Just as a lot of food is labeled “fresh” or “natural” with no real significance, furniture manufacturers may insist their products are “environmentally friendly” or “sustainably produced” with scant evidence. But you can do your own homework.
For wood pieces, check out the Wood Furniture Scorecard, produced by the Sustainable Furnishings Council and National Wildlife Federation. The annual list ranks dozens of companies based on publicly available information regarding sourcing and transparency. Websites such as Remodelista and Minted Space also curate collections of furniture makers with a strict focus on sustainability.
Sarit Marcus, founder of Minted Space, notes that it’s best to make furniture out of fast-growing trees such as mango and rubber trees, as well as plants such as bamboo, cane, rattan, reed and seagrass. Avoid slow-growers like Brazilian mahogany, Canadian white cedar, cherry, maple and oak, which take decades to mature.
The next big concern is the use of harmful chemicals. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, more than 80,000 chemicals are used in everyday items found in American homes, such as furniture. “Of those, only 200 are tested by the Environmental Protection Agency, and only five are regulated,” Marcus says.
Stain-resistant fabrics, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in lacquers, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) commonly used in outdoor furniture, and antimicrobials found in mattresses all generate toxins during their production. Flame retardants — found in upholstery, foam and mattresses — are increasingly linked to cancer, neurological damage and other serious health problems, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Marcus recommends wool, recycled polyester, and ultra suede for fabrics, and beeswax and linseed oil for furniture finishes because of their near-zero environmental impact.