Mass produced furniture can be a cost effective way of updating your home to suit the latest style. But have you ever thought about the impact this has on the environment, society and social attitudes?
The biggest cause of deforestation is the production of paper. But believe it or not the production of furniture is also another major cause. “Increasing global demand for low-cost timber products supports a multi-billion dollar business of illegal and unsustainable logging in forests worldwide”1. Deforestation results in a loss of habit for many plants and animals, creates problems with water runoff leading to flooding and landslides and influences climate change.
- Climate Change
Deforestation has a big impact on the environment in terms of producing oxygen and capturing carbon emissions. “Deforestation causes 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions, which contributes to climate change.” 2 By cutting down trees and forests we are destroying the earths ability to turn carbon monoxide into oxygen. Along with deforestation, carbon emissions due to transportation of furniture around the world contributes to climate change. “Food miles” are commonly used to calculate the distance food has been transported between producer and consumer and there are apps that help track this. I haven’t yet seen such an app for furniture (let me know if you know of one!), but there are good environmental reasons to be looking local for low “furniture mile” options.
We have all seen the amount of furniture and other things placed on the roadside during council kerbside collection time. This gets crushed and becomes landfill. “Much of the waste buried in these landfills will eventually decompose, but during this process the colourless, odourless gas methane is produced (as well as other harmful emissions such as carbon dioxide), which all contribute to the greenhouse effect and consequently global warming.”3
- Slavery & Child Labor
The high demand for low cost furniture, clothes and electronics has exacerbated an environment where the poor and marginalized are exploited and enslaved. Many large companies have policies to make them sound like they are socially conscious. However it is very difficult for companies to ensure all steps in the supply chain are compliant with their policy.
- Value and Quality
There is a sense of satisfaction and value that comes from owning a piece of furniture that has been tailored for your specific needs, space, colour scheme and quirky requirements. This cannot be replicated by a mass-produced item that typically require some concessions and compromises to be made. One area of compromise is often quality. Mass produced furniture is often made from chipboard or particle board with a laminate or veneer finish. As this type of furniture doesn’t last for many years it exacerbates societies current throw away attitudes and contributes to landfill.
So, when you are next in need of a piece of furniture, please consider it as an investment.
- Save up for a slightly more expensive piece that has been made to a high standard of workmanship rather than a price point. This will give you a piece of furniture that has longevity of use.
- Consider buying locally made products. This gives certainty over the supply chain as you are typically buying directly from the maker. Another option available in some areas are fair-trade furniture suppliers that guarantee their supply chain is free of slavery, child labor and produced only by adult artisans. Buying locally also reduces the “furniture miles” which is better for the environment.
- Consider what your furniture is made from. Reclaimed or salvaged timber furniture does not require more trees to be cut down and it also has amazing character. If you prefer the look of new timber choose FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified products whenever you can.4