Making a house into ‘home sweet home’ does not have to entail trips to department stores and maxing out credit cards to get pieces that are of good quality and will last a long time. Nor does it have to include purchasing pieces that though quite stylish were made from a myriad of unsustainable materials and produced in some far off country by cheap labor. Furnishing your home using eco-friendly materials or ones re-claimed, recycled, and re-furbished is becoming widely more and more accessible as the “green living” ideals are becoming more commonplace and the sustainability movement pushes forward.
Why should we give a care about greener furniture? What are the real implications of buying generic pieces? In truth… we NEED to give a HUGE care about this, the implications are not only detrimental to our environment but to our health as well. I’m serious. When you get right down to it there is far too many illegal logging practices being done to sell more and furniture at high rates, and worse yet, far too many dangerous glosses and paint finishes containing unsafe chemicals like VOCs (volatile organic compounds). VOCs are the most common family of chemicals that are associated with furniture paints and lacquers and which have been linked to birth defects, endocrine disruption, and cancer, and are found in your furniture’s flame retardants and formaldehyde’s as well.
But, you every day eco-conservers and health warriors can shop smart and prevent the aforementioned nasty products from entering your home! Some fun purchasing tips for “green” furnishing that will last you a long time and not break the bank include but are not limited to some of the following:
1) Source it locally- Instead of stopping at nationally owned furniture retailers or department stores, take a peek around your town for small “mom and pop” style furniture shops. Same as the food industry buzz about “farm to table” methodology, the furniture you by also has to travel from manufacturers to the stores to then be transported to your home. Smaller owned companies generally supply their shops locally produced pieces that have not been outsourced and are of local materials.
2) Thrift it- Check out your local thrift stores, antique stores, consignment shops, and pawn shops. They are a wonderful and superbly affordable (with exceptions of course, antique chandeliers for example still cost a pretty penny). You will be surprised at not only bargain deals you can find, but seriously unique and funky vintage and “one-of-a-kind” pieces that have years left of usability. One of my all time greatest finds was found during an antiquing excursion with my parents when I spotted something so amazing that I will never forget. It was a beautiful vintage love-seat sofa that was pastel pink and looked like the tail end of a classic cadillac, fins and bullet lights et al.
3) Recyclable/ Easy to break down- Furniture pieces that are fashioned out of recycled materials are wonderful. But furniture that can then be recycled into something else after it lives its life as furniture is equally as important. Companies like Steelcase and Herman Miller, for example, sell office furniture products that are certified by the MBDC’s C2C (cradle to cradle) principal. These products can also be easily taken apart, dismantled into parts, and recycled at the end of their useful lives. I’m sure many out there (including myself), have been at the mercy of ”monstrous hybrids”, pieces that are inextricably de-contructable and contain an amalgam of materials. A word of advice, if it can’t be taken apart it’s probably a sign that it can’t be repaired very well either.
4) Recaimed- Materials like wood should be well taken care of (if possible) because free of termites and overly excessive wear and tear it will last you a heck of a long time (think houses). Therefore, it is a very wise and sustainable idea to make the best possible use of what is already out there. This is just what eco-friendly designers are doing. Reclaimed pieces are often times fashioned out of other old furniture pieces or old house parts, drift wood, old factory scraps, pieces left over from construction projects, items salvaged from recycling centers etc. Something to keep an eye for when purchasing such types of reclaimed materials is the Rediscovered Wood Certification label from the Rainforest Alliance. Environmentfurniture.com is selling new collections from reclaimed hardwoods from industrial sectors.
5) Bamboo- Many of you readers out there are probably not shocked to see bamboo on this list as it has long been widely used in everything sustainable from furniture to clothing to utensils and more. Very easy to get quick yields of, as it is one of the fastest growing grasses (yep, not a tree as it’s commonly mistaken for) in the world, growing ten times faster than most hardwoods. Albeit to say, bamboo is an excellent choice with which to furnish your home and still keep forests abundant. Bamboo is highly durable thanks to it’s awesome resistance to damage. An interesting fact about bamboo is that it’s tensile strength (maximum stress that a material can withstand while being stretched or pulled before failing or breaking) is stronger than steel! Bamboo fibers are also used to strengthen composite materials. How does it get these seemingly ‘super hero’ plant strength powers? Bamboo grows straight such like no other trees. They have what are known as “knuckles,” but those are consistent and dense and don’t weaken the bamboo’s structure. Using bamboo in buildings earns architects and builders LEED points.
6) Certified Sustainable Woods- Forests are essential to the functioning of our planet as an ecosystem (carbon sequestration, oxygen production – both pretty important things) , we need to keep them happy and healthy. You know what does the opposite of that? Logging and clear cutting, aka, deforestation. Eco furniture designers are privy to this and have begun widely using ‘Certified Sustainable Woods’ meaning wood from sustainable harvested and managed forests where harvested trees are replaced with new ones planted. Sources for sustainable wood seals include : Tropical Forest Trust, Forest Stewardship Council, and Sustainable forest Initiative, and The rainforest Alliance.
- 50% of U.S. manufactured office furniture went to Canada in 2006
- 78 countries currently contain FSC certified forests
- 247 million acres of FSC forests span the globe
- 60 million of those acres are in North America
- 11 habitats at risk that FSC works to protect
- $11.9 billion dollars spent on office furniture made here in the US in 2005