It only took 50 years for the furniture in landfills to quintuple from 2 million in 1960 to nearly 10 million in 2018. The surprising fact is that older furniture does not make up the majority in landfills. Most furniture in dumps was made in the last 10-15 years. Caused by a cycle of buying, using, wearing out, and throwing away; fast furniture is a bigger issue than most realize. Eco living furniture brands look to break this cycle. But they have their work cut out for them. What caused this shift from quality to convenience?
Fast furniture compared to fast fashion
Fast furniture is fashion’s lesser known but equally damaging cousin. They both mass produce low quality items that have a reduced lifespan. Fast fashion has taken a lot of scrutiny in the past years for its harming of the environment while the furniture industry has been let off the hook. Treated with a factual “that’s how it is” mentality. In a time where buying a house is nearly impossible. It’s easier chucking a cheap couch while moving than hiring movers with the risk of items being damaged.
Though consumers are waking up.The lines shined on fast furniture shows that the whole line from production to consumer is riddled with glaring issues that harm the planet.One such issue is that tropical areas face deforestation to create particle board, the material most common in low quality furniture.
Particle board is:
- made from pressed wood chips with synthetic resin
- requires a lot of energy to produce
- The dust from the resin can be carcinogenic and cause other respiratory diseases of the workers
Then these products are shipped from overseas. These ships emit sulfur, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, carbon dioxide into the water and air. Heavily polluting the area like a slug’s slime trail. Shipping produced 3% of greenhouse emissions in 2019 and is projected to hit 20% by 2050.
All that for a product that wears easily, can’t be repaired or recycled!
These problems can be mitigated if we buy used and/or buy smart. A great first place to look is your used furniture retailers.
Resources for buying used furniture.
Buying a used piece of furniture can lower its emissions by 82%. Here are some resources to check out.
Etsy Reclaimed Furniture
Etsy has a whole section on the website dedicated to people selling their furniture. While it’s a good first option because of the generally lower prices, it comes with issues. There is no filtering on the page itself. This means while you can find some absolute diamonds in the rough. If you’re looking for something specific you will be digging through many pages
Also a lot of the products aren’t used. They use the word “reclaimed” liberally here. The majority are handcrafted products which are also great for the environment but are disingenuous . Maybe Etsy Reclaimed Furniture just hasn’t matured enough yet for these issues to be worked out. Either way it’s at least worth a look.
Ebay has a little more meat on the bone. Though it has more items to browse, that’s both a gift and a curse. Ebay doesn’t allow you to filter past the room which makes finding the right item a hassle. The majority of it seems to be home workstations( those poor souls have to go back to the office). But I also saw a living room set for 200$ which seems like a good deal. I didn’t see anything above 300$ so if you’re looking to go budget and have time to browse this is the way to go.
Habitat for Humanity Restores
Habitat for humanity(HFH) Restores is an offshoot of HFH; a nonprofit with a goal to end housing insecurity worldwide. HFH Restores is a nonprofit home improvement store and donation center. Working at a local level they sell building materials, appliances and of course furniture. All revenue supports their main cause. Items get sent here from remodeling jobs, overstock and returned items. This means each store has a unique stock.
As of writing this they have no online presence meaning that an in person visit is required. But that sounds like a fun trip. You will never know what you find.
Founders Chris Richter and Ryan Mathews saw the flaws in the linear product model. A model that fast furniture thrives on. A model that saw tons of perfectly good furniture and appliances meet an untimely end in the landfill. So they went all in on the “recommence” idea, partnering with over a dozen sustainable furniture brands to give people cheaper, high quality, and used furniture. . Floor Found takes products returned or overstocked and marks them down for the consumer.
They have everything from
- and even nursery
They use a local business model similar to HFH and since founding have recycled 200,000 pounds of oversized goods. And the discounts are no joke. With some products 1,000$ off. Still pricey, as most sustainable brands are, Floor Found is still a great place to find almost new products.
Best one: Floor Found
It smokes Ebay and Etsy in the quality and convenience departments with a very intuitive website. Floor Found is also locally run like HFH Restores(the runner up). The difference being HFH restore doesn’t have online shopping.
What to look for in sustainable furniture brands.
A lot of brands preach sustainability half heartedly. How do you know which ones really show up for the planet? 2 words:
It’s when a company puts everything on the table. The good, the bad, and the not so green. The majority of companies do this through impact reports. These reports go through all levels of the company and address many issues. These include:
- workplace culture
- gender parity
- causes supported
- independent third party recognition
The majority of the companies below have one on their website. Those that don’t are smaller companies that still have some of the qualifications above, just not in a neat little report.
