If you are concerned about the environmental impact of your home, what should you do when you need to replace worn-out furniture? After all, a piece of furniture can contain materials that contribute in a small way to air pollution, global warming emissions, and tropical deforestation (at least 32 million acres of tropical forest—an area larger than Mississippi—are cut down each year, releasing 20 percent of all global warming emissions).
When searching for that perfect addition to your living room, dining room, or bedroom, consider the following options, which will minimize the amount of resources consumed and emissions released:
Good wood. When buying solid wood furniture, look for the Forest Stewardship Council seal, which certifies that the wood came from forests or tree farms that are being managed in a sustainable way. More than 200 million acres of forestland worldwide have been FSC-certified to date. Another alternative is the Rainforest Alliance’s “SmartWood Rediscovered” label, which certifies that the wood was recovered from landfills, manufacturing facilities, or other sources in an environmentally sound manner.
Bamboo. This is a good option for furniture because it is both sustainable (it grows quickly and requires little water, fertilizer, or pesticide) and versatile (it can be molded into a variety of shapes).
Recycled materials. A growing number of companies offer furniture made from recycled metal, rubber, glass, or plastic. Composite materials used in less-expensive furniture, such as medium-density fiberboard (MDF) and particleboard, are generally not recycled, but some manufacturers are starting to make MDF from 100 percent recycled wood fiber.
Natural upholstery. Avoid synthetic materials such as polyester, simulated leather, and polyurethane foam (which are all derived from fossil fuels); instead, look for latex foam and cotton, wool, linen, or hemp fabrics that have been minimally treated with chemical dyes or coatings.
You can further reduce your impact by buying antique or secondhand furniture, or by reupholstering your existing furniture (using environmentally friendly materials, of course)—all of which will preserve natural resources while reducing emissions. And keep in mind that the durability of higher-quality furniture will translate into fewer resources used in the long run.
Written by: Union of Concerned Scientists
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