs are made from 65 percent recycled metal.
We also believe sustainability and wellness are deeply connected. Along with the health of our planet, we are committed to protecting our customers and our artisans by seeking out better materials and processes that support health and safety.
Q: Why is it important that your furnishings exercise sustainability outdoors as well as indoors?
A: More than ever, our homes are places of connection, family, and comfort, and our outdoor spaces are a vital extension of this. Being in nature is so important to us. Our first MG+BW Outdoor Collection is designed to encourage you to savor the beauty of time spent outside with furnishings that celebrate home in all its meaning.
As with our interior furniture collection, each piece was created with a focus of design, sustainability and comfort. Durability and aging gracefully also play a role, from the premium-grade FSC-certified weathered-teak frames of our Del Mar pieces to the handcrafted, commercial-grade cast-aluminum pieces of Sanibel. This outdoor collection is conveyed through the exceptional craftsmanship of easy-to-care-for furnishings to enjoy for years to come.