Most people understand that the process of making a couch or any other piece of furniture impacts global habitats indirectly, but they’re not sure how.
To some, furniture delivery may be one of the more obvious factors. For example, Timothy O’Connor, Director of the Environmental Defense Fund’s (EDF) Energy program, reports that, although “delivery trucks and tractor trailers” comprise a mere four percent of U.S. vehicles, they account for almost half of all nitrogen oxide emissions and nearly 60 percent of all vehicles’ fine particulates.1
But, are there eco-friendly furniture options out there?
Eco-Friendly Furniture Options for Ultimate Sustainability
Your furniture deals a significant amount of damage to the atmosphere before it ever reaches you. Still, the problem continues, even after you bring your new décor home.
4 Eco-Friendly Furniture Steals
Best Vegan Sofa: AppleSkin™ Leather Couch
This couch is made from apple skins!
Best Child-Friendly Organic Mattress: Kiwi Mattress
Made out of hypoallergenic materials.
Best Versatile Furniture: Telica Stacking Side Table
This side table is perfect for small spaces.
Best Recycled Swivel Chair: Mirra® 2 Chair
Ergonomic and breathable, best for working long hours.
Where to Buy Sustainable Home Furniture
With that said, making wise decisions about where you buy your furniture and the company practices related to production and distribution is critical to maintain a sustainable lifestyle. These eco-friendly furniture steals show just how far-reaching your décor choices are and how easy it is to swap out harmful products for eco-friendly alternatives.
Keep reading to pick out your favorites, and add them to your eco-friendly wishlist…
1Best Vegan Sofa: AppleSkin™ Leather Couch
Did you know that furniture can be vegan, too? That’s right, it’s not all about your diet, but what you choose to lounge on at home as well.
In Fall 2020, Gus* Modern revealed its brand-new collection featuring couches and lounge chairs made with Vegan AppleSkin™ Leather. The company described the eco-friendly material as “bio-based upholstery” and a “quality alternative” to leather.
Its namesake comes from the primary material that makes up the vegan “leather:” fibers from discarded apples. The central purpose leading to the development of AppleSkin™ Leather was to minimize food waste from Italy’s apple orchard, the nation where the material is designed and manufactured.
The process entails collecting and recycling apple cores and peels. The company also uses a few artificial components to create an OEKO-TEK® Certified material that feels and looks just like genuine leather, without the devastating environmental impacts. (OEKO-TEK® oversees “STANDARD 100,” a world-renowned certification label for textiles that have been tested for harmful substances.)2
The AppleSkin™ furniture line is full of stylish lounge pieces that suit a broad range of homes and office spaces. You can snazz up your interior décor to your heart’s content, and rest assured that you’ve minimized your environmental impact at the same time.
Why It Ranks as Eco-Friendly Furniture
When considering the leather industry’s harmful effects on Earth’s biodiversity, most people think of the animals that must die to produce the material. This is certainly a critical point of concern tying leather products directly to the factory farming industry. Estimates show that this sector is “responsible for more annual greenhouse gas emissions than oil companies such as Exxon, Shell and BP” due to the vast number of cows raised and processed for farmers to profit off leather, among other goods.3
To make matters worse, leather is essentially a waste product, as it comes from cattle used for meat and dairy. It feeds the fast fashion industry, contributes to deforestation, and a plethora of additional environmental issues degrading the world’s habitats.3
Moreover, there are costs discussed less often with leather, such as the effect the industry has on human populations. For example, India is one of the world’s major leather exporters, serving nations like the United States, United Kingdom, and Germany. Sadly, pollution from the tanneries destroys Ganges River ecosystems and subjects locals to terrible diseases.4
Switching to vegan furniture, especially when abandoning leather, can help end this devastation for good. An AppleSkin™ couch helps you minimize your carbon footprint by preventing your contribution to deforestation, the factory farming industry, and pollution harming India’s tannery workers.
2Best Child-Friendly Organic Mattress: Kiwi Mattress
It’s such a good feeling to be able to come home and lay your head down on a comfy pillow, sinking into a luxurious mattress. Yet, that feeling of ultimate relaxation comes at a ecological cost.
Fortunately, with the My Green Mattress children’s Kiwi Mattress, you can eliminate any worry of excess pollution while in use, avoid the use of hazardous materials in your children’s bedroom furniture, and reduce the waste piling up in landfills worldwide.
