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A Guide To Choosing Sustainable Furniture

An image of John Patterson
28 Feb 20195.5 min read

Millennials are spending less on furniture. Only 4.5% of their spending (compared to 10% of baby boomers and 7.3% of Gen X’s outgoings) goes towards home furnishings.

But, with people becoming more mindful of eco-friendly options (73% of millennials would pay more for sustainable products) it’s crucial that you aren’t compromising on this for the sake of chasing a bargain.

How to upcycle

According to The North London Waste Authority, 22 million pieces of furniture get discarded per year in the UK. Additionally, less than 1 in 10 people considering repairs to extend the lifespan of their furnishings.

So, if you’re thinking of sprucing up some tired furnishings, we’ve put together some top tips to bear in mind.

Choosing sustainable furniture infographic - a step by step upcycling guide

Upcycle checklist

Now you know the essential steps, here is some more information to help you begin your upcycling journey.

1. Do your research

Many people don’t take time to learn from those in the know. So, to become informed, look at sites like Pinterest and Instagram for inspiration.

2. Use your imagination

Think outside the box for other uses for older pieces. For instance, ladders make a stylish alternative to shelving and old suitcases can fill in for traditional coffee tables.

3. Prepare

Make sure that you have everything you need to hand (i.e. paint brushes, tools). Clean and sand everything thoroughly before you begin, to get the best possible finish.

4. Don’t rely on cheap tools

It might be tempting to opt for cheaper tools - especially paintbrushes. But, you’ll soon notice issues with the quality of your upcycling project.

5. Match your style to the era

Don’t assume that anything goes with your colour and decorative choices. Think about how your chosen style matches the type and era of furniture.

6. Choose a durable material

If you’re decoupaging or using fabric for your project finding the right colours/patterns is crucial. But you must also prioritise durability or you’ll be adding more work in the long run.

7. Protect your project

Make sure you wax and varnish your finished upcycle to ensure the longevity of all your hard work.

8. Learn from mistakes

It’s important not to panic if you make a mistake. Odds are it’s fixable and you can always learn from it for next time.

9. Use your initiative

Even the best-laid plans come with surprises. Be prepared to address challenges as they arise, and you’ll breeze through.

10. Enjoy it!

This is a great excuse to get your hands dirty. Take some time for yourself and let your creativity flow.

So, if you follow these steps, you should be able to manage whatever the upcycling process throws at you.

Eco-friendly materials

So, if you’re in the market for sustainable furnishings a good first step is to look into the materials used.

Responsible suppliers should be very clear about the materials used to create their products. This is also the case with how they’re sourced and whether they’re recycled.

Choosing sustainable furniture infographic - selecting the right materials

Sustainability checklist

How can you tell if the furniture you’re buying is sustainable? You need to look at the materials used to make it as well as the manufacturing process itself. It’s also crucial to be aware of how it's transported.

Choosing sustainable furniture infographic - essential sustainability criteria

How useful is it?

  • Sustainable furniture must be useful for the buyer or user. It should offer maximum functionality, comfort, and ease of use so it isn’t in need of frequent replacement.
  • Furnishings that provide greater utility for the user (i.e. multifunctional furniture like a sofa bed) is always preferable. It will take up less space and effectively serve a dual purpose.
  • Durability is crucial. Well-made furniture offers a longer functional lifespan which benefits the environment by not adding to landfill.

Is it eco-friendly?

  • Check if the piece has been made from materials previously used for something else. If they have been reused to make a new piece of furniture, this would be classed as sustainable.
  • Eco-friendly furnishings can also be made from easily renewable materials. For instance, bamboo grows quickly and can be replaced rapidly, making it an ideal renewable resource.
  • Ensuring you use finishes (i.e. varnishes, paints) that aren’t solvent-based reduces health risks in everyday use and improves sustainability.

How is it made?

  • Manufacturing practices are just as important as the materials used and must prioritise safety for the environment. This means manufacturers must check emissions and ensure that their methods don’t cause pollution.
  • Make sure that they practice fair trade and that they don’t damage local communities or undermine sensitive environments to gather materials for their products.
  • For real peace of mind, it’s worth checking if they are certified by authorities such as the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council).

How was it shipped?

  • Responsibility for low-emission transport is crucial to production.
  • If your furniture was imported, check how it was done. Products that come from abroad by will undoubtedly expend more energy.
  • So, to maximise your energy-efficiency, the best method is buying locally-produced furniture to reduce your carbon footprint.

Sustainable sleeping

Eco-consciousness can, and should, extend to the bedroom. There are plenty of options available to ensure the mattress you choose is sustainable.

Is it eco-friendly?

Research the materials being used to manufacture your chosen mattress and the durability of the product as well as overall comfort to ensure a long lifespan.

Brands leading the way include Silentnight, whose Eco Comfort Breathe range of mattresses all contain 150 recycled plastic bottles which prevent them reaching landfill or polluting the oceans. For a list of our most eco-friendly mattresses, check out our blog post!

Recycling doesn’t just factor into the creation of the product. Remember that when you’ve come to the end of your mattress’ lifecycle there are options for eco-friendly disposal. You can learn more about this here.

How is it shipped?

First of all, when selecting your mattress, it’s worth bearing in mind how it will reach you. This has an effect on the environment. For instance, roll-up mattresses allow suppliers to ship a greater number in a single delivery.

This makes the process more efficient and reduces carbon emissions. They’re also a lot easier to get into awkward spaces than traditional flat mattresses.

But, it’s not just the type of mattress that you need to look out for. Dig into suppliers’ environmental credentials to make sure they’re committed to a delivery network that's as eco-friendly as possible.

Is it certified?

A good indicator of the sustainability of a mattress (or any other piece of furniture for that matter) is whether it has the stamp of approval from a trusted environmental body.

For instance, Silentnight is partnered with the UK’s Marine Conservation Society. They are also a carbon neutral business and were awarded the Furniture Makers’ Company Sustainability Award in 2017.

Other suppliers with accredited products include Rest Assured, Sealy and Sleepeezee who all have products endorsed by the Forest Stewardship Council.

For articles on living sustainably as well as how to make mattress as close to ‘zero waste’ as possible, visit the Mattress Online blog. You can also find out more about how we do our bit for the environment here.