Get Started With Sustainable Furniture In Your Home

If you’re looking for a starting point to incorporate sustainable design in your home, this post is for you. Before I tell you where to start, let me define sustainable design. 

“Sustainable Design seeks to reduce negative impacts on the environment, the health and well-being of building occupants, thereby improving building performance. The basic objectives of sustainability are to reduce the consumption of non-renewable resources, minimize waste, and create healthy, productive environments.” according to Wikipedia. 

I think that definition explains it well. Who doesn’t want to reduce any negative impacts on their own health and well-being, as well as the environment? This is why I try to promote sustainability as much as possible. Our clients well-being is central to what we do.

So, where do you start? Your furnishings are a great place to begin. Of course, if you’re doing a new build or renovation, there are many ways to incorporate sustainable design into your design process. However, if you are doing a refresh without construction, your furnishings are the place to start. Where do you find sustainable furnishings? The Sustainable Furnishings Council website is a great resource for finding places to purchase furniture made in a sustainable way. In addition to finding vendors that carry sustainable furnishings, take a look at their Quick Buying Guide. This explains to you the key questions to ask when you’re purchasing furniture.

Key Questions When Buying Sustainable Furniture

  1. What’s it made of? 
  2. Where does the wood come from?
  3. Is the wood third-party certified?
  4. What about textiles?
  5. What about leather?
  6. Were paints or finishes with high VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds) used on this product?
  7. What about fire retardants in foam, including mattresses?
  8. Where was this furniture made?
  9. Does this manufacturer have a Social Equity Code of Conduct?
  10. Does this manufacturer have an energy use reduction plan?

As you can tell from these ten questions, finding the right furnishings is a complex problem especially when you want to make a sustainable choice. You could compare choosing sustainable furnishings to avoiding  “fast fashion” and choosing clothes that are well made, of organic materials, in a fair trade factory.

So what are the qualities to look for in your sustainable furnishings?

  1. Well-made of materials that are either renewable, re-purposed, reclaimed, organic, or sustainably harvested by people making a living wage.
  2. Sustainably harvested wood for any furniture made of wood.
  3. You can confirm this with third party verification like the Forest Stewardship Council.
  4. Textiles can be organic or made of recycled materials. Look for GOTS or OekoTex certifications.
  5. Leathers are an interesting thing to consider for furnishings. The material itself is a by-product of beef production which in itself has a lot of environmental issues. It’s great to use a by-product of something else, but the chemicals in tanning can be very toxic. However, leather is very durable which is why leather reminds us that sustainability is a complex issue.
  6. Always look for low VOC finishes, most of which are water based. This will help you breathe better in your home as your furnishings won’t be off-gassing volatile organic compounds.
  7. Avoid chemical fire retardants in your furnishings containing foam as these have been linked to neurological disorders and cancers. NOT good for your health and well-being…
  8. Furniture that is produced close to where you live and uses raw materials found within a 500 mile radius of the production facility. Buying local will cut emissions AND support local economies.
  9. Fair Trade or manufacturers that have a Social Equity Code of Conduct ensures your furniture was made in a safe environment for the workers who are paid a fair wage and treated fairly.
  10. Learn the manufacturer of the furnishings is working toward reducing their energy consumption. This helps improve the Carbon Dioxide emissions issue that is creating so many environmental issues.

Do I really need my furniture to have all of those qualities?

The answer is “no”. I am writing this post to help you start asking these questions when you’re looking for furniture. It’s like reading the nutrition label on your food to make sure you’re not eating a bunch of chemicals instead of real food. You need to know how the furniture is made, in order to know the impact it really has on you, as well as the environment.

And, guess what? Pieces that meet some or all of the criteria above are not necessarily more expensive than pieces that meet none of these criteria. In the early years of the Sustainable Furnishings Council, they had a campaign I remember called “why not?”. The gist of the campaign was that if furniture cost the same or only a little more money, but was better for you and the planet, why not choose a sustainably made piece over something mass produced that might fall apart in a year, off-gas toxic chemicals in your home while it’s there, and probably was made in far off land by people who may not have been treated like a human being in the process. Of course, if you don’t ask the questions I mentioned at the beginning of this post, you’ll never know.

So, start with your furnishings by being curious. Ask the questions I mentioned when you’re looking for furnishings.

Some Ideas

Want some ideas to start creating your sustainable coastal home? Check out my suggestions below.

The Milton Trestle table above is made by Gat Creek. I discovered them several years ago and love that they offer over 40 different finishes. (Low VOC of course). We designed the one above with an ash top in a stained finish and a painted base for this coastal style dining room on Shelter Island. Gat Creek is a Silver member of the Sustainable Furnishings Council with a holistic approach to sustainability that we love.

When choosing your upholstery, look for companies that offer a bio-hybrid foam option for the cushion. The cozy Murphey Swivel Chairs above are made by CR Laine who has been offering the eco-friendly foam option for some time. You can ask vendors about the option of bio-hybrid foams for cushions which typically made with soy or lavender oil reducing the petroleum based chemicals used to create cushions.

I don’t want you to forget about your outdoor furnishings either. In the last few years, we’ve all spent more and more time creating outdoor living spaces. So, you should consider starting to add sustainable outdoor furnishings to your home. I’ve been carrying outdoor furnishings from FermobUSA since I started my business over 20 years ago, and one of the things I love the most is their high environmental standards. They hold an exemplary gold rating with the Sustainable Furnishings Council. While the company is located in France their sustainable production standard surpass most US companies. The Bellevie Table with Storage shown above is made of aluminum which will hold up to the salty, coastal environment.  Learn more about Fermob’s Sustainabilty here.

Have any questions? Want to learn more? Leave me a comment.



meet shannon

Creator of coastal retreats for families to feel good in, lover of beach walks, and sustainable living.




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