The Kiwi Mattress, available in one-sided and two-sided options, is the company’s most affordable kid’s bed, designed with an innerspring and organic latex. It’s crafted with hypoallergenic materials, including:
- Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) Certified Organic Cotton
- GOTS Certified Organic Wool
- Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS) Certified Organic Dunlop Latex
As a bonus, My Green Mattress offers removal and recycling services for any mattresses replaced with their Kiwi product. So, you get to rest assured knowing that you’ve not only prevented harm to your home’s air quality, but you’ve saved the local environment from further harm by recycling your old mattress, rather than sending it to the landfill.
Although this mattress is primarily meant for kids, adults can delight in eco-friendly bedding, too. It’s available in a broad range of sizes, from Twin to Cal King.
Why This Ranks as Eco-Friendly Furniture
Mattresses have long been known to impose damaging effects on human health. Many are made with harmful chemicals that can lead to issues with your skin and breathing. Charlotte Vallaeys, a Consumer Reports senior policy analyst for sustainability, said, “For a mattress to qualify for the USDA Organic seal, it needs at least 95 percent certified organic materials and to be processed without potentially harmful chemicals… As of now, few mattresses meet the USDA Organic standards.”5
But the Organic standard is not just for your health. For example, purchasing a mattress that’s OEKO-TEK® Standard 100 compliant will ensure you improve indoor air quality by preventing harmful chemical emissions.3
Although it may just sound like a mere perk, My Green Mattress’s removal and recycling service should not be overlooked. Mattresses in landfills are a serious problem. For instance, the Salinas Valley Solid Waste Authority reports that over 50,000 mattresses are added to U.S. landfills every day. This adds up to almost 20 million every year.6
3Best Versatile Furniture: Telica Stacking Side Table
Whether you prefer minimalist furniture or sleek statement pieces, this Telica stacking side table is the perfect furnishing for you. It stands at a modest 18” tall with a diameter of only 14”, so it’ll fit perfectly beside a couch or even function as a simple bedside table.
This piece is made of 100 percent sustainably sourced tropical hardwood (Teak, Rosita Walnut, and Royal Mahogany) and was handcrafted in Nicaragua, as this area was where Masaya & Co., the table’s manufacturer, began as a reforestation project. In fact, it’s these very roots that contribute to one of the key benefits that enhance the table’s value: For every piece of furniture sold, Masaya & Co. plants 100 trees in Nicaragua to fight deforestation. At the same time, the sales support the employment of 150 local artisans.
These tables are making a significant difference in the lives of Nicaraguan people and wildlife, all while mitigating the increasingly destructive effects of climate change through reforestation. Masaya & Co. has planted more than 900,000 trees in the region and leads the way in climate-friendly furniture production.
Why This Ranks as Environmentally Friendly Furniture
Wooden furniture comes directly from the timber industry, which is gearing up to meet a demand four times its current level by 2050.7 These operations cause a plethora of harmful effects from the saw-milling stage alone, including acidification and eutrophication (excessive nutrients leading to algal blooms and overwhelming plant growth) from carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases (GHGs).7
Plus, a past study revealed that a staggering 50 percent of cut and removed trees go to waste. To put it into perspective: Germany wasted 11.9 million tonnes (about 13 million tons) of wood in 2015 alone, for example. Although furniture production doesn’t account for all this damage, it is a major contributor to unsustainable practices in the general timber industry.7
Now, this doesn’t mean you have to cut out wooden furniture entirely. Instead, it means that you must be smart about where you buy such items to avoid exacerbating the “main environmental concerns” related to the wooden furniture industry:8
- Air pollution from sawdust, PM, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs, various chemicals that inflict long- or short-term health effects, often occurring in concentrations ten times higher indoors than out)9
- Water pollution from solvents and various finishing materials
- Solid wastes made up of wood chips, sawdust, chemical product particles, and trash
Mayasa & Co. works with artisans who handcraft their tables to minimize emissions and uses a low-VOC natural oil finish to reduce the harm dealt to local ecosystems.
4Best Recycled Swivel Chair: Mirra® 2 Chair
Nowadays, so many people are working from home. Millions have had to set up a home office for the first-time ever want to ensure that it doesn’t compromise their sustainable living. Fortunately, numerous brands are available to help you meet that goal, such as Herman Miller.
This company has paved the way for eco-friendly innovation in office décor, especially in one of the most important elements of your workspace: the chair. The chair’s design is intended to maximize its ergonomic performance, offering incomparable flexibility and breathability in the Butterfly back and AirWeave 2 woven suspension seat.
