We’re seeing rapid growth in the sustainable furniture business. Why? Because more people know that making responsible choices about the products they put in their homes matters for the environment. But are all green furniture claims true? Not always, and there’s a term for that: greenwashing. So it’s important to know all the facts.
We’ve put together this eco furniture guide to help you make better-informed choices when shopping for eco-friendly furniture.
Green furniture is not just a color. It’s a lifestyle choice. Image: Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock
What is sustainable furniture?
Manufacturers create sustainable furniture using materials that have a minimal negative impact on the environment. Sustainable furniture uses:
- Woods or other materials that come from renewable sources
- Minimal chemicals that can pollute the environment
- Local material and/or manufacturing to save on transportation
Natural materials and living plants protect the air quality in your home. Image: Photographee.eu/Shutterstock
Why is green furniture a better choice?
Eco-friendly furniture causes less damage to the environment and makes your home environment safer. When you choose eco furniture made with minimal amounts of chemicals, you’ll get less harmful pollutants, like volatile organic compounds (VOCs), released into your home’s air.
Paints, fabrics, furniture, carpets and building materials can all release VOCs that cause allergies, migraines and asthma in people. According to a report by the European Respiratory Review, “The possible health effects of indoor VOC exposure are a cause for concern, given that people in general, and children in particular, now spend most of their time indoors.”
Bamboo is an earth-friendly alternative to exotic wood. Image: Beata Becla/Shutterstock
What to look for when shopping for eco furniture.
When shopping for green or sustainable furniture, think about the following:
- Does the country where the piece was made use green building practices? How far did the piece have to travel?
- Is the piece durable? Pieces that are cheap in price and materials don’t last as long and end up in landfills soon after purchase.
- What materials and chemicals are used in the piece? Is the frame of the furniture piece solid wood or particle board, containing formaldehyde? Did the manufacturer spray the fabric with a chemical to resist stains? It’s better to choose a microfiber or leather material than one that needs to be sprayed for stain resistance.
- What finishes add color or seal the item? Is the paint, stain or finish water-based? If not, it’s probably high in harmful VOCs.
- Could a different material be a better idea? Although exotic woods are stunning, bamboo, stone or porcelain may be more durable, require less harmful finishes and not affect forests.
You can also check the Sustainable Furnishings Council (SFC) website‘s database of furniture manufacturers committed to eco furniture practices.
Second-hand furniture and recycled furniture made of shipping pallets are a good way to reduce waste because they minimize the need to produce new materials. Image: Photographee.eu/Shutterstock
What are the best sustainable furniture choices?
The best sustainable furniture choices are created from recycled items like salvaged wood, recycled textiles and reused materials like wood pallets. Additionally, natural materials like bamboo, rattan and seagrasses are excellent materials for furniture and home decor.
Second-hand furniture and vintage pieces are also great green furniture choices. Pick vintage or antique pieces because they’re often handmade and built to last. Plus, their manufacturers often used fewer chemicals than modern manufacturers.
Look for these green furniture terms and certifications when you’re shopping for eco furniture:
Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE)
This partnership between industry and government increases carpet recycling and reuse to reduce the amount of old carpet going to landfills.
Cradle to Cradle (C2C)
C2C certified furniture can be dismantled to be repaired and recycled or so that parts can be replaced. This practice extends the life of the piece and makes a piece more sustainable because it keeps it out of a landfill.
This hang tag certifies that the manufacturer was responsible in their sourcing and manufacturing and, additionally, that they can provide safety, health and environmental information for each registered product.
FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) Certification
FSC-certified furniture uses woods that are responsibly harvested and meet the requirements of the Forest Stewardship Council.
Green Housekeeping Seal of Approval
This seal is available for many categories like cleaning and beauty products, building materials, paints and coatings and appliances. In order to award approval, scientists and engineers evaluate a product’s packaging, ingredients, logistics and manufacturing.
Green Label Plus
Look for this tag to ensure that the carpet you are purchasing emits the lowest amount of chemicals on the market.
Use this certification to find indoor goods like building materials and furnishings with low chemical emissions. It serves you and the environment because GREENGUARD certified goods do not affect air quality.
LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Certified
LEED promotes and awards certification for a whole-building approach to sustainability. To certify a building, LEED checks five categories: water savings, energy efficiency, sustainable site development, sustainable materials and good indoor air quality.
Check a product’s label. Look for low VOC because it means the product or finish is water-based or does not contain chemicals that can off-gas, or release into the air.
Rediscovered Wood Certification, Rainforest Alliance
This certification confirms that a piece of furniture actually uses reclaimed wood.
SBD (Sustainable by Design)
SBD gears their program towards furniture manufacturers to sustainably source and manufacture home furnishings.
Zero Waste to Landfill
This award goes to companies that send less than 1 percent of their waste to a landfill.