The word “sustainability” is everywhere these days, but what exactly does it mean? Generally speaking, sustainability is broken into three major categories: environmental, economic, and social. Understanding what materials are sustainable and what certifications are right for your home will help elevate your eco-chic living.
Choose Sustainable Wood
Reclaimed and Recycled Wood – Furniture, décor, and lighting are made from a myriad of different materials. When shopping for wood furniture, try to find products that are made from reclaimed or recycled wood. Reclaimed and recycled woods mean that the wood was either salvaged from a previous product or was recycled to create the existing product. Reclaimed and recycled woods are a great way to participate in a circular economy as opposed to a linear economy, which means the lifespan of the product doesn’t end up in a landfill but instead is reinvented for new use.
Sustainably Sourced – Sustainable plantations are an efficient way to produce raw wood. Farmers constantly regrow the trees and plants, which contribute to positive carbon capture. Once trees reach maturity, they no longer capture carbon, and therefore, it’s helpful to use them for furniture as long as they are fast-growing and replaced with a new tree or plant. For example, mango trees are the most abundant trees in the world and are grown in sustainable plantations, especially near the equator. Mango trees grow very fast and fully mature after 12 years. Similarly, rubberwood is a very strong and durable fast-growing wood that is also commonly found on sustainable plantations. Furniture made with these types of woods is a good eco-friendly choice. Slow-growing woods like oak, teak, and mahogany are not sustainable, as they take a very long time to mature.
Rapidly Renewable – Rapidly renewable trees and plants are grown to harvest within 10 years. These regenerative plants include bamboo, rattan, cane, sea grass, abaca, and reed. Bamboo, which absorbs a very high level of carbon, grows extremely fast—as much as one foot per day. Bamboo plants don’t need to be replanted after being cut, as they are in fact grass and not a tree or shrub. Rapidly renewable plants are harvested by hand. Examples of furniture that is made from rapidly renewable materials include natural wicker, caning, and weaves. Please note that synthetic wicker is not made from a natural material; natural wicker requires 22 percent less energy and generates 22 percent less greenhouse gases (GHG) as compared to synthetic wicker.
Opt for Sustainable Fibers
Wool, cotton, linen, hemp, and jute are natural fibers that use less water for creating upholstery as compared to their synthetic counterparts. Synthetic materials such as polyester and nylon can be recycled infinitely but are full of chemicals and use a lot of energy to produce. When searching for sofas or chairs, look for natural fibers or materials that include recycled polyester and nylon as opposed to virgin materials. Recycled polyester fabric uses polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which comes from recycled plastic bottles. Recycled polyester reduces production energy by 33 to 35 percent and can continue to be recycled. Recycled polyester is used for making couches, pillows, chairs, rugs, and more.
TIP: Look for FSC-certified and SFI-certified woods. The wood certifications ensure the wood comes from a responsibly managed forest.
Incorporate Non-Toxic Textiles
Textile manufacturing is very chemically intensive and uses a huge amount of water. In fact, textile manufacturing requires 10 to 100 percent of the chemical equivalent in fabric weight. There are more than 80,000 chemicals in furniture, of which only 500 are regulated. The “hazardous handful” chemicals to avoid are:
- Fluorinated stain treatments
- Flame retardants
- VOCs (including formaldehyde)
TIP: These certifications can help you identify nontoxic textiles:
- GOTS (most stringent)
- OEKO-TEX 100
- C2C (cradle to cradle) – certifies the absence of PFAs
Look for Fair Trade Products
Ethically made products come from brands that pay fair wages and implement fair trade practices in their manufacturing. When you see a product with the Fair Trade Certified seal, you can be sure it was made according to rigorous social, environmental, and economic standards.
Tips: If you’re interested in energy efficiency, one of the smartest investments is an energy-efficient HVAC system. HVACs account for 50 percent of a home’s energy use. Purchasing Energy Star appliances such as washers, dryers, dishwashers, and fridges, is another way to cut down on CO2 emissions and reduce utility bills. Traditional lighting accounts for 12 percent of a home’s energy use. Switching from fluorescent and incandescent bulbs to LED bulbs is a great way to save energy.
Terms to Know
GREENGUARD Certifications – Products that have achieved GREENGUARD Certification are scientifically proven to meet some of the world’s most rigorous, third-party chemical emissions standards, helping to reduce indoor air pollution and the risk of chemical exposure, while aiding in the creation of healthier indoor environments. Learn more about GREENGUARD here.
FSC Certified – The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is a global organization that works to ensure responsible forest management. They understand that trees are an integral part of manufacturing a wide variety of products. Instead of trying to eliminate the use of wood, they advocate for sensible and conscientious forest management practices that ensure access to products without causing significant damage to forests and our environment. Learn more about FSC certified here.
Cradle to Cradle – The Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute is a nonprofit organization that works to educate both consumers and manufacturers in an effort to improve the safety and sustainability of products. Certification standards examine the health effects of construction materials, whether materials can be recycled and repurposed, and consumption of water and other resources, as well as issues of social fairness. Learn more here.
Energy Star – Energy Star is an EPA-led symbol program that allows consumers to identify energy-efficient products. Since its inception in 1992, more than 4 trillion kilowatt-hours of electricity have been saved with over 3.5 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas reductions. Examples of Energy Star products and appliances include LED lighting, electronics, energy efficient HVAC systems, washers, dryers, etc. As an added benefit, many Energy Star products also qualify for tax credits. You can learn more about tax credits by entering your zip code here to learn what rebates are available in your area for Energy Star products.
WaterSense Label – WaterSense is a label program sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that helps consumers identify water-efficient products. The WaterSense label certifies that products use at least 20 percent less water and save energy. Examples of WaterSense products include high-efficiency toilets (HETs), faucets and irrigation systems that also lower water bills.
Green Seal – Green Seal is a non-profit organization that provides U.S. based companies with environmental certification programs. They work to help consumers identify green products while also partnering with companies to encourage sustainability. To date, Green Seal has developed 33 standards that cover more than 400 different kinds of products. They use scientific methods to measure certain criteria and ensure compliance with green standards.
OEKO-TEX 100 – If a textile article carries the STANDARD 100 label, you can be certain that every component of this article (i.e., every thread, button, and other accessories) has been tested for harmful substances and that the article therefore is harmless for human health. The test is conducted by their independent OEKO-TEX® partner institutes based on their extensive OEKO-TEX® criteria catalog. Learn more about OEKO-TEX 100 label here.
Fair Trade Certified – Fair trade is a global movement made up of a diverse network of producers, companies, consumers, advocates, and organizations putting people and planet first. When you see a product with the Fair Trade Certified seal, you can be sure it was made according to rigorous social, environmental, and economic standards.