Guide to Buying Green Furniture

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Ideas that save cash and reduce your eco-footprint.

If you’re in the market for new furniture but you’re concerned about sustainability, we have good news: Advances in sustainable materials, along with credible certification programs, are making it easier than ever to find greener decor options and avoid adding synthetic chemicals to our homes. Here are our top tips on choosing furniture with a lower environmental impact:

Look for sustainable wood: Opt for furniture made of wood that comes from sustainably harvested forests or tree farms (like plantation-grown lumber). To be sure it’s sustainable, look for wood that is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and its biggest forest certifier, the Rainforest Alliance.

Choose recycled or recyclable metal or plastic: If it’s not wood you’re after, try furniture made from recycled plastics or metals. If the material hasn’t been recycled, there are things to look for to ensure that it can be recycled after you use it. For example, choosing plastic and/or metal furniture that is both durable and relatively easy to take apart makes future recycling a more viable option. Why? Because a product that can be quickly disassembled and sorted is much easier to recycle than a product made of hybrid materials. Furthermore, furniture that’s durable and easy to fix is less likely to end up in a landfill, and is more likely to be reused, even long after you’re done with it.

Go for reclaimed wood: On the totem poll of waste management, reuse trumps recycling. So, if you can find furniture made with wood stripped from old furniture, houses and construction sites, as well as flawed wood, you will contribute to a sustainable process. Look for the Rainforest Alliance’s Rediscovered Wood Certification label, which provides a stamp of eco-approval.

Avoid toxic chemicals: Materials we bring into our homes can cause serious—and seriously damaging – air pollution. Synthetic material or material treated with synthetic substances can release toxic chemicals into the air. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like flame retardants and formaldehyde are the most common chemicals released by furniture. These have been linked to health problems, such as birth defects and cancer.

To avoid toxic substances, opt for untreated furniture, or furniture treated with natural substances (such as natural wood finishes or naturally treated leather). Furniture made with organic cotton is another option, as it is often untreated by chemical substances. Look for the Greenguard label, a low-toxicity certification.

Buy second-hand furniture: Giving vintage or used furniture a new home prevents it from ending up in a landfill. Second-hand furniture also typically has lower toxin levels, as it has likely already off-gassed most of its chemicals.

Some eco-aware Canadian companies offer smarter and more sustainable furniture choices. YUP offers modern, eco-smart and durable furniture. Its line is made of new and recycled corrugated board, sourced sustainably, and recaptured foam components. The Timeless Materials Co. offers an array of unique pieces for your home – each year it diverts over 70,000 tonnes of building materials, furniture and architectural items from landfill by reclaiming and repurposing them. The result is one-of-a-kind items such as salvaged wood rosettes, church pews and cast-iron tubs. Soma Bed and Sleep Products help you reduce toxins in the bedroom with organic and chemical-free beds, mattresses and accessories.  

In addition to buying from green companies and following our suggestions, you can opt for furniture that has been locally produced, and make an effort to repair, sell or give away used items. While choosing green furniture can, at times, mean greater investments of time and money, as with all forms of green living, the long-term health and environmental benefits are worth the effort.

YellowBlue Designs sells green house plans and blogs about ways to green your home.