Buy Furniture with a Future When You Shop Sustainably

The North Carolina-based Phillips Collection uses salvaged materials and sustainably-sourced wood to create one-of-a-kind home furnishings. Photo:

The North Carolina–based Phillips Collection uses salvaged materials and sustainably sourced wood to create one-of-a-kind home furnishings. Photo:

Although the furniture industry comprises a relatively small segment of the retail market, its overall environmental footprint is disproportionately huge. As the No. 3 user of wood — right after construction and paper — the furniture industry is responsible for CO2 emissions released during manufacturing and transportation, as well as for massive deforestation. As today’s world struggles with climate change–related issues, such effects have become impossible to overlook.

Adding to the challenge for buyers are recent studies that link toxins in our furniture to dangerous health threats. A 2012 study by Duke University and the University of California found that 85 percent of couches contained toxic or untested flame retardants, some of which have been linked to cancer. And the use of composite materials, which has helped drive down manufacturing and purchase costs, may carry a hefty hidden price tag — one that consumers can only pay for with their health.

Many composites are filled with volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including formaldehyde, which can cause everything from watering eyes to nausea and allergy attacks. VOCs also are found in many wood finishes, such as varnishes and lacquers.

But does that mean you have to give up your home furnishings and live like a caveman? Not exactly. It just means that consumers have to put more thought into what they’re buying and where they’re buying it from.

“The great news today is that there is a good, authentic eco-story to be had at all price points and in all styles,” says Susan Inglis, executive director of the Sustainable Furnishings Council (SFC).

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