A guide to choosing sustainable furniture
The way we approach buying furniture has changed over recent years, with price-consciousness and utility becoming as crucial, if not more so than aesthetics.
Millennials, in particular, are spending less on furniture, with only 4.5% of their overall spending (compared to 10% of baby boomers and 7.3% of Gen X’s outgoings) going towards home furnishings. Due to a relative lack of money and increased mobility, they’re likely to view furniture as more of a disposable purchase than the long-term investment previous generations saw it as.
However, with people becoming more mindful of eco-friendly options (73% of millennials would pay more for sustainable products) it’s crucial to ensure that you aren’t compromising on this for the sake of chasing a bargain.
So, this year – we’re here to help you make it your resolution to choose sustainable furnishings and offer tips on how to reuse, renovate and recycle your existing furniture.
Tips for upcycling and reusing existing furniture
According to The North London Waste Authority, 22 million pieces of furniture are discarded per year in the UK with fewer than 1 in 10 people considering repairs to extend the lifespan of their furnishings.
This throwaway attitude obviously isn’t great for the environment, but there are ways you can avoid becoming part of the problem.
One of the best ways to ‘recycle’ tired or fixable furniture is to ensure it finds a new lease of life within your home. Upcycling has moved from crafty pastime to mainstream acceptance over the past few years, with people recognising it as a legitimate cost-saving and sustainable solution. If a piece of furniture has some life left in it, there’s no reason to scrap it.
If you’re thinking of livening up some tired furnishings or thinking of repurposing something into a quirky addition to your home, we’ve put together some top tips to bear in mind.
- Put In The Research: This may seem like an obvious place to start, but many people don’t take time to learn from those with more experience. Look at sites like Pinterest and Instagram for inspiration.
- Use Your Imagination: Think outside the box in terms of potential uses for older pieces. For instance, ladders make a stylish alternative to shelving and old suitcases can fill in for traditional coffee tables.
- Preparation Is Key: Make sure that you have everything you need to hand (i.e. paint brushes, tools), clean and sand everything thoroughly before you begin to ensure the best possible finish.
- Don’t Rely On Cheap Tools: While it might be tempting to opt for cheaper tools – especially paintbrushes – you’ll soon notice issues with the quality of your upcycling project.
- Match Your Style To The Furniture’s Era: Don’t assume that anything goes with your colour and decorative choices – ensure that you think carefully about how your chosen upcycle style matches the type and era of furniture.
- Choose Durable Materials: If you’re decoupaging or using fabric for your project, while finding the right colours/patterns is crucial, ensure you prioritise durability or you’ll be adding more work in the long run.
- Protect Your Piece: This is especially true for wooden furniture. Make sure you wax and varnish your finished upcycle to ensure the longevity of all your hard work.
- Mistakes Happen: It’s important not to panic if you make a mistake, odds are it’s easily fixable and you can always learn from it for next time.
- Use Your Initiative: Even the best-laid plans come with surprises, be prepared to address challenges as they arise, and you’ll breeze through.
- Enjoy it: This is a great excuse to get your hands dirty, take some time for yourself and let your creativity flow.
If you follow these steps, you should be able to manage whatever the upcycling process throws at you.
Sustainable furniture materials
If you’re in the market for sustainable furnishings a good first step is to look into the materials used. Responsible suppliers should be very clear about the materials used to create their products, how they’re sourced and whether they’ve been recycled.
- Eucalyptus: A durable, fast-growing and low-maintenance material that can be used to create anything from sturdy cabinets to patio furniture, its use is becoming increasingly widespread.
- Teak: It may take a while to grow, but this hardy, versatile wood is used in everything from ship-building to furniture and, thanks to sustainable plantations, it’s highly environmentally friendly.
- Bamboo: A grass with the sturdiness of soft steel, it’s a cost-effective, hard-wearing material with staggeringly rapid regrowth that ensures sustainability.
- Rattan: Often sold as wicker furniture, the ‘rattan’ label applies to 600 species of fast-growing palms popular for their durability and guarantee of a long lifespan (indoors and out).
- Steel: A highly recyclable material with no downgrading between forms. It can be used again, without any loss of quality, time after time. Steel furniture is some of the most durable available and its hefty lifespan ensure its sustainability.
- Aluminium: The ubiquity of this flexible metal makes it an obvious choice for sustainable furniture. It also offers a chic aesthetic that won’t leave you thinking of recycled cans.
