Turning the tap off while you brush your teeth. Taking reusable bags to the grocery store. Investing in low-energy appliances. Composting. When it comes to green living, there are tips we hear time and time again — but sustainable furniture usually gets left out of the conversation when we talk about ways to leave behind a smaller footprint.
But once you go through all the trouble of making your living space — and all the activities you conduct within it — eco-friendly, you might as well fill your home with pieces that are good for the earth, too. Fortunately, many furniture makers have heard and heeded the call of their green customers — you just need to know how to find these sustainable pieces.
Here’s how to do it.
Start With the Sustainable Furniture Council
The Sustainable Furniture Council’s mission is clear: They want to not only raise awareness for sustainably produced furniture, but also to inspire companies to adopt more environmentally friendly production practices and products.
Of course, these types of products won’t just magically appear — there has to be a demand for carefully manufactured furniture. As a result, their website provides a search feature, through which you can research environmentally friendly materials, as well as specific stores and designers, to see if their work falls under the sustainable umbrella. You can use the SFC’s suggestions to narrow down your search for the perfect sofa, kitchen table or bedframe.
Seek out the Right Materials
Another easy way to sniff out a sustainable piece of furniture is to look for something made of materials you know to be eco-friendly. The list of possibilities for this one is pretty long, as more and more eco-friendly companies put their smarts and creativity to the test. You’ll find furniture built from recycled plastic, as well as fast-growing bamboo, a material that’s easy to replace and therefore sustainable. Cork, hemp, rubber, straw, flax and mycelium are also go-tos for eco-friendly decorators.
Even if you have another material in mind, you can still do your part to ensure it won’t do any damage to the environment. For example, a handmade piece of wood furniture is an investment piece and an heirloom — because it lasts so long and is so durable, it is a sustainable option. But it’s important to make sure the wood type you choose is all-natural and carcinogen-free. The Amish are huge manufacturers of this type of safe, beautiful, handmade furniture.
Avoid Fabric Additives
In a similar vein, you’ll want to check the tag on any upholstered furniture to make sure you’re not buying something with environmentally unfriendly additives. Among the biggest offenders, you’ll find stain-resistant sprays, formaldehydes and flame retardants. All these additives make your life easier, but they’re not good for you or the earth: the latter two, for example, are volatile organic compounds that can reduce your home’s air quality, among other negatives.
If there’s no tag, of course, you’ll have to ask a salesperson to help you figure out if the piece you want is eco-friendly. And, when you find yourself in a situation where the expert is unable to tell you whether or not the piece is green, you can probably assume the furniture is not the sustainable item you’re looking for.
Buy Vintage or Local
Sustainable furniture doesn’t have to be freshly minted. In fact, decorating with secondhand pieces means you’re not using any new materials or resources, which is certainly a green choice. And, if the piece has good bones, you can still spruce it up to make sure it’s environmentally friendly before it’s in your home: For example, you can reupholster a new chair so you know the fabric is free of the volatile organic compounds we mentioned previously.
Buying local also reduces the footprint of your purchase. An item made by a local artisan from local, easy-to-ship materials means you reduce the amount of fuel required to make your product. Plus, you’re pumping money into the local economy, which is never a bad thing.
Now, Go Green
If the above tips prove anything, it’s that you can easily invest in sustainable furniture. With a little bit of research and a discerning eye for materials, you’ll be sure to buy products that suit your green lifestyle. And, when it comes to this thoughtful purchasing, both you and the planet will be better for it — and there’s no better benefit than that.