Author – Suzanne Tomachi
Eco-friendly furniture or alternatively, ethical furniture has become a popular buzzword among environmentally aware and eco-conscious home owners. In fact, even commercial establishments such as restaurants and hotels have shown a growing interest in eco-friendly furniture.
We had covered a post on how eco-friendly interior designing has become popular among a few circles. In this post, we will explain in detail:
• what eco-friendly furniture really means,
• what are furniture manufacturers doing to maintain ecological balance
• what can you do to ensure harmony between nature and the expanding furniture industry
Types of wood is the key talking point when we discuss eco-friendly furniture. Since the 18th century onwards, our need for comfortable seating, sleeping & shelving has led to an alarming deterioration of trees that produce a given wood type for a particular furniture type.
Apart from furniture, some of these wood types have also been used in boatbuilding & flooring, which has also led to the increasing pace of destruction in habitat. The African Teakwood (Afromosia) is one such endangered species, which is found in the Congo river basin of Africa.
Black Ebony (Diaspyros Crassiflora), found in India, West Africa & Sri Lanka is another wood species that is quickly losing its habitat. The wood types are used in musical instruments, furniture & boat-building. It’s not just Asian and African countries that are plagued with this problem. South & North America has also seen a decline in the landholding of some well-known and important wood types that are available.
The Honduran Mahogany & the Brazilian Walnut have been used for furniture, veneer, decking and boat building, indiscriminately over long periods of time. These wood types are not the ones that are critically endangered, but if used indiscriminately, these will quickly fall into the endangered category & if we are not careful – possibly go extinct. The growing popularity of plywood and advancements in wood machinery and technology has made it a popular choice for commercial establishments – particularly because it also reduces the costs overall.
The Lauan wood species that is also used for plywood has been critically endangered is used for plywood, door skins and many other types of furniture. These species have been classified as endangered and are under strict control. However, poaching is a severe problem and the trees are still being cut for their prized possessions.
The Solution – Eco-friendly furniture manufacturers
Before we begin with the solution, we should also mention a bit of good news. The Furniture Industry has been the earliest adopters of sustainable wood. In fact, many manufacturers use their ethically sourced wood as one of their USPs and now, there are supply chains in many countries all across the globe that support this.
Alternatively, there are a few furniture styles like reclaimed furniture, upcycled furniture & distressed furniture that are very much in fashion. Reclaimed furniture typically takes antique furniture pieces and after some refurbishment treatments, these antiques look as good as new with the old-world charm still intact. Apart from these styles, we have also covered different eco-friendly furniture types in another blog post.
Upcycled furniture uses furniture which was previously scrapped. By using advanced joinery techniques and adding a few props, these furniture pieces can become funky furniture pieces that look as though they are made from scratch.
There’s also is a growing trend among eco-friendly furniture manufacturers like FurnitureRoots, particularly in India, who systematically dismantle old scrapped cars and automotive parts, and reproduce them into funky furniture types that have are used in fancy restaurants, cafés & pubs.
Wood in its natural form is vulnerable to pests and oxidization damages. So, almost all manufacturers treat wood extensively so as to keep them immune from natural degradation. This immunization comes at a cost. Many of the coatings, solvents, & adhesives use chemicals like formaldehyde, methanol, methyl ethyl ketone, glycol ethers are harmful to the environment. According to EPA, the global furniture industry is one of the largest consumers of these chemicals.
The Solution – Natural upholstery
Furniture manufacturers need to pivot towards using non-toxic fills in their upholstery and the furniture that they manufacture. Currently, they use Styrofoam related products in their cushion fill, which is not only highly flammable but is also massively detrimental to the overall health of the environment.
Governments are beginning to strictly enforce policies stipulating manufacturers to use natural cushion fills such as cotton and natural latex instead. The same goes for leather; there are several eco-friendly options available for leather used on furniture. Solid wood should be positioned as a much more sustainable and durable furniture type which will last a lifetime without causing any harm to the environment as opposed to its formaldehyde pressed wood products.
While the furniture industry certainly does have lingering concerns about environmental impact, it also has been the one that has shown the most adaptability. Consumer preferences for buying eco-friendly furniture in the long term will also be a driving factor to ensure that the furniture industry leads the way towards environmental compliance.