Sustainable and eco-friendly furniture brands(Mom and Pop)
Shopping locally is an important component of shopping sustainably. Here are some small Etsy shops you should check out.
Found on Etsy, Smart Cardboard is a shop that creates small items out of high strength cardboard. Run by a woman named Laura from Riga, Latvia; The items range from cat furniture to tables, chairs and home decor. They range from 15-50$ dollars and make great gifts for friends.
TheRusticForest is a shop on Etsy that specializes in refinishing metal and woodwork by hand. From metal drawers to bar carts everything here has personality. Most pieces can be customized to customers preference . Based out of San Diego, California they offer big discounts if you pick up your pieces. So be sure to stop by!
SpokenWoodDesign is based in Wisconsin, a state known for its dairy production.This star seller with almost 3,000 sales uses reclaimed wood from log cabins and dairy barns to create gorgeous pieces. The sometimes century old materials make sure that each piece of furniture has its own bit of history.
Sustainable and eco-friendly furniture brands (Bigger brands)
1. Maiden Home
Founded in 2015 by Nihdi Kapur, Maiden Home offers handmade furniture. They span the east coast with Designers in New York and the craftsmen in South Carolina. On their website you can purchase pieces for both the dining room and living room. This includes sofas, sectionals, stools and chairs. Their website also shows you their entire production process broken down to the fabrics. This is the type of radical transparency us green folks like to see.
- Sustainability: Made in USA; made-to-order, responsibly sourced, CertiPUR-US® & GREENGUARD Gold certified pieces
- Furniture types: Bedroom & living room
- Price range: 485$-9900$+(product dependent); payment plans available
2. West Elm
“Good for people, good for the planet” is a mantra that West Elm runs on. Despite their substantial collection of furniture, 95% of their pieces are handcrafted in house in their Brooklyn studios. Their sourcing of sustainable cotton saved 2.3 billion liters of water in 2019.
- Sustainability: FSC certified materials, made in USA, Fair Trade, eco-friendly materials, gives back,Greenguard gold standard
- Furniture types: Bedroom, office, dining, outdoor
- Price range: 50$-14,000$(product dependent)
- Made Trade
Cayley Pater and her husband Andy thought shopping sustainably should be easy. But they found that you had to do a lot of digging to find the truly ethical pieces on other sites. And so MadeTrade was born. They offer furniture, clothing and decor from a ton of niche brands. Everything on the site is vetted by them or a third party to make sure it adheres to at least 2 out of 7 core values.
- Sustainability: BIPOC, Fair Trade, handcrafted, vegan, Made in USA
- Furniture types: Bedroom, office, dining, outdoor, kitchen
- Price range: 50$-9,000$
Sabai makes going green simple. With a curated selection of environmentally friendly furniture for the living room, they help remove the decision overload that comes with a lot of brands. This comes with the added benefit that all their items come with replaceable parts. Keeping your furniture pieces feeling fresh and new for as long as you want. And when you are ready to move on they offer the Sabai: Revive Program. With Sabai: Revive you can purchase a refreshed second hand sofa and have your old one picked up for 20% of resale price.
Sustainability: replacement components, trade-ins/revive pieces,sustainable materials, FSC certified, Made in USA, local materials
Furniture types: Chairs, loveseats, sofas, decor
Price range: $200 – $4400
Looking for outdoor furniture made to last? Say Hidie Ho to Neighbor. Their lineup of seats and tables are all made from teak wood. Known for its water resistant properties, teak will have your furniture looking its best for years to come. Founders, Nick Arambula, Chris Lee, and Mike Fretto are so confident in their craft that they offer a 45 day trial and up to 3 years full warranty. Not to mention free shipping.
Sustainability: FCS certified wood
Furniture types: Outdoor; seats, tables
Price range: $500-3500
Started in 2017 by brothers Bryon and Dexter Peart; they looked to create a marketplace that empowered niche artisans and environmental brands alike. It has a wide array of products from kids to outdoor. Its furniture selection offers products from brands such as Emeco and Ecobirdy among others. In 2020 it published its first impact report, outlining Goodee’s environmental and social goals. One highlight is that 97% of their products are sustainably and ethically sourced.
