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Green Furniture & Sustainable Living

Wouter Wargerink

Posted on May 04 2018

Eco-friendly and green furniture is becoming more and more popular in our everyday life. As a result, we see countless of sustainable furniture companies sprouting up. All these new companies claim that their products are green and environmentally friendly. Although the concept is getting more and more popular, many questions remain unanswered to the most of us. For example, what is green furniture? What are eco-friendly furniture materials? Where can we find eco furniture? And, is this type of furniture really that much better for the environment? Throughout this article, LANGRIA will cover the ins and outs of green furniture and answer all the questions you may have.   [caption id="attachment_572" align="aligncenter" width="750"]Green Furniture - Wood Table Source: TreeHugger[/caption]  

What is green furniture?

Eco-friendly furniture is based on the concept of reusing and recycling. Instead of using new natural materials that can only be used once to build a certain product, a green furniture supplier chooses a viable alternative. This alternative  substance is obtained without harming nature and, most importantly, can be continually reused, disassembled, and reused again. Besides using reusable and viable components, green furniture companies also aim to lower their environmental footprint as much as possible. The latter can be achieved in many different ways, ranging from the usage of reclaimed and non-toxic components to choosing local manufacturers and the right shipping methods for your products. Green furniture is often symbolized by a tree which has been engraved into the design. We may not often think about it, but our traditional furniture really is a major polluter. Like many other goods, they are often made in the most economical manner. This means it uses cheap lumber from abroad, unsafe paints and chemicals to prolong its life, cheap foreign labor, and finally polluting transport to move your affordable furniture to your home country. Not only is this bad for nature, the chemical substances and paints used also affect the air quality inside our homes.   [caption id="attachment_582" align="aligncenter" width="750"]Green Furniture Source: CubeSmart[/caption]   According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the indoor air quality in an average American household is often 2 to 5 times more polluted than the outdoor air quality. One major reason for this are the chemicals we find in our furniture. Considering the fact that, on average, people spend up to 90% of their time indoors, you can see the importance of purchasing green furniture that is not only good for the environment, but also for your personal health.  

How to pick sustainable furniture?

As of late, more and more companies produce green furniture. Nevertheless, you still have to be careful with selecting the furniture of your liking. Finding a supplier of green furniture begins with research. It is easy for any business to claim that they are environmentally friendly, even if they are not. Because of this, it is important to pick companies that are certified and only use qualified components to produce their goods. If you want to be sure that you are purchasing eco furniture, it is important to educate yourself about these certifications. Only like this, you’ll be able to understand what furniture qualifies as eco-friendly  

Eco-friendly furniture materials

There are numerous eco-friendly furniture materials out there which are great for building viable and green products. Ranging from reclaimed woods to bamboo and non-toxic lacquers - below, we’ll list the most sustainable furniture materials.  

FSC certified wood

One of the most commonly used components for furniture is wood. People love wooden furniture because it has a natural, stylish, and premium look. It furthermore matches perfectly with a wide range of furniture designs. Whether it’s modern or traditional, you can’t go wrong with wood. Although wood is a natural product, we have to be very careful when purchasing wooden furniture. We have all heard the stories about acres of forest being cut every day just to fulfill our needs. The furniture industry plays a major role in the deforestation of our globe. Every minute of every day, nearly 150 acres (0.6 square KM) of forest is being cut somewhere in the world. This massive speed of cutting down trees, along with the pollution caused by the machines and transportation of logs, has major (negative) effects on our environment.   [caption id="attachment_574" align="aligncenter" width="750"]Green Furniture - FSC Logo Source: FSC International[/caption]   Because of the above state reasons and many more, it is essential to only purchase furniture that has been made using certified wood. Luckily, there are many organizations out there that help us find out what wood has been cut in a sustainable manner. Take the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), for example. This organization qualifies wood as sustainably harvested. FSC approved wood is harvested in a responsible manner. This means that the harvesting process has no negative impacts on the local ecosystem. Because of this, the forest can continue to grow naturally after the trees are harvested.  

