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A Complete Guide to Eco-Friendly Furniture Materials

Looking to furnish your space with style and sustainability in mind? Discover eco-friendly furniture materials that are good for the planet—and for you too!
A Complete Guide to Eco-Friendly Furniture Materials

This Article is 100% Organic: Written and Researched by Real Humans.

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Are you overwhelmed by the idea of hunting for high-quality, eco-friendly furniture? Let us introduce you to what materials make a piece of furniture eco-friendly and sustainable. 

We’ll get you prepped for your first round of couch hunting so you can focus on the style and function of your new sustainable furniture

Why Choose Eco-Friendly Furniture Materials

If you’re on a tight budget and need a bed frame for your first adult apartment, it can be hard to look away from some of the cheap deals at IKEA. But we’re here to argue for taking a different approach to furniture: sustainable, eco-friendly pieces designed to last a lifetime. 

There are a lot of benefits to choosing eco-friendly furniture, so we’ll break down a few of those here. 

Environmental Benefits

First and foremost, choosing to purchase sustainable furniture has a lot of environmental benefits. These aren’t always visible to consumers. But the importance our choices make in affecting the environment isn’t a joke. As shoppers, we have the chance to make a big impact. 

By buying furniture made with sustainable materials, we’re also reducing the drain our purchases have on our natural resources. Creating furniture requires a lot of materials, not all of which are gathered sustainably or ethically. 

Deforestation at the hands of the fast furniture industry is a dangerous issue with global repercussions. Predatory logging destroys old-growth forests, disrupts delicate ecosystems, and impacts Indigenous populations.

This seems like a local issue, but deforestation has global effects. When trees are leveled, “tons of carbon dioxide is released into our atmosphere.”  Less carbon dioxide is then absorbed because these trees are gone… creating a cyclic issue that’s difficult to solve. 

By purchasing from eco-friendly and sustainable furniture, you reduce support for companies and brands that rely on less-than-ethical material sourcing. 

Health Benefits

Besides helping the environment, you can stand to reap some benefits from using furniture made with sustainable materials. Conventional, cheap furniture like the plywood stuff from big box stores is filled with toxic chemicals.

Using eco-friendly furniture reduces your exposure to VOCs that may be present in the finishes, adhesives, and materials of poor-quality furniture. If you’ve ever unboxed a desk and noticed an awful, lingering smell… that was the result of VOCs and off-gassing

Using sustainable furniture can help with allergies and sensitivities, too. Natural materials don’t off-gas the way synthetics do, and they tend to keep pests like dust mites at bay. For example, down feather pillows are significantly less likely to harbor dust mites than their polyester counterparts. 

Economic Benefits

We know buying more expensive furniture to avoid buying it again is an abstract concept. But the proof is in the pudding. Quality furniture maintains its resale value over time. Just look at websites like Chairish, where furniture from the 1950s still fetches top dollar. 

Buying sustainable furniture provides long-term cost savings. Quality furniture requires less maintenance, fewer repairs, and no replacements. If something does break, you can usually repair it at home with pieces supplied by the manufacturer. 

This is a better alternative to fast furniture and its tendency to break within five years.

6 Types of Eco-Friendly Furniture Materials

When shopping for sustainable furniture, it’s imperative to know what you’re looking at. Materials that seem eco-friendly, like vegan leather, may not be good for your home, health, or wallet. 

1. Wood

Made from trees, wood is the ultimate sustainable material for furniture. Wood is endlessly renewable and will biodegrade when its purpose is served. 

Well, in theory. Wood is one of the most illegally harvested, unethically maintained natural resources on our planet. We don’t want to go into that too much here, but we recommend reading this article on the impacts of illegal logging

Fortunately, there are a lot of third-party organizations watching how wood is collected. Some organizations offer certifications to suppliers and manufacturers that certify their products are made from sustainably harvested wood. 

Sustainable Wood

2. Vegetable Fibers

Rattan is on its way out from its Fall 2022 peak, but vegetable fibers across the board are in. Vegetable fibers are materials from plants like jute, coir, and hemp. 

Vegetable fibers are used to make wicker and rattan furniture, add decorative accents, and compromise some upholstery materials. 

Since they come from plants, vegetable fibers are as biodegradable and sustainable as wood. Bamboo, technically a grass, falls in this category and is one of the fastest-growing resources on our planet

Rattan Furniture

3. Animal Fibers

Material made from animals has gotten a bad rap in the last few decades, but we shouldn’t feel all doom and gloom about it. Animal fibers represent one of the most eco-friendly materials available. 

Certain fibers, like wool and alpaca, can be harvested annually from animals like goats, sheep, and alpacas without causing the animals any harm. There are many farms dedicated to caring for these animals ethically, so harvesting animal fibers doesn’t have to be inhumane. 