- Recycled Plastic: Its versatility in function and style – as well as its lengthy lifespan – has made plastic a popular choice for furniture. If you opt for a piece made from recycled plastic, you can be safe in the knowledge that you’re serious about sustainability.
These aren’t the only sustainable materials to look out for but should offer you a good starting point for your furniture search.
The sustainable furniture purchasing checklist
If you don’t have anything you feel like upcycling, it’s becoming much easier to source sustainable furnishings. It’s just a case of being more vigilant during your research.
So, how can you tell if the furniture you’re buying is sustainable? You need to look for certain criteria like the materials used to make it as well as the manufacturing process itself. It’s also crucial to be aware of how it was transported and, more practically, how useful you will find it to ensure longevity.
How useful is the product?
- Sustainable furniture must be useful for the buyer or user. It should offer maximum functionality, comfort, and ease of use so it isn’t in need of frequent replacement.
- Furnishings that provide greater utility for the user (i.e. multifunctional furniture like a sofa bed) is always preferable. It will take up less space and effectively serve a dual purpose.
- Durability is crucial. Well-made furniture offers a longer functional lifespan which benefits the environment by not adding to landfill.
What do I look for to ensure furnishing materials are sustainable?
- If the piece has been made from materials previously used for something else that have then been reused to make a new piece of furniture, this would be classed as sustainable.
- Eco-friendly furnishings can also be made from easily renewable materials. For instance, bamboo grows quickly and can be replaced rapidly, making it an ideal renewable resource.
- Ensuring you use finishes (i.e. varnishes, paints) that aren’t solvent-based reduces health risks in everyday use and improves sustainability.
What are the company’s sustainable manufacturing practices?
- Manufacturing practices are just as important as the materials used and must prioritise safety for the environment. This means manufacturers must check emissions and ensure that their methods don’t cause pollution.
- Make sure that they practice fair trade and that they don’t damage local communities or undermine sensitive environments to gather materials for their products.
- For real peace of mind, it’s worth checking if they are certified by authorities such as the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council).
How was the furniture shipped?
- As transporting raw materials for manufacture uses energy, responsibility for low-emission transport is crucial to the production of sustainable furniture.
- If your furniture was imported, check how it was done. Products that come from abroad by will undoubtedly expend more energy. Look for companies that transport their goods efficiently.
- To maximise your energy-efficiency, the best method is buying locally-produced furniture as this will greatly reduce your carbon footprint.
Eco-consciousness can, and should, extend to the bedroom and there are plenty of options available to ensure the mattress you choose is sustainable.
Is your mattress eco-friendly?
To ensure that you’re making the right decision, it’s crucial that you research the materials being used to manufacture your chosen mattress and the durability of the product as well as overall comfort to ensure a long lifespan.
Brands pioneering a more mindful approach include Silentnight, whose Eco Comfort Breathe range mattresses all contain 150 recycled plastic bottles which prevent them reaching landfill or polluting the oceans.
Recycling doesn’t just factor into the creation of the product. Remember that when you’ve come to the end of your mattress’ lifecycle there are options for eco-friendly disposal. You can learn more about this here.
How will your mattress be transported?
When selecting your mattress, it’s worth bearing in mind how it will reach you and how this will affect the environment. For instance, roll-up mattresses (aka vacuum-packed mattresses) allow suppliers to ship a greater number in a single delivery which makes the process more efficient and reduces carbon emissions. They’re also a lot easier to get into awkward space in the home than traditional flat mattresses.
However, it’s not just the type of mattress that you need to look out for. Dig into suppliers’ environmental credentials and ensure they’re committed to making their delivery network as eco-friendly as possible.
Is your mattress accredited by a trusted organisation?
A good indicator of the sustainability of a mattress (or any other piece of furniture for that matter) is whether it has the stamp of approval from a trusted environmental body.
For instance, Silentnight is partnered with the UK’s Marine Conservation Society. They have also received independent accreditation as a carbon neutral business and were awarded the Furniture Makers’ Company Sustainability Award in 2017.
Beyond environmental awareness, it’s also important to look into the comfort and health benefits provided by mattresses. You can find a more comprehensive list of organisations to look out for here.
For related articles on living sustainably as well as how to ensure your mattress is as close to ‘zero waste’ as possible, visit the Mattress Online blog. You can also find out more about our commitment to recycling and doing our bit for the environment here.