In a world of buyer’s instant gratification, where the speed of our online click-o-mania outpaces the planet’s ability to provide for it, what toll will the expanding “fast furniture” industry have on the environment? For some, speedy access to affordable, trendy home furnishings is all that matters. If something breaks? Don’t fix it — it’s probably easier and in many ways preferable to trash it and get the next, new furniture. That sure sounds convenient, but at what cost?
According to the EPA, Americans landfilled 9.69 million tons of furniture in 2015 alone. And with Millennials ever on the move, changing locations and furnishings on average every two years, that number is steadily on the rise. One of the most crucial steps we can take in this environmental conundrum is to avoid contributing to that figure. How? By buying less, being picky and taking care of what you have. Don't give in to that particle board bookcase just because it's $30 and easy to assemble. That furniture retailer will happily sell you that low quality furniture having no idea where it's sourced from, whether or not it's solid wood or flame retardant, and knowing they wouldn't buy those cheap pieces of furniture for their own home.
Invest in classic styles that will endure a lifetime or two. There's a reason that solid wood furniture is often passed as heirlooms--think your grandma's solid oak dining table and matching dining chairs that have somehow endured your parents' childhood, yours, and will probably endure your children's childhoods, too. That old furniture simply has better quality because it was likely built by a local furniture maker here in the United States and right there in your grandma's home town even, made with durability and high quality in mind. As time goes on, you may have to clean a few stains from the upholstery, replace a lost foot, sew up a few holes, and maybe even consider refinishing the piece. But whatever you do, think long and hard before you put that thing out on the curb when it's one of the few eco-friendly furniture pieces in existence.
Like fast fashion, furniture relies heavily on textiles, the production of which pollutes water resources, particularly in China where 40% of the world’s textile industry is based. At least 70 different toxic chemicals originate from dyeing fabrics, 30 of which cannot be removed from the water supply.
Chemicals from these processes have led to long term health problems in the workers who handle the fabrics, as well as in people who live nearby the centers of production. Some of these textiles can even arrive in your home or office and still be toxic. That cheap well-marketed living room furniture might not feel so appealing anymore knowing your coffee table could be toxic.
It is also important to note that anything made in China will also have to travel long distances to arrive on American soil. While shipping is relatively cheap in the monetary sense, it is wildly expensive environmentally. 90 percent of world commerce is transported across the oceans by more than 90,000 marine vessels, burning fossil fuels and emitting carbon dioxide (more than a billion metric tons per year). More than ever, it is important to look for furniture stores whose supply chain is close to home — at least on the same continent as yourself — to keep your shipping footprint as low as possible. Not to mention, if you can go ahead and stimulate your local economy, why wouldn’t you?
Last, but certainly not least, the fast furniture industry’s appetite for lumber has led to widespread deforestation and soil depletion, especially in Central Africa’s Congo Basin and the Solomon Islands. Recycling, repurposing and reclaiming wood are more crucial than ever. Failing that, replanting trees whenever possible is a close second, and seeking out retailers who do so will lower the environmental impact of your furniture purchase.
It’s not all doom and gloom. Furnishing your home and diving into interior design should be a joyous process, but it can also be a purposeful one.* Go for quality, take your time and make informed decisions about which furniture company you trust and what home decor you bring into your home — after all, it’s (hopefully) gonna be with you for a while.
* At Whom, we’re all about it — if you haven’t heard already, sustainability and manufacturing close to home at our factory are proud parts of our purpose. Did we mention we reupholster? We believe in giving you options you can feel good about.