Green Home Decor

Published on August 20th, 2011 | by Guest Contributor


Why should we buy sustainable furniture

We’re all trying to do the right thing across the country. We recycle bottles, paper and cans, we bring reusable shopping bags to the grocery, and we even buy fuel-efficient cars. Basically, most of us know the routines and are very diligent about making a difference.

But we may have overlooked one thing. Household furniture. In fact, it’s probably the biggest “green” offender in our lives. Part of the reason it gets overlooked, is that most of us don’t even think about furniture as contributing to our sustainable or “green” lifestyles. Or maybe it’s because we don’t know what sustainable furniture is.

So, what should we look for when buying sustainable furniture?

First, let’s start with three furniture focus features:

1. Recycled/reclaimed furniture is not the kind you find abandoned along the side of the road. It’s actually new furniture made from old wood beams, wood from deconstructed buildings and even old orchards. This wood has already served a useful life, and now it’s getting a chance to be productive yet again. Sometimes it’s from a salvaged 1800s warehouse, other times it’s from hevea “rubber trees” that have passed their useful productive life. Pretty resourceful, you could say.

2. Furniture from sustainable materials is found in the best of modern wood furniture-making practices. At its core is the concept of harvesting wood in balance. You mill what you sew. Wood plantations do this worldwide, if they’re responsible. Certain mahogany from west, central and east Africa is plantation grown and harvested sustainably. But mahogany from Honduras and Cuba may not be using sustainable practices. That’s why savvy furniture makers check their sources and their sources’ sources.

In furniture, bamboo’s currently the king of sustainable wood – okay, it’s actually a grass. It keeps its root structure after being harvested, re-grows quickly, and can be as hard as rock maple. Often, bamboo species like Moso are cut into thin strips and laminated, so they even look like maple. Traditional hardwood furniture favorites like cherry, walnut and maple are now farmed sustainably and readily available to environmentally conscientious furniture makers. These desirable woods have the color, grain and durability that makes them top choices.

3. Furniture longevity math? Here’s how it works. Say you buy an inexpensive bed. On average, Americans move about every 5 years. So in 10 years, you’ve moved twice, and chances are, if the bed was made with particle board, or inexpensive hardware, or if you have kids, that bed may have suffered an injury from which it can’t recover. Most low cost furniture is pretty hard to repair. So out it goes. And the cycle begins again.

In a furniture-owning lifetime from age 20 to 70, you could do this cycle 5 times. So five times you’ve driven, shopped, shopped and driven some more, bought, paid for delivery, assembled, thrown away box and styrofoam, used, then disposed of your economical beds. And when you’re done, you have piles of wood, cardboard and styrofoam you’ve contributed to the landfill, and a net furniture worth of zip.

Then, what should we avoid when buying furniture?

Avoid furniture made with toxic materials like particle board and other pressed woods. Did you know that they often have high formaldehyde levels? These can cause health risks, especially for young kids. Some thoughtless furniture makers even use vinyl, paints, finishes and adhesives that cause indoor air pollution. Not good.

Also, avoid foreign imports. Furniture manufacturing is often done offshore now, where regulations are different than in America. China now has over 1/3 of the world trade in furniture. That raises a lot of concerns, and certainly adds to the shipping fuel consumption worldwide, making it less eco-friendly.

How do you make furniture buying more sustainable then?

Buy well crafted, hardwood furniture that will last a lifetime that becomes an investment.  This is what Europeans do, we’re told. And it’s the only way there will be any new American antiques in 100 years. Plus, the 50 year throwaway cycle doesn’t stop with you. Your kids can inherit it too. Or they can inherit good furniture, and you have 100 years of skipping the whole wasteful mess.

Also buy intelligently crafted, well built American furniture, created from sustainably harvested hardwoods like the ones mentioned above.

Owning really nice sustainable furniture is, well, really nice. It saves time, money, assembly, energy and dump fees. It takes a little forethought but it should be the only option when buying furniture, because it’s the responsible thing to do.

Guest Writer Theresa Schneider has been in the fine furniture business for 21 years as co-owner of McKinnon Furniture in Seattle, WA.  She assists in designing the company’s line of custom wood furniture and works with local artists to promote their work in showroom displays.  McKinnon is known for its handcrafted furniture pieces in classic and Asian styles, made by local artisans.

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