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Image courtesy Ethnicraft
By Legend Fears
There are so many ways to make our homes more sustainable. From energy-efficient appliances to eco-friendly materials and water-saving technology, homeowners who want to be mindful of the environment and its future have a plethora of areas they can address in order to get there. But have you ever thought about what your furniture is made of and how it’s manufactured? If you haven’t, you’re not alone. Despite furniture being one of the most common purchases for a house—the bed you sleep in, the sofa you lounge on, the table you pull up to for meals—most of us fail to understand the effects of that furniture on our environment and our overall health. The good news: We’ve done a lot of the heavy lifting for you. If you’re wondering what kind of furniture to buy, here are some factors to look for while you’re on your quest.
Image: Pren, Room & Board/Cambria, courtesy Room & Board
MATERIAL LIFE CYCLE
Sustainably sourced materials
Having furniture that is made from organic materials is one aspect, sure. But it is not itself sufficient. Any wood should be sourced from sustainably managed forests and, to ensure that, you should make sure it’s FSC-certified. Ideally it is made with natural materials that are grown (cotton, bamboo, and rattan, for example) and does not include fabrics made using petrochemicals such as nylon or polyester. Also look for pieces that use recycled or up-cycled content—reclaimed wood, plastic or glass from post-consumer recycling programs.
You should think about how much energy was used to create the furniture—materials growth and/or extraction, manufacturing, and transportation. Bear in mind that water takes energy to transport, treat, and dispose as well, so water efficiency is also important. During production, as little carbon as possible should be produced to offset emissions. Use of harmful chemicals should be minimized as well. The packaging should be safe, and free of harmful products and chemicals (i.e., Styrofoam.) Does the manufacturer belong to the Sustainable Furnishings Council? That’s a great way to gauge the brand’s commitment to its impact on our health and the environment. And, if you can find manufacturers who have their factories GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) or GOLS (Global Organic Latex Standard) certified, then you will know that they have implemented a strict chain of control to ensure that the materials used actually live up to their certifications.
Many of us are unaware of how toxic our household items are, including our furniture. Volatile Organic Chemicals are released from a wide range of materials such as plastics, vinyl, paints, particle board, plywood, and finishes. So, search for furniture that uses non-toxic materials. And look for certifications that support the healthy claims of the manufacturer such as Made Safe or GREENGUARD.
End of Life
What happens to the materials at the end of the product’s life? In most cases, they will end up in a landfill. Choose furniture that can be up-cycled into other products, broken down and the components recycled, composted or biodegradable to break up in landfills.
Fortunately, there are companies that are doing their part to make sure that you and your family live more sustainably. Here are some eco-options that can help beautify your home while keeping it healthier for your family and the planet.
“Thoughtful beds for modern living” is their mantra, and they definitely put much thought into how they craft their furniture. Based out of San Francisco, Thuma draws from modern design and Japanese influences to develop their handcrafted, small-batch beds. To combat the harmful effects of furniture disposal, the company has made sure to stay present through the production process to ensure quality products for their customers. For example, during the production phase, Thuma uses upcycled and repurposed rubberwood from nearby areas, minimizing carbon footprint and waste by reducing transportation. Even down to the packaging, Thuma makes sure the materials are as harmless as possible. Styrofoam is a common synthetic packaging material, but also one of the worst materials on the planet for the environment. By fitting products together in recycled cardboard instead, Thuma removes the need for Styrofoam, giving you a smooth delivery of the product. The bed comes complete with an upholstered headboard whose linen cover can be removed and washed, and a non-toxic CertiPUR-US foam fill. And, they make minimalist bedside tables using the same upcycled wood and clean-lined Japanese joinery (read: there’s no unnecessary metal hardware) for a holistic bedtime experience. The beds are GREENGUARD certified, and, for every bed sold, a tree is planted through the nonprofit One Tree Planted, which focuses on reforestation. Image courtesy Thuma
With a company of this name, how can you not expect an eco-friendly product? Greenington uses bamboo that is sustainably-sourced from forests in China. Some highlights of bamboo are that it’s fast-growing, good at taking carbon out of the atmosphere, and produces 35% more oxygen than regular trees. Also, Greenington uses 100% of the bamboo that it harvests during manufacturing, so there’s no wasted material. Regarding manufacturing, Greenington believes in choices. So you can choose from several low-toxin finishes including Caramelized Honey hues, reddish-brown Sable tones, contemporary Mocha and Black Walnut, or more exotic finishes such as their Tiger option, which blends ebonized and blonde materials. Both the classic and exotic collections use 100% Moso bamboo during the manufacturing process, which emphasizes strength and long-lasting durability, as Greenington’s exotic bamboo is 100% harder compared to commonly used red oak. Image courtesy Greenington Fine Bamboo Furniture
ROOM & BOARD
Finding furniture that is made from quality, well-sourced materials is hard to come by. Furniture made from a diverse set of materials is that much harder. This is where Room & Board comes in. A majority of their materials used comes from recycled components. For example, they use 99% recycled natural steel for their tables. They use recycled plastic milk jugs for their low-maintenance outdoor furniture and reclaimed or sustainably sourced wood to design their indoor collections. Another neat way they use their materials is they work with ECONYL, a form of regenerated nylon made from leading manufacturer Aquafil, to turn discarded fishing nets and other nylon waste into yarns used for their rugs. In addition to their diverse blend of material use, they draw from different styles to develop their furniture. Referencing multiple design movements, they lend a more international feel with their creations, often nodding to Scandinavian and Japanese aesthetics. In a noteworthy collaboration, they partnered with eco-minded stone company Cambria to craft Pren, a collection of solid Appalachian white oak or solid Midwestern walnut tables featuring Cambria’s natural quartz surfaces, which are NSF and GREENGUARD certified.
