Sharing my complete sustainable furniture guide with you on the blog. I get asked about sustainable furniture a lot, what is environmentally friendly and so on. I wanted to do a deep dive into what sustainable furniture is, what brands offer sustainable furniture, how furniture is eco-friendly and if there is affordable sustainable furniture brands. There is so much to consider when looking for sustainable furniture and I want to make sure and cover every last detail so you can make an informed decision when you are looking for options for your home. Another term that fits sustainable furniture it eco-friendly furniture. I'll be talking more about how they are intertwined below.
What Is Sustainable Furniture?
Let's first answer the question, what is sustainable furniture. Sustainable furniture is furniture that keeps the environment in mind and is thoughtful about how it is made, where materials are sourced and the impact it has on people and the world.
This is the next generation of furniture. Just as we consider what we buy when it comes to our clothing, food, so is the same with furniture. I believe this is the next wave in the sustainable movement. Eco-friendly furniture is another term that I like to use when talking about sustainable furniture. When we refer to something as eco-friendly it means it's safe for the environment. Often this can be misinterpreted. Although something might be safe for people, does not means it's safe for the environment. Eco-friendly at it's core is ensuring that from packaging to production, the product is safe for the environment and taking measures to make sure it is. I believe truly sustainable furniture companies do that.
Also, with sustainability comes safer furniture. When furniture is more thoughtfully made and sourced ingredients and materials are considered much more. Through the process a cleaner and safer product is made. Did you know that when it comes to cotton, organic farming produces 46% less C02 than conventional farming practices?
This is one thing that sets sustainable furniture apart. Not only is the process safer for the environment but also for the consumer as well. If you start to dig a little deeper in furniture it's easy to start to see how toxic it can actually be. Chemicals found in furniture today are downright horrible for the body and yet we can be potentially exposing ourselves to them everyday. Some of these ingredients are, polybrominated diphenyl, phthalates(1), formaldehyde(2), benzene(3), acetaldehyde(4), vinyl acetate(5), hexabromocyclododecane (6), perfluorooctanoic acid(7), perchloroethylene(8), and trichloroethylene(9). These chemicals pose a serious threat to our bodies from being known carcinogens, hormone disruptors, skin irritants, causing reproductive issues, respiratory issues, nervous system damage, and more. As the furniture gets used, these chemicals come out into the air, settle into dust, and land on the floor. We are not only touching them and being exposed as we sit on the furniture, or touch it but also from air we breathe. Babies and toddlers have the greater chance of being exposed as they are smaller and are constantly on the ground, crawling and touching things.
“Several studies suggest associations between exposure to some flame retardants and poorer neurodevelopment in children,” Asa Bradman, associate director of the Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health at the University of California, Berkeley. (10)
Flame retardants started being added to furniture in 1975 by California after the California Flammability Standard was formed. This standard set a new precedent for all furniture companies as many started to adopt it and add flame retardants to their furniture. Companies didn't want to have to make specific furniture just for California and different furniture for other states. Therefore flame retardants were added to any furniture contains foam. In 2014, lawmakers realized that the flame retardants weren't needed, however, there have been no ban on flame retardants being used still as most furniture you purchase will still have the flame retardants on it.
Flame retardants are just one of the big heavy hitters when it comes to harmful chemical exposure from furniture. There are so many more chemicals we are exposed to on a daily basis because of our furniture. This is one of the reasons I love digging into sustainable furniture. It takes all of this into consideration from planet to consumer.
I want to share some more topics that make sustainable furniture different than conventional furniture:
- Supply Chain
- Ethical Practices/Labor Practices
- Material Sourcing
- Sustainable/Green Business Practices
If you're not familiar with a supply chain, it is the start to finish of a product. How a product gets made. This takes into account, the sourcing of the materials, the manufacturing, all the people involved in making it happen, to how it's organized- every resource used to get a product to a consumer. With the advancement in technology in the last 20 years sustainable supply chains have become more and more the way of the future and are almost expected among consumers. I love this! In the past supply chain was more of an afterthought to a product. However, now consumers are asking questions and wanting more transparency. There are many facets a company can focus on when considering creating a sustainable supply chain. One such area is how the supply chain and production is going to affect the environment. For example, how can a company successfully source their materials from a sustainable farmer who is giving back to the land, while also being cruelty-free? This is something that sustainable furniture companies have to consider when thinking about their supply chain. More questions are being asked by the consumers and they're wanting to know all the details of the supply chain and what that looks like.
