Finding eco or green furnishings may be a little harder then finding sustainable building materials. There are more guidelines that drive the building market towards green materials whereas there are little to no requirements for the things put inside the home. Even though there may not be a detailed list of sustainable furniture, there are things that you can look for when choosing your next sofa to meet the values of living sustainable.
Upholstered furniture are any soft, cushioned pieces that create a warm and inviting atmosphere. They are comfortable sofas or chaise lounger chairs and allow us to relax and unwind after a hectic day. Even head boards and wooden panels can be upholstered purely for visual appeal. While you do want to choose your furniture for comfort and appeal you should also consider all of the components that go into making it. From the wooden frame, metal springs and webbing to the fabric, batting, dye and trim. Each component should be specified to reduce environmental impact from manufacturing to the land fill.
Fabrics made from natural fibers and dyes are probably one of the most eco friendly option available. At their life's end they can be easily decomposed without adding chemicals into the land or air. There is also the option of using synthetic fabrics derived from natural elements as they also can biodegrade or be recycled and have a longer wear. The only thing to consider is that the manufacturing process is usually a little more intensive and requires more energy. You can always repurpose old fabrics for new applications or use recycled fibers.
Stay away from petroleum based synthetic fibers as well as chemical dyes, stain resistors, waterproofing or any other chemical treatments. These products are not good for your skin, health or the environment. These fibers have a harder time breaking down and can rarely be recycled.
Batting and Foam
Most big furniture manufacturers use synthetic foams and fillers as they are easily attainable and produce predictable results that are long lasting. They are so long lasting that they don't biodegrade and cant be recycled. Synthetic foams are likely to produce VOCs over time which means you may be sitting on a chemical cloud. Always stick to the natural options. There is a lot to choose from; anything from cotton, grasses, jute, hemp and sisal to wool and down. They may not last quite as long as synthetic foams but that only means that its doing what it should. Its breaking down and will biodegrade once you are done with it.
The frame is just as important as the rest of the piece. A properly constructed frame could potentially be reused for many years to come. The fabric and cushions may have worn out but it can be stripped bare and reupholstered. Always choose a frame made from solid, local, unthreatened wood with no chemicals or preservatives added.
Many furniture manufacturers use frames made from particle board because its cheap. Avoid buying furniture with any component made from particle board as these have very short life spans and cannot be reupholstered. You may think its a good idea because it uses sawmill wood chips which would be otherwise be waste but forming the partials into boards require a formaldehyde resin which I highly recommend that you stay away from.
What to look for
- Natural or plant based fibers
- Sustainably grown or harvested natural fibers
- Minimal processing
- No added chemicals or dyes
- Natural dyes
- Locally made textiles and furniture
What to avoid
- Synthetic fibers made from petroleum products
- Chemically treated fabrics
- Chemical dyes
- Synthetic foams
- Fireproofing or water-resistant treatments
Word of the Day: Carcinogen
Any naturally occurring or synthetic substance known to increase the risk of cancer.