Sustainability: Certified b corp, showcases indigenous crafts, Carbon neutral shipping, impact report
Furniture types: chairs, tables, benches, stools, shelving
Price range: $225-9000+
Medley aims to create furniture that you will bond with for years to come. They offer furniture for the whole house made from a variety of natural materials; bamboo, Alder, organic dunlop latex, natural wool, and it’s even polished with beeswax. With Medley you know your furniture came from the ground and will make your house feel like a home.
Sustainability: CertiPUR-US®-certified Foam, FSC-certified forests, Made in the USA, OEKO-TEX® Standard 100 Wool
Furniture types: chairs, ottomans, storage,
Price range: $370-9900
Avocado was started in Hoboken in my home state of NJ. In the 6 years since its creation it now spans both coasts. With stores now in California and Washington, Avocado offers bedroom furniture and accessories that let you and the earth sleep easier. The whole production process is controlled by them. From the 200,000 animal sheep farms in India to production in California. They highlight all this in their own impact report. Here’s what stood out:
- 100% green energy use
- 90% of returned mattresses sent to shelters; 100% for pillows
- 126.2 B-corp score; comfortably above 80pt threshold
Sustainability: 1% for the planet donations, Certified B corp, Climate neutral certified, sustainable materials
Furniture types: Bedroom supply
Price range: $190-3,000
7. Inside Weather
Inside weather is a beautiful blend of personality and sustainability. Offering customizable pieces for every room in the house you can have an office shelf with the perfect finish or a bedframe with a leg style you won’t bash your knee into.
Two trees are planted for every order made. This helps they stay carbon negative. Inside weather also takes on shipping; a major contributing factor in pollution. They are using the first ever biodegradable packaging foam made from sugar cane and streamlines your shipments by sending everything at once. Along with this you can have 365 days with your furniture to decide if you really love it.
Sustainability: Carbon negative, zero inventory model, Made in USA, FSC certified wood, OEKO-TEX® Certified fabric options, 100% recycled down
Furniture types: Living, Dining, Office, bedroom and Décor
Price range: Custom, payment plans available
Founded in 1938 by Hans and Florence Knoll. Knoll has set out to provide modernist and contemporary furniture for the office. In the 8 decades since its founding Knoll has since moved to the home with living, dining and outdoor furnishings. For the last 40 years, they have pushed sustainable design in all their products. Outlined by the Knoll 8; 8 fundamental principles their whole business runs on. One such principle is radical transparency. A principle that has led them to create the Knoll sustainability report. With Knoll you get green furniture with a history.
Sustainability: LEED certifications mainly gold and above, FSC certified
Furniture types: Office, living room, dining, outdoor
Price range: 210-16,000+
This Australia based furniture company does not come from humble beginnings. Founders Russel Koskela and Sasha Titchkosky came from the cold world of corporate. They took a risk leaving that lifestyle and created a furniture company with a conscience. Koskela’s furniture collection covers seating, tables and outdoors. For us North Americans shopping here may be pricey. However it’s good that Australians get sustainable furniture. Furniture they don’t have to pay an arm and a leg for.
Sustainability: Certified B, First Nation artist collaborator, GECA certified, environmentally innovative products
Furniture types: Seating, tables, outd
Price range: 180-12,000
10. Pottery Barn
Pottery Barn aims to be “ America’s most meaningful, beautiful design source”. They run their business on four pillars; inspiration, quality, sustainability and service. On the topic of sustainability; pottery barn does a few things. Pottery Barn sets high goals such as planting 6 million trees by 2023. Their products also aim for a circular life cycle with the pottery barn renewed line; where they repair returned items. Every item on the website has a “responsibly made” tab where you can see what qualifications each product has.
Sustainability: responsibly sourced cotton, FSC certified outdoor wood, REPREVE recycled fibers, top 10 leader in responsibly sourced wood
Furniture types: Outdoor, dining, kitchen, bedroom, office
Price range: 180-12,000
11. Sprout children’s furniture
Looking for children’s furniture that will last their whole childhood? Sprout has you covered. Their lineup includes typical bedroom furniture such as floor beds, seating and shelving.But what sets them apart is their MakerWalls and Toddler Towers made to encourage safe independence for your child. Everything is made for easy assembly/disassembly and Sprout offers replaceable parts.
Sustainability: replaceable parts, Made in the USA, low formaldehyde emissions, smart packaging and shipping
Furniture types: Seating, workbenches, children stools, floor beds
Price range: 180-12,000
Sustainable furniture is not where it needs to be in terms of public perception and price. However these companies, among others, are putting their best food forward to help the environment. And your wallet.