It's not enough to source wool used to make furniture, a sustainable furniture brand must tell the story of how it was sourced from farmer, to region, if the employees were compensated fairly and how it actually got to the manufacturer. The details all matter! As I mentioned earlier with the help of technology sustainable supply chains are becoming more and more prevalent. Technology is the best way for companies to accurately analyze their supply chain from start to finish and see what actually is working and how they can improve overall. It's an exciting time to see companies step up to the plate and improve their supply chain to make it more eco-friendly and sustainable overall. This is one area that makes sustainable furniture unique, the supply chain matters and is considered!
Ethical Practices/Labor Practices
When it comes to ethical practices sustainable furniture companies are going above and beyond to ensure that all aspects of a business are supported through ethical practices. From how the customer is treated, to how the worker is compensated, to being honest when it comes to sales, ethical practices including the business as a whole. Ethical practices also include how a company considers their mark on the environment and how they are helping to lessen the impact they have on the environment too. They are uploading themselves to a higher standard of conduct to ensure not only are they using ethics when it comes to people, but also how their company affects the environment around them.
Labor practices go hand in hand with ethical practices. If a company sets up a standard of ethical practices to adhere too, it's often going to include what they deem safe for working conditions and pay within the company. Something that falls right under labor practices. It's easy to see what type of labor practices a company has in place after reviewing their ethical practices. Knowing how a company views labor practices is paramount since it determines how workers are compensated, how their working conditions are and more. When it comes to labor practices in sustainable furniture it's important to look for ethical standards that a company is adhering too. Then it will be clear how they are prioritizing labor practices within their company. For example, you could look at a companies ethical practice standards and better understand if they are putting the workers needs and environment first. This ensures you're getting a truly sustainable product from start to finish!
Where the material is sourced is very important when it comes to sustainable furniture. Is it being sourced from around the world where the cost and footprint is great because of shipping and distribution? Is it sourced from a farm that doesn't use pesticides and also is uphloding ethical practices of their own? These are all things to consider when looking at material sourcing. Responsibly sourced is another term you may come across when shopping for sustainable furniture. The material may be clean but is it responsibly sourced, meaning as a whole there are no negative effects on people and the environment through the process.
Things to look for when it comes to sustainable/Green Practices-
- Partnership with employees- Share the mission and sustainability goals with your employees. This also helps to ensure there is accountability within the company to uphold green practices.
- Water and Electric Conservation- Is the company actively looking to be sustainable when it comes to water and electric use.
- Recycling- Does the company recycle? Is it recycling furniture? What about paper products, light bulbs, electronics, etc.
- Sustainable Company Policies- Are their sustainability practices clearly defined and shown on websites and easy to find.
- Chemical/Waste Management- How is a company lessening the overall chemicals being used in production and managing the waste in a sustainable matter.
- Education- This is an important one. How are they educating the consumer when it comes to sustainability and not only what they are doing but what we as consumers can do as well.
- Material- Again it's important to consider how the fabric and material are sourced when it comes to sustainable furniture. Is the fabric doused in flame retardants, formaldehyde and other harmful chemicals that are not only dangerous for people but also for the environment?
Now that you have a better understanding of sustainable furniture let's dive into sustainable furniture brands. Some common sustainable furniture questions I'll be answering:
- Where can I buy sustainable furniture?
- What is sustainable wood furniture?
- Affordable sustainable furniture?
- Sustainable furniture company materials?
- Is IKEA Eco-friendly?
We are going to tackle some of the most prominent questions surrounding sustainable furniture so you can be informed as you shop!
Where can I buy sustainable furniture-
While there weren't that many companies in the past when it came to sustainable furniture, the tides are changing and now more than ever there are so many more brands to choose from. I'm going to list them below, and share what makes the brand sustainable and sets them apart from other sustainable furniture brands. Some of these brands I've experienced first hand through buying their furniture, I'll note that as well.
This is a company I do have experience with when it comes to sustainable furniture. Not only are they are a well known commercial brand, but they are making waves in the sustainability department. Their prices are more middle of the road. Some being higher than others. Definitely not the highest of the high, but also not the lowest of the low. The are more modern in their design and very with the current style.
What they offer when it comes to sustainable products:
- Bedroom, living room, baby cribs, office, and dining room.