Bamboo

Unlike wood, bamboo does not come from a tree but is in fact a grass. Bamboo represents a certain type of grass that ranges in size from small to huge. It furthermore comes in many different colors ranging from plain lime green and yellow to a fashionable maroon striped pattern. Unlike normal wood (trees), bamboo grows incredibly fast. In fact, some species can increase up to 3 to 4 feet in height per day under the right circumstances. Because of this, it is the dream component for environmental designers and builders around the globe. When talking about furniture, bamboo can be flattened and crafted into floor boards, used for chairs, sofas, and tables, or sliced up and used as window frames. This component is so versatile, you can even use it to build an entire house. The fact that it is so easy and fast to grow, allows farmers to cultivate it without the need of any chemicals or pesticides - making it even better for our nature.   [caption id="attachment_573" align="aligncenter" width="750"]Green Furniture - Bamboo Source: HomeDit[/caption]   Nevertheless, the use of bamboo does have some down sides. The grass takes enormous amounts of water to cultivate and harvesting it too fast can deplete the soil fertility. Furthermore, it is a commonly known fact that furniture manufacturers who work with this material often use a powerful glue to hold the pieces together. This glue may, in turn, contain formaldehyde which is anything but good for the environment. Because of this, it still is difficult to say with certainty how green bamboo furniture really is.  

Reclaimed materials

Many natural components such as wood can last for multiple life times. Therefore, if we make good use of all the wood that’s already out there, we won’t even have to cut so much new lumber every day. Luckily, there are many designers in this world that already think like this and are doing just that. Reclaimed wood is a popular component for many of today’s modern eco-friendly furniture.   [caption id="attachment_575" align="aligncenter" width="570"]Green Furniture - Reclaimed Source: CoolMaterial[/caption]   Old factories, houses, furniture, and other old items are great sources for reclaimed wood. Some green furniture is even made from reclaimed woods found at the bottom of rivers and lakes. No matter where the wood came from, it offers a great and viable resource to build environmentally friendly furniture. The down side is, however, that this wood usually comes in short supply.  

Recycled metals and plastics

Not all eco furniture is made from natural products such as wood or bamboo. In fact, a wide range of green furniture is made from different components such as recycled metal or plastic. Building furniture from recycled components requires less processing and resources. This is not only good for the nature, it also saves money and reduces waste. Thanks to the latest technological advances, metal and plastic is often recycled and reused for multiple times without losing any of its quality. This means that you won’t be stuck to the option of wood or bamboo when you want to purchase green furniture.   [caption id="attachment_581" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Green Furniture - Recycle Plastic Source: Trend Hunter[/caption]   As long as you have the right mindset, any type of good can be recycled into furniture. Eco-friendly furniture is any piece of furniture that is easy to repair, dissemble, and reuse. A great example of such goods are the ones certified by MBDC's Cradle 2 Cradle concept.  

Biodegradable furniture

Biodegradable furniture is, as its name suggests, made from biodegradable goods such as plants, wood, and paper. These type of materials are ideal for making furniture that will eventually wear out. Take mattresses for example. On average, a mattress will last for up to 5 to 15 years.  Regular mattresses come with substances that are bad for our surroundings and they often contain chemicals. Because of this, they take decades to decay. Because biodegradable mattresses only feature natural components, they give back to nature when they decay.   [caption id="attachment_580" align="aligncenter" width="700"]Green Furniture - Biodegradable Source: Pinterest[/caption]   Naturally, this does not only count for mattresses. The same goes for sofas, sectionals, chairs, rugs, and even closets. Biodegradable furniture offers a great way to cut down your negative effect on our surroundings when disposing of your old goods.  

Non-toxic furniture

We all know that familiar smell of a new car, sofa, or any other furniture that you have just bought. Although some might find this smell attractive, it has to be understood that it actually is caused by unhealthy substances. Many manufacturers use unsafe substances such as solvent-based lacquers while producing their goods. These type of coatings contribute highly to the pollution in your home because they emit volatile organic compounds (herein after referred to as VOCs) such as  formaldehyde. Not only are these gasses and chemicals bad for your health, they also have a negative effect on the environment. An other coating often used on furniture are flame retardants. Unlike VOCs, flame retardants are powders. Because of this, they do not offgass like other chemicals. Instead, they fall off and mix with the dust around the house. Like other coatings, flame retardant powders are very bad for your health. It is a smart idea to look for alternative furniture that comes without solvent-based lacquers. Hereby you can think about water-based lacquers which are completely free of any toxic materials. If you’re looking for furniture that has a low toxicity rate, you can keep an eye out for those that have been certified by Greenguard of Oeko-Tex. Also, you can check the label of the goods you want to buy.  Additionally, you can also buy green furniture that comes without any type of coating. However, it is still good to varnish them with a natural coating afterwards in order to extend the product’s life.  

