Sustainability Series: Guide to Eco-Friendly + Healthy Furniture
This week on the Sustainability Series we're talking about how to choose furniture that is eco-friendly and healthy. Yes, as in good for you and your family's health! We teased about this blog post a couple weeks ago in how to re-furnish your home after a renovation. There are small things everyday we can do to live more sustainably, and purchasing smart furniture and choosing the right materials for your home are two of them.
Before working in the interior design industry I didn't think much about furniture further than: does it look good, is it comfortable and will it last a long time? It goes a lot deeper than that. This past fall I became a certified GREEN Accredited Professional (GREEN AP) through the Sustainable Furnishings Council (SFC). Through this training I simply scratched the surface learning about how furnishings are made and distributed and their affect on the planet and our health. We're going to talk the basics today.
How Do Furnishings Affect Our Health?
When new furnishings are brought into our homes they off-gas and affect our indoor air quality. They omit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other chemicals into the air we breathe. VOCs have been proven to increase eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, nausea, kidney and liver damage, and in extreme cases cancer in humans and animals. VOCs are commonly found in paints and finishes, glues and adhesives, cushion and mattress filling, synthetic upholstery and upholstery finishes. Even when the "new sofa smell" fades away these toxins release for many years.
What's It Made of?
The whole world of furnishings is at our fingertips, and it is so easy to purchase inexpensive, on-trend furniture that can be delivered to our doorsteps in two days. However, as consumers and dwellers we have a responsibility to choose furniture that is safe for the planet and our families. A great way to find sustainable furniture is by asking, "what's it made of?" The SFC has a "What's it made of?" Initiative, a program designed to encourage designers, retailers, manufacturers, consumers, etc. to find out what everything is made out of in an effort to avoid harmful chemicals and encourage transparency along the supply chain. Below is a quick guide in what to look for and avoid in furnishing purchases:
Certified solid wood, recycled metal, natural organic or recycled fibers, water-based finishes, locally made in the United States of America, bio hybrid foam, latex, Zero VOC paints and finishes
MDF or particle board*, synthetic fibers, oil-based finishes
*A good rule of follow is that if it comes in flat packaging and you have to assemble it yourself, it probably isn't made to last because it is made using MDF or particle board.
Glues + adhesives using formaldehyde, vinyl, flame retardant chemicals, fluorinated stain treatments, antimicrobials, VOCs. SixClasses.org is a wonderful resource to learn more about these harmful chemicals.
Recycling + Upcycling
I will never deny the novelty and excitement that comes with purchasing a brand new, clean piece of furniture. In many instances I will agree it is entirely necessary to purchase new versus used. However, recycling or upcycling furniture is a great sustainable (and less expensive) option to furnishing your home. Restoring an old credenza, scoring gorgeous vintage Danish chairs, antique tables of all sorts, etc. My viewpoint is that if a piece of furniture is decades old and still standing strong in 2020, it will last your lifetime if loved and cared for.
Consider where your furnishings come from: how far do they have to travel before they land in your home? Buying locally or as close to home as possible has enormous benefits, especially from a carbon footprint standpoint. The amount of resources, energy, time and money that is required for furniture to be harvested, manufactured, transported and sold makes a big impact.
Support Sustainable Companies
Sustainability means more than just choosing "green" products. We have discussed the health impact in our own homes, but it's important to support companies who prioritize the health of their employees and communities, as well as consumers, over profit. This means by providing healthy and safe working conditions, company benefits and support for employees, being active in communities, choosing reputable partners, and providing the best product and service for consumers. Certified B Corporation is one way to see companies who have made the commitment to bettering their businesses.
One business we love to support that holds the same values are Room and Board, also members of the SFC (stay tuned as they are sponsoring staging items in our upcoming Drew Ave home in the Parade of Homes tour). Also, 90% of their furniture is made in America. Another local resource are our friends at Rabbit Creek in the International Market Square. If your budget lets you splurge on custom furnishings, Highland House, in particular holds the Rainforest Alliance and Forest Stewardship Council certifications. Also, Highland House furnishings are made in America.
So this may not have been our sexiest post, showing you the gorgeous homes our team is proud to deliver. But these are important conversations to have and we hope to educate you along the way. Cheers to a wonderful weekend and shopping sustainably.
-Katie Miller and the Jkath Team