Despite being literally swamped with snow in the icy winters for the last few years, global warming hasn’t gone away. Fling your gaze northwards, and the evidence is there in the ever-shrinking ice cap – with this year shaping up to show another record loss of sea ice from the Arctic. So, with global warming becoming climate chaos, it may not seem like a time to be tending to the deck-chairs on the Titanic. But change comes in packages both small and large- and it’s the cumulative effect, of millions of small actions, that could just deliver a society leaning less heavily on the climate. So casting a critical eye, over something as unobtrusive as your tables, chairs and wardrobes, may in fact be far from trivial.
In that light, you could say that the furniture that you have scattered around your house has a lot to say about you, and your interaction with the wider world. So when those comfortable household goods need replacing, it’s worth getting an idea of the environmental concerns wrapped up in their fabric. These issues actually touch on a surprising number of areas – from deforestation to global warming to pollution. But maybe the first point to think about is – do I really need new furniture at all?
That’s one thing our grandparents could answer. Something as beautiful, functional and prominent in the home as furniture should be made to last. And last it certainly has – second-hand stores are full of the fine craftsmanship of our predecessors. They are also mercifully short of the chipboard flat-pack furniture, that is the shabby modern replacement. So maybe the best approach, especially for the more durable items, is not to buy at all – and to raid the past. Any environmental degradation, from such items, is literally history. And you can bring some real classic beauty back into the home.
But for some furnishings, especially upholstered or bedding items, reusing older pieces may not be an option. You may also find that the right furniture for your room just can’t be had from the antique or second-hand shop. In which case, what are the environmental credentials you should be looking out for? Well, the main thing you want to check is the source of the wood. Most good furniture has wood at the heart of its construction, but it is the source of that wood that is critical.
Primary forests across the world being plundered for hardwoods, and much of that goes into making furniture. Not only is deforestation destroying habitats, it is removing one of the larger carbon sinks on the planet – forests act as giant sponges, absorbing CO2. So eco-aware furniture buyers need to be absolutely certain that they are not helping in that destruction.
There is help at hand here – the World Wildlife Fund and the Global Forest & Trade Network (GFTN) have an accreditation scheme to assure consumers of the responsible sourcing of wood products. Look out for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logos prominently displayed on furniture that you buy. This scheme has a mandate to ensure that timber comes from renewable, well-managed forests, that do not involve illegal logging, environmental destruction or impinge on the rights of indigenous people.
It’s also the case that many furnishings involve some fairly nasty chemical processing, and synthetic materials. The furniture industry makes extensive use of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), long associated with a range of health problems. In order to ensure the effects, and the problems with waste disposal, are minimized, the industry has a self-accreditation scheme, Enhancing Furniture’s Environmental Culture (EFEC). So that’s another label to look out for.
So doing your bit on the furniture front need not be too onerous – a matter of research and label-checking. It’s another case where intelligent consumerism can quickly translate into benefits for the planet. And taking greater care in your deckchair arrangements really might help the Titanic change course.
Edward is the author of an ebook titled How To Get Ripped, Cut And Buff, which offers strength training routine co-authored by Yales university trainer.