LED lighting

Green furniture is not only about chairs, sofas, rugs, tables, and closets. An other important aspect of furniture is lighting. When talking about lighting in eco furniture we do not necessarily talk about the components used to make the lamp itself, but rather about what type of lighting and bulbs you are using   [caption id="attachment_579" align="aligncenter" width="750"]Green Furniture - LED Lights Source: Tech Update[/caption]   In today’s households and offices, LED lights are very common because of their sustainability. Not only do LED lights have a longer lifetime than regular bulbs, they also are way more energy efficient. On average, an LED light can last up to 25 times longer than a conventional light bulb and uses a staggering 90% less power. Using LED lights does not only save you money, it’s also good for the environment and significantly reduces waste production.  

CARB2 compliant

The CARB2 compliance certification by the California Air Resources Board applies to hardwood, plywood, particleboard, and medium-density fiberboard. This certification indicates which item features the lowest level of formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is a VOC that enters the air from your furniture. When inhaled, this substance can cause soar throats, asthma attacks, and many other more severe sicknesses. Because of this, it is important to choose furniture with an as low as possible formaldehyde level and this is exactly what the CARB2 certification is telling us.   [caption id="attachment_578" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Green Furniture - CARB2 Source: Pacific Hardwood[/caption]   Besides telling us the level of formaldehyde in a piece of furniture, the CARB2 regulations also prohibit the release of formaldehyde into the air during the production of wood products. This significantly decreases the effect of the production process on global warming and has furthermore positive effects on the health of the workers. CARB2 certified wood follows these guidelines. As a reward, they get the CARB2 compliance label. Therefore, it always is a smart idea to ask for a CARB2 certification when purchasing any wooden furniture.  

Consider transportation

Buying green furniture is about so much more than only the components it consists off. One important aspect to keep in mind are the company’s transportation practices. It is nice to buy an item made from eco-friendly components. But this does not mean that the product itself is actually sustainable. Many eco friendly companies use a highly polluting shipping methods. This means that your so called environmentally friendly piece of furniture indirectly pollutes the environment by shipping it from point A to B. When this happens, your bamboo closet suddenly is not that eco-friendly anymore. Because of this reason, many companies that offer true green furniture put a high importance on their shipping methods. Eco-friendly items come from local distributors and are easy to dissemble for convenient transport.   [caption id="attachment_577" align="aligncenter" width="235"]Green Furniture - Transportation Source: Transport&Environment[/caption]   When disassembled, furniture is easier to pack. This, in turn, makes it more convenient to transport because it allows the carrier to fit much more into a single container. One great example of a business that made disassembled furniture big is IKEA. Their flat and square boxes make it easy to transport even the largest of furniture pieces with our own tiny car.

Keep packaging in mind

Another important aspect to keep in mind are packaging materials. Packaging materials are a major polluter because people often throw them away after usage. This is why it is very important to dispose of used wrappings in a smart manner. Sustainable packaging materials such as tin containers and bioplastics are better for the environment in the way that they are easier decayed, recyclable, and have a significantly smaller effect on nature. Luckily for us, there are many harmless and recyclable packaging materials out there. The type of packaging an organization uses tells us a lot about their sustainability.  

Think Small

Living in a green household is not only about green furniture - there is so much more you can do. Downsizing, for example, is a great way to live in an eco-friendly manner. Small houses and apartments offer a cozier way to live, use less energy, and leave a smaller carbon footprint. According to the University of Michigan (2017), up to 53% of the energy used in a household is linked to heating and cooling. Together, all this power produces more than 300.000.000 tons of CO2 per year. This has a massive influence on our environment. The shocking part is that this is just the power consumption of households. When we include that of other buildings and offices, the amount of CO2 produced increases significantly. As smaller living spaces are becoming more and more popular, many green furniture stores have adapted their products accordingly. Today’s smaller sized multipurpose and space-saving furniture offers a great solution for an eco-friendly lifestyle.  

Buy Vintage

Although vintage furniture is not as compact and multipurpose as today’s modern green furniture, it does offer a very viable way to equip your home. When buying second-hand furniture, you no longer contribute to the production of new items. This in itself is already better for our surroundings as it does not create any pollution. Additionally, it does not lead to the unnecessarily cutting down of the forest.   [caption id="attachment_576" align="aligncenter" width="500"]Green Furniture - Vintage Source: Vinterior[/caption]   Vintage furniture is much more durable than traditional furniture. Added to that, most of the chemicals inside the furniture have long disappeared. Therefore, you won’t have to worry about polluting your own household either. Finally, locally bought second-hand furniture cuts down significantly on the costs and environmental impact of transportation. Therefore, second-hand furniture is one of the greenest furniture available on the market. And it’s not only about buying. You can also sell or give away your old furniture. In this way, you make sure it does not end up somewhere in a landfill where it pollutes our outdoors.

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