Eco Friendly Furniture Options

Eco-friendly furniture
CC flickr photo courtesy of David Stanley

There are few things as satisfying as furnishing a new home, or choosing new furniture to update a home.  The items we choose to make a place feel like a home do so by creating a feeling, and by reflecting our own unique style. Home is sanctuary.  And the furniture options we have to choose from are almost limitless. However, furniture production is resource-intensive and can involve chemicals that are bad for your health.  Seeking out eco-friendly furniture can be a great way to make a difference without any sacrifice of comfort or style.

Eco-friendly choices are widely available in today’s market of home furnishings.  However, there are also many retailers using “green washing” tactics to market their goods, so it is important to know the basics before you start shopping.

Common Types of Wood and Their Drawbacks

Wood is the primary resource used in the making of most large furniture pieces.  The type of woods used to make tables, chairs, desks, and limitless other items, are often harvested in highly unsustainable ways.  The most common types of wood used for furniture these days are oak, pine, mahogany and teak.

Oak – Commonly used hardwoods like oak come from trees that take the longest time to mature, meaning that replacing those trees takes a long, long time.  There are over 600 hundred species of oak, and most will not be of any substantial size for about 25 years.  An oak tree can continue to grow for hundreds of years, providing habitat, shade, food and oxygen. Therefore, unless the oak used to make a piece of furniture is reclaimed or second hand, it is not an environmentally friendly choice.

Pine – Another very common wood used to make furniture is pine, which is faster-growing and cheaper to purchase than oak.  To produce pine therefore requires fewer resources, but the wood is softer than its slower-growing counterparts.  For this reason, pine furniture does not last as long or wear as well, and needs to be replaced sooner than furniture made out of harder wood species. Pine is a good choice for furniture that you would want to replace more frequently as trends change.

Mahogany – Mahogany is a dark, very elegant-looking wood.  Small grains and a deep brownish red hue make it a very popular choice for people wanting a bit of contrast.  It is also a very hard wood, and therefore very durable.  It is usually more expensive than oak or pine.  Many mahogany products currently originate in Indonesia and claim to be sustainably harvested.  However, the lack of governmental control and internal systems to regulate the harvesting of mahogany means that such claims are difficult to verify.  In an article in The Economist in 2010, it is suggested that “sustainable tropical logging is impossible” not just because all hard wood trees are slow growing, but because of all the logging roads that must be built to move machinery in and logs out. These roads open up fragile ecosystems to all types of hazards, including the poaching of highly endangered species.

Teak – Teak is another hard wood that can be found in furniture products, but it is expensive, and like mahogany, is also primarily grown in Indonesia. While teak can be beautiful and furniture from this extremely hard wood can last a long time, is cannot be considered an eco-friendly choice unless it is reclaimed.  A lot of reclaimed teakwood comes from older homes and ships, and is carefully torn down and then used to make beautiful and unique pieces of furniture. Unfortunately, it is often hard for the consumer to know for sure whether or not the wood is actually sourced this way.

Greener Furniture Options

With a little research, one can find many online stores that promote their furniture as sustainable or green.  It is important to understand how they are defining “sustainable” so that this is not just a way to market to eco-conscious customers. The Forest Stewardship Council provides certification for companies meeting their standards for “responsible forest management” for their wood sources, and this seal is a good sign that the company is legitimate.  A few companies that offer varying styles and pricing:

San Diego Rustic Furniture features rustic-looking furniture from various sources, including  reclaimed wood.

– Vermont Wood Studios features handmade wood furniture in a variety of styles from Mission to Modern.

 – Inmod features edgy, modern-looking furniture. Prices vary greatly from piece to piece.

 – Eco Select Furniture features contemporary pieces, and offers both leather and hemp furniture coverings.

Ikea offers inexpensive, modern and functional pieces, and from their sources to their stores to their packaging, Ikea employs green values.

For more transitional, functional pieces without a big financial commitment, there are many inexpensive choices made from pressed wood fibers. Ikea, for example, offers all kinds of shelving, wardrobes, dining sets and other choices made of laminated, pressed wood at an extremely low price.  While these pieces may not last more than a few years, the wood used to make these items is mostly waste products that otherwise would be thrown out.

When making greener furniture choices, don’t forget shopping Craig’s List, tag sales, or your local Goodwill store for used furniture that greatly lessens your purchase’s eco-impact. If you must have new, check out the Sustainable Furnishings Council for more sources of green furniture suppliers, manufacturers, designers and retailers.

Did we miss any eco friendly furniture ideas? Leave a comment and let us know!