Materials for Sustainable Furniture
Sustainable furniture materials include a variety of resources – they are either from reclaimed or renewable sources. It is not just the type of material, but the complete lifecycle of the material factor into its sustainable classification. Let’s look at some of the most commonly used materials for furniture and how to make them sustainable.
Wood is a popular choice for furniture manufacturers to make furniture for many centuries. Although wood is widely considered as a renewable resource, unless they are sourced sustainably, it results in deforestation. Sustainable, responsible harvests ensure that the natural ecosystem remains in place and is able to maintain itself. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), for example, certifies wood as sustainably harvested. Wood cannot be recycled easily, but it can be repurposed from a reclaimed source if circular design principles are well implemented while making furniture from wood. Old furniture, homes and other structures often provide the reclaimed items.
Metals such as iron and steel have been widely used to make furniture due to their strength and durability. Each kg of steel results in about 1.85 kgs of CO2 emissions. It is estimated that about 8% of global green house gas emissions is due to steel and iron production, much of this is for construction needs. Steel can be infinitely recycled as long as the furniture is designed to seamlessly recover steel at the end of its use. Using reclaimed steel and virgin steel manufactured with renewable energy instead of fossil resources makes the steel a sustainable choice for furniture.
Plastics are the fastest growing furniture material in the last two decades due to their versatility, scalability, cost, and light weight. Plastics are usually made from fossil resources and each kg of plastic results in about 2.0 kgs of CO2 emissions. It is estimated that about 5% of global green house gas emissions is due to plastics production, consumption and its disposal. Plastics support circular design as they can be repurposed and recycled at the end of their primary use. Plastics can be sustainable material for furniture, if they are reclaimed from another application, or if they are made from renewable sources with ideally renewable energy.
Biocomposites made from crop-residue with either reclaimed plastic or bio-based plastic as the binder is one of the best choice for furniture. Biocomposites are stemmed with circular principles to reduce waste at source and they can be recycled at the end of furniture’s use. Biocomposites material offer the benefits of plastics, prevent crop-burning, creating additional value to farmers and offer the best carbon footprint. The properties of biocomposites need to ensure durability for extended use of furniture.
A careful assessment of material’s social, economic and ecological impact across the furniture’s lifecycle has to be done to understand how sustainable they are. Materials should be sourced from locations closer to the manufacturing of furniture to reduce the negative impact of transport and logistics.