Sustainable furniture and home decor

A guide to Sustainable Furniture and Home Décor

When it comes to being sustainable in the world of furniture and home decoration, a whole new ocean of uncertainties, interrogations and more question marks will flood and overwhelm you, but the most difficult question of all is “where to start?”. A good starting point is to read this guide in sustainable furniture and home décor, which hopefully will clarify you what is furniture and home decoration, what are the health and environmental problems linked to them, what is Sustainable Furniture and the differences with “green” and “eco”, and how to select our sustainable furniture for our house, office, garden and the like.

What is Furniture and Home Décor?

Before we get into the guide of sustainable furniture and home décor, we need to understand 2 basic concepts. What do we mean with furniture and what do we mean with home décor.

The concept of “furniture” is any purposeful freestanding or built-in units whose primary function is to be used for the storage, placement or hanging of items and/or to provide surfaces where users can rest, sit, eat, study or work, whether for indoor or outdoor use in domestic or non-domestic environments.

Whereas, “Home Décor” refers to any aesthetic components used to make a space pleasant and comforting. Therefore, Home Décor includes content items, such as furniture, art, and accessories, but also room face finishings such as colors and materials, which would include flooring, wall-papers, and other wall covering materials, window coverings, and ceilings.

Therefore the range of raw materials and other chemical products that are used to manufacture your furniture and home décor will have an impact in your house, in your health, in your mood but would also have a great impact in the environment.Note: items and objects that will be in contact with food and drinks have been excluded from this post. 

What are the main health impacts of Furniture and Home Décor?

Furniture and home décor is made of wood, plastic, metal, glass, composite wood, textiles, ceramics, epoxy resins and more. But in order to assemble and finish those, certain chemicals and other compounds are used such as varnishes, glues, paints, solvents, dyes and waxes. The later can be detrimental to our health due to the release of toxic particles into the air. These substances are normally characterized by a high vapor pressure resulting from a low boiling point, causing large numbers of molecules to evaporate or sublimate from the liquid or solid form of the furniture or home décor’s compound and enter the surrounding air. Since we spend between 80% to 90% of our time indoors, it is worth knowing what are our lungs exactly breathing depending on the Indoor Air Quality (IAQ). 

The IAQ will depend on the type of building, where is located, its occupancy patterns, what is the indoor space used for, the materials that it was made of but also the furniture and home décor. The indoor air will contain substances of natural origin such as radon, pet dander or biological agents such as molds; but also pesticides, lead and other heavy metals, asbestos, ozone (from some air cleaners) and a wide range of Aromatic and Non-Aromatic Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) from a variety of products and materials that will be realized into the air. 

Depending on the concentration in the air and the level of exposure, these substances can:

  • Irritate your eyes, nose, and throat.
  • Cause headaches, dizziness, and fatigue.
  • Lead to respiratory diseases, heart disease, and cancer.

Governmental bodies have regulated and restricted the use of these type of harmful chemicals that might pose a risk to human health. The main regulation in Europe is the Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS) and the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation, and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) that aim at improving the protection of human health and the environment through the better and earlier identification of the properties of chemical substances used in products marketed in Europe. 

Purchasing furniture and home décor that is marked with the “CE” marking indicates that a product has been assessed by the manufacturer and deemed to meet EU safety, health and environmental protection requirements. It is required for products manufactured anywhere in the world that are then marketed in the EU. 

What are the main environmental impacts of Furniture and Home Décor?

However, the selection of sustainable furniture and home décor goes beyond the qualifying requirements of Health and Safety covered by the CE marking. This guide for sustainable furniture and home décor will try to provide clarity on the main environmental impacts in each step of the furniture and home décor lifecycle, from cradle to grave.

When identifying the main environmental impacts of furniture and home décor, the different components of the lifecycle of furniture and home décor (i.e.: materials, manufacturing, packaging, distribution, use and end of life (EoL)) need to be analysed. Those can be sumarised into the following:

  • Materials: The dominant fraction (80-90%) of environmental impacts is linked to furniture materials/ components. While embodied energy in metals and plastics are higher than wood, durability and recyclability are also important considerations. Specifying recycled materials can help reduce material impact from resource depletion. 
  • Manufacturing: The assembly and/or treatment of components, is the next most significant source of environmental impacts, particularly with wood-based panels, composite wood or synthetic components like injection moulded plastics or epoxy resins due to the use of elevated temperatures and pressures. Surface coating operations also have some significant environmental impacts due to the chemicals used and the elevated temperature curing processes. 
  • Packaging: Impacts due to packaging were not considered significant but are not negligible either and some room for improvement exists in this area that can improve the overall environmental impact of the furniture and home décor lifecycle. 
  • Distribution: Due the global nature of the furniture market the severity of the impacts from their distribution can widely vary. The best practice is to resource locally manufactured furniture and home décor. 
  • Use: The environmental impact of furniture usage is considered insignificant. However, durability, functionality, adaptability and reparability of products are important considerations to extend the use phase. 
  • End of Life: Impacts at EoL vary considerably depending on what materials are used in the furniture and how was it designed. Being capable of recycle furniture components to enter the Circular Economy becomes a necessity in lowering the environmental impact. Failing all possible circularity alternatives, recovery of energy from furniture waste would need to be considered.
What is Sustainable Furniture and Home Décor? 