When these materials are no longer usable, they are completely biodegradable. But that won’t happen quickly—animal fibers are known for their durability and longevity. 

Wool

4. Natural Fabrics

You know these when you see them. Cotton, linen, silk… any fabric or material made from natural ingredients is considered a natural fabric. 

These materials tend to be very durable, so they’ll last much longer than synthetic fibers like polyester. They also, in general, look a lot better than their cheaper counterparts. 

There’s also the issue of microplastics. Using natural materials dodges that, so those fibers won’t end up in places as far as Antarctica. 

Natural Fabrics

5. Steel and Aluminum

Steel and aluminum are kind of a double-edged sword when it comes to sustainability. Both can be resource-intensive to make, but they’re endlessly recyclable and extremely durable. 

Chances are, any steel or aluminum furniture you have will last beyond your lifetime. As long as furniture pieces with these materials are items you’ll buy once and keep forever, these are a great choice for eco-friendly furniture. 

Steel Furniture

6. Recycled and Innovative Materials 

This is a catch-all category for things that don’t fall within natural materials. Something we’re seeing often in contemporary eco-friendly furniture is the use of recycled plastics. Herman Miller, for example, has a dedicated initiative for collecting ocean-bound plastic waste and reusing it to create their furniture. 

How safe is this in regard to VOCs, off-gassing, and indoor air pollution? That depends a lot on the brand. But we see this as one of the key steps towards reducing plastic waste in the environment and reusing the growing supply of plastic that’s become ubiquitous with human consumption.

There are also brands finding even more innovative approaches to furniture. There are individuals exploring the role mycelium, the root of mushrooms, can play in creating sustainable, biodegradable materials for household use.

Recycled Furniture

Material Certifications to Look For in Sustainable Furniture

  1. Forest Stewardship Council (FSC): FSC is an international non-profit dedicated to promoting responsible forest management and sustainable forestry practices. They provide certifications to brands that align with their criteria for sustainable and ethical practices. 
  2. Cradle to Cradle (C2C): This is a certification based on the belief that products should be designed to actually help the planet, not just avoid harming it. They have several levels of certification that reflect how well a product performs in its environmental and social performance. 
  3. Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS): This globally recognized certification is the gold standard for textiles made from organic fibers. The strict criteria and requirements cover the entire textile supply chain. 
  4. OEKO-TEX Standard 100: This is another globally recognized certification for textiles and textile-related products. This certification requires that certified materials do not contain substances harmful to human health. 
  5. GREENGUARD Certification: This product certification is focused on indoor air quality and chemical emissions. Products GREENGUARD certified undergo rigorous testing related to their VOCs, formaldehyde, and other air pollutants. 
  6. Fair Trade Certified: This is a third-party certification designed to promote ethical and sustainable trade practices, usually in relation to handmade and agricultural products. 

In addition to these main ones, you can also keep an eye out for certifications like:

  • Global Recycling Standard (GRS)
  • Rainforest Alliance Certified
  • USDA Organic
  • Energy Star
  • Certified B Corp
  • Sustainable Furnishings Council (SFC)

There are also certifications specific to certain materials, like cotton and wool. Be sure to do your research before purchasing. Don’t rely on brands to give you the facts. 

Sustainable Furniture Brands to Consider 

If you’re ready to get started shopping for sustainable furniture but don’t know where to start, we have a bunch of recommendations. These are brands we’ve found and researched, so we feel pretty good about offering the recommendations. 

  1. MasayaCo: The sister company of a reforestation project in Nicaragua, Masaya & Co is ethically made from sustainably harvested hardwoods. 
  2. Greenington: A real novelty, Greenington offers high-end furniture made completely from ethically sourced bamboo. 
  3. West Elm: This is a design maven favorite for high-end furniture. They have also dedicated resources to transitioning towards a sustainable future. 
  4. Sabai: Beloved for their couches, Sabai furniture is manufactured in the United States that incorporates both recycled and natural materials. 
  5. The Joinery: Built in Portland, The Joinery offers a lifetime warranty on their sustainably made, ethically sourced products. 
Masaya Co. Image 1
image by Masaya & Co.
West Elm Image 1 1
image by West Elm

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Christina Boren

Christina Boren

Christina is an Alaskan-based sustainability and environmentalism writer. She’s spent nearly a decade working in industries directly related to environmentalism and sustainability, including chemical manufacturing and waste management. She holds a B.A in English from the University of Central Florida and is well-versed in what it means to be an eco-advocate.
Christina Boren

Christina Boren

Christina is an Alaskan-based sustainability and environmentalism writer. She’s spent nearly a decade working in industries directly related to environmentalism and sustainability, including chemical manufacturing and waste management. She holds a B.A in English from the University of Central Florida and is well-versed in what it means to be an eco-advocate.

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