Most importantly, they are actively working toward change, doing their part to create a more sustainable world. Annually, Room & Board donates $500,000 to local charities and community partners, with $250,000 of home furnishings given to charities and partners in 2019. Even its central office has received LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. They are also founding members of the Sustainable Furnishings Council, showing their commitment to advocating for sustainable furniture and bringing enduring quality to their customers. Image: Pren Table, Room & Board/Cambria Collaboration, courtesy Room & Board
Don’t let the name fool you; there’s nothing dim about this furniture company. Short for “dimensions,” they champion global creativity, collaborating with designers from around the world—such as Maria Van Nguyen from Norway and Kenyon Yeh from Taiwan—to bring design enthusiasts furniture, lighting and accessories in a new-modern vein crafted using thoughtful materials and techniques. Products like the Eave Desk by MSDS Studio have been crafted using sustainably sourced wood and treated with a nontoxic, GREENGUARD-certified finish.
When thinking about quality furniture, it’s easy to associate it with higher prices. But Dims prides itself on selling directly to the customer, cutting down the costs from working with a middleman. And what’s more, the brand has put forth a set of sustainable goals, aiming to be a certified Benefit Corporation by 2025, in addition to disclosing all materials, sourcing and lifecycle information for Dims-developed products through International Living Future Institute Declare labels, and supporting more Black-owned brands. Image courtesy Dims
Translating to “living earth,” VivaTerra was founded in California in 2004 with an objective to provide top-notch, eco-friendly options to those who want to elevate their living environments. In that time, their collections have expanded to include furniture, planters, lighting, rugs and more, with natural materials varying from recycled glass to vintage fabrics and reclaimed wood. This effort couldn’t be done without the relationships they have with artisans and fair-trade organizations worldwide. Sourcing from over 20 countries, VivaTerra makes sure to maintain sustainable production throughout. They support their artisans through ethical work conditions, fair wages, and sustainable development, as well as giving them an opportunity for their products to be presented to VivaTerra’s customers. VivaTerra also has domestically made products, giving their U.S. customers an option to buy products that were made locally. This not only adds a diverse element to the company, but it also reduces waste by transportation as the distance to deliver materials cuts down drastically. Less energy is also expended in the process, making it even more efficient. Images courtesy VivaTerra
Viesso collaborates with artisan brands that align with their goal of providing eco-friendly furnishings that protect both customers and the environment. By curating unique designs and mindful furniture while keeping apprised of modern trends, Viesso offers thoughtful options to make sure that you live a sustainably chic life. Some of these brands include Ethnicraft, Area, Sun at Six (which uses raw, sustainably sourced white oak and traditional Chinese joinery in their furnishings), and Pappelina (which uses traditional weaving methods and nontoxic plastic to create recyclable rugs). Here, we explore a couple of them.
The great outdoors is a part of Fermob’s DNA. From their bistro chairs (shown right) to their LED lamps and everything in-between, they make sure that their garden furniture respects nature and remains timeless. For production, they use recycled aluminum and steel (which can then be recycled again), so not only are you buying sustainable furniture, but also furniture that can live many lives and truly stand the test of time. Image courtesy Fermob / Stéphane Rambaud
Conscious of their impact on the environment, Ethnicraft makes sure to deliver wood pieces that are respectful to the planet. From the origin of the wood to zero waste production, Ethnicraft’s solid wood pieces are long-lasting, making them quite the sustainable option. Images, above and left, courtesy Ethnicraft
Founded in 1990 by Swedish designer Anki Spets, Area is known for its environmentally responsible bedding, accessories and furniture lines, which place an emphasis on using organic materials, seen in the India Mix Blanket (shown left). Employing only natural fibers, Area uses pure-linen and linen-cotton blends for its bedding with fewer chemicals in their production process, giving you quality and durability, as linen fibers are 2-3 times stronger than cotton alone. The fabrics used in Area’s bed linens meet rigorous safety and social-impact standards like OEKO-TEX and Sedex Members Ethical Trade Audit. Image courtesy Area
The options for responsible, healthy furnishings have grown exponentially in recent decades, making an eco-friendly and sustainable lifestyle more possible than ever before.