Here is what West Elm currently offers when it comes to eco-friendly and green practices:
- Fair Trade- Their fair trade factories support over 13,000 workers and their families. That's a total of 16 fair trade facilities total. West Elm was also the first home retailer to join Fair Trade USA. These facilities support fair working conditions and fair wages. Here's a quote from their website, “We've paid 4.7 million into community development funds. Workers invest these funds in needs of their choice: commuter bicycles, cultural services, hot lunches, hygiene kits, and more.” How cool is that? By 2020 their hope is that 40% off their products are fair trade certified. The items that are fair trade certified will have a fair trade certified symbol on them and be noted in the description on the website or at the store.
- Responsible Sourcing- 100% of all cotton is organic. Because of this 2.3 billion liters of water was saved in 2019 alone. 10,000+ chemicals & VOCs screened when producing their GREENGUARD Gold certified furniture. Additional certifications they use are OEKO-TEX certification. Meaning that a product is tested for harmful chemicals or substances. Check out more information on responsible sourcing here.
- Environmental Protection- Not only are you supporting fair working conditions and fair wages when you purchase their sustainably sourced furniture, but you are also protecting forests globally and ecosystems. They are also Forest Stewardship Council certified. Many of their products are also up cycled, recycled or reclaimed when it comes to wood. Which means less waste overall.
- Supporting Local Economies- They support their local artists, designers, to help their businesses grow. They also support local economies around the world with their handcrafted goods.
When it comes West Elm's wood furniture, it is GREENGUARD Gold certified, meaning that a product has been tested for low chemical emissions. Meaning it will only give off low level VOCs. Their are products that are GREENGUARD Certified, but those that are Gold certified as well eliminate even lower levels of VOCs(11). Another reason to appalled West Elm as they are also GREENGUARD Gold certified too! You will also see depending on the wood furniture what finish it has on it. Most of them are covered in a nontoxic water based finish.
West Elm doesn't just offer sustainable furniture but also sustainable accessories too. From pillow, bedding, mirrors, art, rugs and more.
My Experience with West Elm Furniture-
My husband and I have their Mid-Century Modern Acorn Bed Frame and love it! We've had it for almost 3 years and it's held up great. I love that it's made of real wood- no particle board or manufactured wood. Since a bed is such a large piece of furniture I didn't want it off gassing harmful fumes. It also couldn't be cloth or fabric. Although I do like the look of the cloth headboards, from research I've learned how dust mites can live in them! Plus, I wondered how they would really get clean, since you can't take the cloth off. The bed frame is not only made with real wood but fair trade as well. The price wasn't so crazy either. I found most furniture made from all wood can be very costly. I'm SO happy with the purchase! It didn't even have a smell when we opened it other than just a pleasant real wood smell. My hubs was impressed with how well it was made too. Can't recommend it enough! Shop the Mid-Century Modern Bed Frame here.
Crate and Barrel
This is another mainstream company that I have firsthand experience with. Crate and Barrel offers some environmental initiatives from upholstery, packaging, furniture and housewares, catalogs and sourcebooks, energy conservation and recycling and outdoor. It's so cool to see a mainstream company upholding a higher standard when it comes to sustainability and furniture as well as green practices.
What they offer when it comes to sustainable products:
- Bedroom, living room, baby cribs, office, and dining room.
Here is what Crate and Barrel currently offers when it comes to eco-friendly and green practices:
- Upholstery- Crate and Barrel now offers over 50 styles in eco-friendly upholstery. Their products are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. They also are using less petroleum based foam in their cushions and instead replacing it with soy, corn- based foam and fibers.
- Packaging- All of their black and white boxes are made with renewable fiber that contains post-consumer recyclable material. Also, their shopping bags are made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper. This means that a minimum of 85 percent post-consumer waste certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. They are also printed with water-based inks. They also use 100% recyclable tissue in their shopping bags and boxes. They also use GreenWrap or air pads to package and protect their products. GreenWrap uses 100% recyclable paper. It can go directly into a recycling bin. The air pads are made from source-reduced packaging. Every pad is 98% air and 2% recyclable plastic. You can pop the pad and disposed of in the recycle bin.
- Furniture and Housewares- A good amount of the wood dining room and office products are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. As Crate and Barrel states on their website, “The gold standard designation for wood harvested from forests that are responsibly managed, socially beneficial, environmentally appropriate and economically viable.” They also do a great job of using woods that would otherwise be tossed and instead making furniture out of them. Such is the case with their Mango dinning collection. They also repurpose wood from from buildings no longer in use in China, Indonesia, and Brazil. They also offer bamboo in many of their kitchen and bath collections. Bamboo is known for being naturally anti-microbial and sustainable. They also offer recycled glass for some of their dining options. In addition, they offer OEKO-TEX certification for some bed and bath linens.
