The first and most obvious thing to look out for is the material the furniture is made of. When looking for a wooden table, for example, consider what type of wood was used. Was it sourced sustainably, such as through a renewable forest, or is it recycled timber? Moreover, the wood's origins can tell you whether it was sourced with or without sustainable logging regulations, as well as how much of a carbon footprint was involved in transporting the materials to where it was manufactured and eventually sold.
Another crucial element is the surface finish of the piece. For instance, a varnished coating usually means harsh chemicals that were either painted or sprayed on the timber, which is not ideal for the environment. However, choosing a natural finish, like a natural oil-based or wax finish, is a much better alternative.
These factors can set apart what makes a piece of furniture good for the environment, although it's fair to say it isn't always clear-cut.
One of the biggest things to look out for in furniture (like most products) is durability. Even if a piece is made from sustainable materials, if it breaks easily and can't be recycled, it will end up in a landfill. This waste is amplified when the piece uses unsustainable materials, like fibreglass, polypropylene/moulded plastic, or pressed wood (including plywood, medium-density fibreboard (MDF), and particle board), all of which are used for furniture, cabinets, shelving, and countertops.
Unfortunately, unsustainable, non-durable furniture - also known as fast furniture - is often the cheapest, making it the most popular type of furniture for many people out of necessity.
This is why go-to furniture brands need to get on board with sustainable practices, like IKEA is making strides in doing. This way, people won't need to choose between protecting the planet and breaking the bank.
So, what should you look out for if you want to furnish your home sustainably?
The simple answer is to pay attention to eco-friendly certification, but that can get very confusing, very quickly. From FEMD and BIFMA Levels to LEED and GECA Certification, consumers can get lost in the acronyms without ever knowing what exactly they mean. Things can get even more confusing when companies greenwash their products, misleading consumers by claiming to be more sustainable than they are. That’s why it’s important to find out what criteria lie behind the certification logo. If you see a label that refers to an eco-friendly organisation, look them up! You’ll be able to see exactly why they endorse the product you’re considering and whether that aligns with your own values.
Ultimately, the best way to ensure you’re buying eco-friendly products is to ask questions! Whether that’s in-store with knowledgeable staff or researching on the internet, your greatest tool in eco-conscious purchasing is to look beyond the face-value marketing. If you’re not sure what a company’s practices are, look online; if you can’t find any information, consider that a bad sign. A lack of transparency doesn’t necessarily mean they’re hiding awful things, but if they’re not advertising eco-friendly practices, they might not be implementing them.
To help you out, we've done the research and compiled a list of our favourite sustainable Aussie furniture brands:
If you liked this article, you might like to read about Good On You, an app helping people find sustainable clothing brands.
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