How to Buy Eco-Friendly Furniture

Have you ever planned an entire room around a piece of furniture you don’t even have yet? Guilty! These days, my planning has shifted from just any furniture to eco-friendly varieties.

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Not only can your eco-friendly furniture bring an added element of design into the room, but there is also great satisfaction in knowing that you’ve picked something sustainable, repurposed, or otherwise eco-friendly. And, the benefits don’t stop there as an eco-friendly process may also offer health benefits. For your shopping reference, we bring you tips for How to Buy Eco-Friendly Furniture:

1. Identify what variety of eco-friendly furniture you’re looking for as eco-friendly can be defined in many ways. Are you looking for a piece that is made from a sustainable or reclaimed material? Builders in Washington State offer some of the widest varieties of furniture made from locally sourced materials.

According to the Washington Forest Protection Association, Washington is the second largest producer of forest products. These materials are used from end to end, leaving nothing for waste, all the way down to sawdust. And this doesn’t have to mean cutting down trees. Wood materials can often be reclaimed and repurposed from their previous shape or usage, even if submerged in water.

Or products made from bamboo (technically grass, not wood) are considered eco-friendly because of the high rate that bamboo regenerates (as much as three to four feet per day!). Some might argue that the cost and emissions related to traveling bamboo, most often grown in China, to the U.S., negates its eco-friendliness. But as bamboo can grow in domestic areas, consult builders in Washington State for availability or referrals. This premium, long-lasting, and versatile material could be the base of your next piece of furniture.

2. Do you live by the words, “Reduce. Reuse. Recycle”? This mantra can go well beyond shopping bags and wood products, including metal and plastic materials. Recycled products don’t only help the environment by saving something from a landfill, but also when looking at salvaging plastics and metals, less processing and other resources, such as water, are often used in reforming the material. Chairs, tables and more can be taken apart piece by piece and become an entirely new article. When rebuilt, they should still maintain this efficiency so that once again, after you’ve enjoyed your life with them, someone can disassemble and rebirth them as an entirely new piece to fit their lifestyle.

3. Consider the emissions coming from your new piece of furniture. Every product will do what’s called “off gassing,” releasing substances into the air. If you’re furnishing a very small room, you will want to emit the least amount of materials to maintain healthy air. For new pieces of furniture, you might consider placing them outside or in a patio area when you first bring them home to let them breathe out some of these properties. Off gassing is less of a concern when bringing home vintage or second-hand furniture as they should have already gone through this process. However, be sure to also consider other materials used in older furniture that you would want to avoid, such as lead paint.

4. Avoid furniture pieces that promote using fire retardants in foam filling. Worse than spraying toxic chemicals onto products that will be “breathing” in your home, or potentially licked and ingested by pets or small children, fire retardants are powders sprayed onto fabrics. Then they fall out of the material and mix with dust in your carpet and air. They are carried around on your shoes or feet, mixed around when vacuuming or by fans. This is a dangerous cycle and sad to say, these products may not actually slow a fire from spreading as the stuffing is still combustible.

5. Save the guesswork and consider furnishings that carry certifications from councils and boards working to protect the environment. You’ll take comfort in knowing right away that you’re looking at eco-friendly products and can concentrate on the other important details, like color, comfort, and size! From the wood source to the upholstery or filling, these industry groups are monitoring everything from sourcing, shipping, and manufacturing processes. A few key organizations include:

a. Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) – provides an assurance that the materials came from forestry operations that meet strong environmental, social, and economic performance standards.
b. Pan-European Forest Certification Council (PEFCC) – promotes sustainable forest management through forest certification.
c. Greenguard – offers air quality certifications for furnishings.
d. Cradle 2 Cradle (C2C) – confirms that the piece you’re purchasing can be disassembled easily and the parts used to build new parts or recycled. This applies to all levels of merchandise including the wildly popular office chairs from Herman Miller and Steelcase.

6. The finishings of your furnishings can also contribute to them being eco-friendly. You’ll want to look at pieces that integrate natural fibers with eco-friendly dyes. Don’t assume that just because something is made from a natural fabric such as cotton that it’s okay. If coming from a standard production facility, conventional cotton is likely to have been exposed to pesticides, stain repellants using perfluorochemicals, or color-treated using heavy metals and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Not exactly the properties you want to showcase in an eco-friendly lifestyle.

7. Think local. Just like shopping at your green market, purchasing furniture that was made nearby has eco-friendly advantages. The piece will not have to travel as far, cutting down on gas emissions. And, you may be helping the local artisan, an independent business owner, or builders in Washington State who may have provided materials to make the product.

8. Size matters. When you have a choice of multiple loveseats, sofas and chairs, or one huge piece, consider this: What size truck will move said piece or pieces? As you’ve deduced from the above, each aspect of your furniture can contribute to its being considered eco-friendly. Needing a truck to transport your furniture may lessen its environmental appeal. (There are, of course, exceptions when you consider salvaged materials that are fully repurposed such as barn walls and floors where you may move a large amount, but then use from end to end these materials giving them a new life.

As with any furniture purchase, shop around. Do your research. And do your due diligence. Ask questions on the subject of each piece of furniture under consideration regarding the production, construction and potential future deconstruction to see if it might meet your standards as an eco-friendly choice. And most importantly, enjoy purchasing the new pieces that will complement your brand new home.