- Catalogs and Sourcebooks- All of their catalogs are printed on Forest Stewardship Council certified paper and that is not bleached with chlorine. They also offer catalogs online as well.
- Energy Conservation and Recycling- They operate one of the largest headquarters of Crate and Barrel at their Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design(LEED) on the West Coast. They also have LEED certification at one of their stores in Durham, NC. They also have switched to lower energy lighting at all of their stores. They have a thorough recycling program at their stores and are working towards zero waste.
- Outdoor- Crate and Barrel has taken their sustainability and green practices and have carried them over into their eco-friendly outdoor furniture as well. For example, they use only Forest Stewardship Council certified teak that is plantation grown. They also use nontoxic resins for their outdoor wicker furniture.
- Social Responsibility- Crate and Barrel is part of California Transparency in the Supply Chains Act which prohibits any human trafficking or slavery of any kind. Also, they have a Code Of Conduct that all vendors have to adhere too. This ensures that all who work for them are treated fairly. For more information, check out their social responsibility here.
When it comes to Crate and Barrel's wood furniture, it is made from certified sustainable hardwood that's kiln-dried to prevent warping. Some of their products are made from teak and are Forest Stewardship Council certified as well.
My Experience With Crate and Barrel
I bought their Lounge Chair last year and love it! It didn't have a strong smell at all when I got it. It is extremely comfortable and fits nicely in our space. I loved that I could go and check out the chair at a local furniture store if I wanted too before purchasing. Makes for an overall easier experience for the customer. It's held up well too- and that's saying a lot with three kids!
Room and Board
This is another company that is in the mainstream furniture business but very sustainable as well. They have many pieces of furniture that meet the sustainability requirements as well as really advocating for a more sustainable future overall. I applaud their work they are doing! I do not have any direct experience with using Room and Board but have read much about their company, products and standards. I also have several friends who have loved their products.
What they offer when it comes to sustainable products:
- Bedroom, living, office, dining room and outdoor furniture.
Here is what Room and Board currently offers when it comes to eco-friendly and green practices:
- Design- Their sustainability efforts start with their design. Holding true to timeless and classic design that's made from quality craftsmanship that helps to eliminate 10,000 tons of furniture that ends up in landfills because you have the furniture for a lifetime.
- Manufacturing– More than 90% of their products are manufactured in the U.S. Plus, the materials like solid wood, and natural steel are sourced from the U.S. as well. Not only cutting down on overall carbon footprint but investing back into the lives of the American citizens.
- Founding member of the Sustainable Furnishing Council- Companies are scored based on their sustainability practices. From using sustainable materials, recyclable materials, how returns and reuses are handled. Another thing I love that they check for is actual documentation on the chain of custody. Meaning they are reviewing legal documents on where their wood is purchased.
- Air Pollutants- They choose materials that contribute to lower air pollutants overall. Asking vendors for low environmental impact textiles.
- Local Sourcing- They implement a 500 radius for a certain amount of their products. This means they extract, manufacture and ship within 500 miles for a certain portion of their products. Lowering overall carbon footprint.
- Education- They are continually educating their employees on sustainability efforts and how they can do better.
- Real people and real materials- Room and Board believes in supporting local craftsman and real materials. They use real wood, often that's reclaimed, and recycled natural steel for their furnishings. Their plastic is recycled plastic and their nylon is as well. Supporting local craftsmen helps to reduce travel, and overall carbon footprint.
- Stores and Office Buildings- From their retail stores to their office buildings they make a conscious effort to ensure sustainability is a priority. From taking over old buildings, to adding LED lighting to their buildings, and landscaping with native plants.
- Support- Room and Board financially supports organizations that are leading the charge when it comes to sustainability. They also give their staff members opportunities to volunteer too. Last year they donated $320,000 to the Nature Conservancy.
This a new sustainable furniture company but one I've been reading lots about and I'm excited to share with you! The founders wanted their couches to not only be comfortable but also sustainable too. There were too many furniture companies that were too expensive or too flimsy, so they created their own! This is a more affordable approach to a sustainable couch in my opinion without sacrificing the important things. I don't have any personal experience using the brand but if you read the reviews they are enough to make you want to buy a couch from them! I am in the market for a new couch soon and Burrow is definitely on the top of my list. They also offer a 30 day trial too!
What they offer when it comes to sustainable products:
- Couches- from loveseats, to sectionals, and sleepers, armchairs and ottomans, media storage, wall shelves, tables and benches, and rugs.