Now that you have got a fare understanding of what are the health and environmental impacts of furniture and home décor purchasing choices, let’s outline the guide to sustainable furniture and home décor procurement to always know that what are you purchasing is exactly what you wanted to purchase.

The first important differentiation we need to mention is that Eco-Furniture, Green Furniture and Sustainable Furniture are not the same. 

  • Eco-Furniture – Furniture will focus on delivering a eco-design that can be easily assembled, disassembled, and in many cases multifunctional. 
  • Green furniture – Furniture that its materials are sourced from responsible sources.
  • Sustainable Furniture – Furniture that meets environmental and social criteria in its entire lifecycle. 

This differentiation does not mean that Eco-furniture or Green Furniture are not good enough. Au contraireappreciated reader, as long as the choice provides the minimum possible environmental impact that meet your needs. 

To that respect what would sustainable furniture ESG criteria look like?

  • The materials used to build the furniture and home decor should:
    • Come from recycled sources, or
    • Be resourced from sustainable and fairly managed natural sources
    • Avoid prohibited materials from protected animal or botanical species
  • The manufacturing process should:
    • Minimise the use of energy
    • Use energy from renewable sources
    • Reduce or eliminate the use of chemicals
    • Maximize the use of materials
    • reduce or eliminate waste
    • Furniture and home décor that has been eco-designed 
  • The packaging should:
    • Maximise the packaging space
    • Use recycled containers and packaging materials
  • The distribution is a component of the lifecycle that takes place several times during the lifespan. In this respect, sustainable furniture and home décor should:
    • Source locally produced raw materials 
    • Locally manufactured furniture and home décor products 
  • The use phase of the furniture and home décor will be affected by:
    • The use behaviours of the consumer
    • The durability, functionality, adaptability and reparability of products
    • The manufacturer’s after-care services
  • The End of Life (EoL) will be characterized by:
    • Repurpose for an alternative use
    • Ability to return the product back to manufacturer for materials recycling

It is quite clear that we, as consumers might not be able to find all the required information to allow us to do a sustainable purchase of furniture and home décor. Our best option is to check for furniture and home décor sustainable certifications by relevant accredited bodies such as:

  • B Corp: Certified B Corp businesses must achieve a minimum score on the “B Corp” Impact Assessment, which includes an assessment of the company’s impact on environment, workers, community and customers.
  • Cradle to Cradle (C2C): C2C certified products are assessed in five categories: 1)material health, 2) material reuse, 3) renewable energy and carbon management, 4) water stewardship, and 5) social fairness. This means safer, more sustainable products made with circularity in mind. Towards the EoL, the product shall be able to be dismantled for repairing, recycling or repurposing avoiding the disposal to landfill. 
  • EU Ecolabel: The Ecolabel criteria is not based on one single factor, but on studies which analyse the impact of the product or service on the environment throughout its life-cycle, starting from raw material extraction in the pre-production stage, through to production, distribution and disposal.
  • Good Housekeeping’s Green Seal: In order to award approval of this label, scientists and engineers of the Good Housekeeping Institute (GHI) reviews and verifies a wide range of data related to the product’s measurable environmental impact related to raw materials, manufacturing, packaging and logistics. But also the brand’s corporate social responsibility is also evaluated. 
  • The American Home Furnishings Alliance (AHFA) program provides a roadmap for home furnishings companies to create a corporate culture of conservation and environmental stewardship. 
    • Enhancing Furniture’s Environmental Culture (EFEC): This is the first level for the manufactures to implement an environmental management system implemented at their facility. It results in improved management of resources and raw materials; reduced energy and water consumption; reduced waste disposal and increased recycling. 
    • Sustainable by Design (SBD): The second level extends the corporate culture of conservation and environmental stewardship throughout a company’s global supply chain. It targets four key areas: environmental impact of the supply chain, global climate impact, overall environmental footprint and social responsibility. 
    • Eco3Home hangtag: The third and final level is a product registration program resulting in the companies being able to use the label. It requires manufacturers to provide safety, health and environmental information for each piece or collection of registered product.

However, many products might have not reached 100% sustainability and still would be worth of attention. These products might have got specific eco-labels related to responsible material sourcing such as wood, cotton, wool, latex, or feathers, or certifications in the safety of chemicals usage or even certifications on environmental health that will look at the indoor air emissions. 

It is also good to know that the Sustainable Furniture Council (SFC) maintains a database of furniture manufacturers who are geared toward eco-friendly, green and sustainable furniture and practices. As we always suggest, do your research, and find out what will be the best option that will suit your needs. 

Did you find this guide in Sustainable Furniture and Home Décor useful? What do you do to chose your sustainable furniture? Leave us your comments below! we would love to hear from you and your actions to make this a better planet!