Best of all, it’s one of the most eco-conscious office chairs on the market. The company’s Mirra® 2 Chair (the chair’s model name) Environmental Product Declaration states that it’s comprised of:10
- 24 percent post-consumer content
- 29 pre-consumer content
To top it all off, the chair is up to 92 percent recyclable. Furthermore, its certifications include BIFMA level™ 3, CRADLE TO CRADLE CERTIFIED™, and Indoor Advantage™ Gold. With this chair alone, you can whittle down your workspace’s environmental impact before you know it!
Why This Ranks as Eco-Friendly Furniture
A 2017 study investigated the environmental impact of various furniture types, including:11
- Double bed
- Sofa table and sofa
- Clothes hanger
- Office table
- Working table
- Meeting chair
These items were assumed to be mainly produced in Europe when accounting for their transport impacts. Interestingly, they analyzed the furniture as one contributing factor to an entire building’s global warming potential, measured in kg of CO2-eq/m2 yearly.
Ultimately, the researchers concluded that furniture was responsible for 38 percent of residential dwellings’ global warming potential and 21 percent of offices’ global warming potential. Furthermore, furniture accounted for 27 percent of nonrenewable primary energy use in homes and 15 percent of that in offices.11
The Environmental Cost of a Comfy Couch: Finding Sustainable Furniture Companies
Your furniture choices are not as inconsequential as you may have thought. It’s time to hunker down and find the best chairs, beds, and other household necessities to support your eco-friendly lifestyle.
Fortunately, it’s not too difficult to find a company willing to do the work to minimize human harm on global environments and improve their customers’ sustainability. Yet, the efforts don’t stop there.
As you may have noticed, some of these eco-friendly furniture pieces can be shipped worldwide, a service associated with high emissions levels, contributing to widespread air pollution that harms human health and wildlife safety. You can neutralize these emissions by supporting carbon offset providers that conduct carbon footprint tree planting projects just like those Masaya & Co. participates in.
Calculate your carbon emissions with an ecological footprint calculator to determine the total GHG emissions you need to neutralize and purchase a personalized removal offset to make your life entirely carbon neutral.
Until then, choose eco-friendly furniture that will support the environment, not contribute to its decline.
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1O’Connor, T. (2020, September 16). 100% zero-emissions trucks. How close are we? Environmental Defense Fund. Retrieved September 1, 2021, from <https://www.edf.org/blog/2020/09/16/100-zero-emissions-trucks-how-close-are-we.>
2OEKO-TEX®. (n.d.). Standard 100 by OEKO-TEX®. Retrieved September 1, 2021, <https://www.oeko-tex.com/en/our-standards/standard-100-by-oeko-tex>
3Keeling, T. (2021, June). 4 reasons leather can never be “Sustainable”. One Green Planet. Retrieved September 1, 2021, from <https://www.onegreenplanet.org/environment/4-reasons-leather-can-never-be-sustainable/>
4Gallagher, S. (2014, May 18). India: The toxic price of leather. Pulitzer Center.September 2, 2021, <https://pulitzercenter.org/stories/india-toxic-price-leather-0>
5Rae, H. (2020, May 18). Organic mattress labels you can trust. Consumer Reports. Retrieved September 2, 2021, from <https://www.consumerreports.org/mattresses/organic-mattress-labels-you-can-trust-a1610703649/>
6Salinas Valley Solid Waste Authority. (n.d.). Mattress recycling. SalinasValleyRecycles.org. Retrieved September 2, 2021, from <https://svswa.org/residential/recycling-resources/beyond-the-curb-recycling-other-materials/mattress-recycling/>
7Adhikari, S., & Ozarska, B. (2018). Minimizing environmental impacts of timber products through the production process “From sawmill to final products”. Environmental Systems Research, 7(1). September 2, 2021, <https://doi.org/10.1186/s40068-018-0109-x>
8Gordić, D., Babić, M., Jelić, D., Konćalović, D., & Vukašinović, V. (2014). Integrating energy and environmental management in wood furniture industry. The Scientific World Journal, 2014, 1-18. <https://doi.org/10.1155/2014/596958>
9U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2020, September 14). What are volatile organic compounds (VOCs)? September 2, 2021, <https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/what-are-volatile-organic-compounds-vocs>
10Herman Miller. (2020). Mirra 2 Chair | Environmental product declaration. National Science Foundation. September 2, 2021, <https://info.nsf.org/Certified/Sustain/ProdCert/EPD10352.pdf>
11Hoxha, E., & Jusselme, T. (2017). On the necessity of improving the environmental impacts of furniture and appliances in net-zero energy buildings. Science of The Total Environment, 596-597, 405-416. September 2, 2021 <https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.03.107>