Here is what Burrow currently offers when it comes to eco-friendly and green practices:
- Shipping- Since Burrow's furniture is modular it can come in normal shipping boxes, which saves a lot of money on shipping, unlike other furniture companies. The boxes they are shipped in are 100% recycled cardboard boxes.
- Eco-friendly materials- Burrow uses upcycled materials and sustainably harvested wood that is sourced from responsibly managed forests.
- Wood- All wood used in Burrow products is grown in either Louisiana, or Mississippi. in responsibly managed forests. The wood suppliers are also certified by the Forest Stewardship Council(FSC). They didn't just stop there, they are also certified through the American Tree Farm System(ATFS) and Sustainable Forestry Initiative(SFI). These certifications help to ensure land is managed responsibly and there is long term planning.
- Nontoxic Fabric- They don't add any chemical additives to their furniture or treatments and the fabric is free of formaldehyde's, lead, phthalates and flame retardants. Plus, they allow minimal VOC content less than 0.5 PPM. Their stain resistant fabric is not doused with Perfluorinated Chemicals like so many other furniture companies but instead they use a fabric called olefin that uses upcycled polymers that are naturally stain resistant.
- Made in the U.S.A- They make their furniture here which not only offsets carbon footprint but also helps support local businesses.
I have read much about Medley. This is the the best of the best when it comes to sustainable furniture brands. They really have it all when it comes to nontoxic furniture that delivers on the sustainability front as well. This also comes with a heftier price tag too! However, this is a great option if money is not a concern and you are chemically sensitive or if you just want to make sure your furniture is free of everything.
What they offer when it comes to sustainable products:
- Living, Bedroom, storage, dining, office, and accent tables,
Here is what Medley currently offers when it comes to eco-friendly and green practices:
- Manufacturing- They manufacture in California, to lower carbon footprint. Their mattresses are made in Chicago.
- Wood- All the wood used is real wood and not plywood. It is Forest Stewardship Council(FSC) certified. They also use bamboo which rapidly renews on it's own. The wood furniture polish is made from 3 ingredients- beeswax, carnauba wax, and olive oil.
- Foam- They offer two kinds of foam. The first is a polyester foam that is certified through CertiPure, this is the highest certification you can get for foam. The second option for foam is organic natural latex. This is made from the sap of rubber trees, and is very durable and breathable. Getting organic latex is as good as it gets when it comes to nontoxic furniture.
- Wool- Not only do they use wool to fill chairs and sofas but also has an upholstery fabric. It is naturally, flame resistant, temperature regulating, stain-resistant, antibacterial and hypoallergenic. Plus, it's extremely biodegradable and renewable. Their wool is also OEKO-TEX certified and sustainably sourced, as well as cruelty-free.
- Fabrics- They take their fabrics to the next level when it comes to sourcing and toxins. They use fabrics such as certified organic cotton(certified by the Global Organic Textile). If they do use synthetics their is a purpose- nothing goes unnoticed with Medley. If there is a synthetic fabric used they are either Greenguard Gold Certified or OEKO-TEX certified- ensuring they are safe. By using organic cotton, Medley produces 46% less CO2 than conventional farming.
- Customization- You can customize the furniture to your liking.
What sustainable furniture brands have you tried?
If you liked this post, be sure to check out past posts below:
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- PubMed.gov. (2013 Oct 22). Effects of low-level hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) exposure on cardiac development in zebrafish embryos. Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23903933/
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- EHS Daily Advisor.blr.com. (2020 May 15). EPA Evaluation of Perchloroethylene (PCE) Reveals Many Risks. Retrieved from: https://ehsdailyadvisor.blr.com/2020/05/epa-evaluation-of-perchloroethylene-pce-reveals-many-risks/
- Agency For Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. (2014 Jan 16). Health effects linked with trichloroethylene (TCE), tetrachloroethylene (PCE), benzene, and vinyl chloride exposure. Retrieved from: https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/sites/lejeune/tce_pce.html
- TIME Magazine. (2016 Aug 24). You asked: Can my couch give me cancer? Retrieved from: https://time.com/4462892/couch-cancer-flame-retardants/
- UL.com. What does GREENGUARD Certified mean? Retrieved from: https://www.ul.com/insights/what-does-greenguard-certified-mean#:~:text=GREENGUARD%20Gold%20Certification%20means%20products%20“emit%20even%20lower,a%20bigger%20dose%20of%20whatever’s%20in%20the%20air.”