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The Differences Between Green & Sustainable Furniture

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In today’s societal landscape, the word green holds a lot of weight.

Many industries, including the furniture industry, use the term green to denote their dedication to responsible,  environmentally-friendly material sourcing, and in some cases, carbon-footprint friendly means of construction; in any case, these companies are playing to the tune that they’re a progressive and forward-thinking bunch with the environment in mind - which is great.

The problem with the overarching term green, is that people are beginning to associate it with everything under the sun that doesn’t fall under the umbrella of conventional production.  Green is sometimes used as a trigger in modern day consumerism, and as a result, its meaning will increasingly be made less meaningful by unintentional falsities within the industry.

What many of these groups are trying to say is that they practice sustainable means of production, or support sustainably sourced materials. The two terms go hand in hand, but there are a few differences you should be aware of when you’re shopping for your next piece of furniture.


What’s the Difference?

In an organic, fair-trade nutshell, a green designation will likely refer to material sourcing. This can mean that the sofa you’re looking at has a  recycled frame constructed of scrap metal found in a dumpster, or features wood accents upcycled from discarded pallets, or its cushions are filled with recycled plastics and foams.

These aspects all contribute to a lessened carbon-footprint, and are geared to help the planet in the long run, but they don’t always necessarily mean they’re sustainable.

Sustainability in furniture design means the piece should be of high quality, geared at supporting a lifestyle which consumes less, in turn reducing energy consumption and resource needs.

If your green furniture falls apart in a few years and requires you to replace, fix, or in some other ways consume new goods to rectify the issues of poor construction, it’s not sustainable. Likewise, if your new chaise lasts you a good 30 years, but is constructed of non-biodegradable plastics, and a wooden frame made fresh from the world’s rainforests - it’s not sustainable.


Size Matters

Sustainability can also mean that the efforts of the company are reduced as well, opting for a smaller  carbon footprint and natural resource consumption. This can mean less output of furniture due to a smaller operation which uses less energy, or smaller furniture pieces overall, maximizing output with the materials available.

Smaller factories mean less carbon emissions from heating, cooling and even deforestation to make room for said factory, as larger factories require more energy consumption.  Sustainable furniture design can also mean minimalist aesthetics, reducing the amounts of materials needed for each piece - and similarly could even opt for custom-order-only sales, geared at reducing excessive production and consumerism as a whole.


Design Mentality

We’ve established that Eco or Green design is not the same as sustainable design - although it can be considered an aspect of sustainability efforts.

Perhaps the biggest subset of sustainable design is the allegiance to a more critically engaged design methodology - one that more accurately understands the system by isolating the problems surrounding carbon output, pollution, misuse of materials and waste - then attempting to solve them through disciplined design, both in terms of the operation of the business side of things, as well as through product production.

Therefore, companies that are  branded sustainable rather than Green, strive to at least recognize the existence of social and economic divisions. By comparison, simply utilizing Green materials is a simple solution to a larger problem.


Increase Function, not Emissions

Another aspect of sustainable furniture design lies in its  functionality within the home. Pieces that feature additional  hidden storage space, or can fold into a small space to make room for guests or other furniture, contribute to  adding functionality without increasing the physical footprint.

This desire to take up less space and require less materials for a slew of functions inherently means increased efficiency, requires high quality workmanship and design. Needing less space and less stuff translates to living more sustainably, consuming fewer resources. Multiplying the capabilities of a single space is a t the core of a sustainable approach to furniture design.

Green materials can indeed contribute to these ideals of reducing emissions and a company’s carbon footprint, but the misconception is that green initiatives are responsible for a sustainable approach to furniture production. In this regard, green materials are simply the cherry-on-top.


Costs

Similarities between sustainably produced furniture and green furniture begin to align when it comes to the checkout counter. Inevitably, this increased dedication to investing in sustainable means of production and operations, coupled with the import and use of ethically harvested materials can mean an inflated pricetag.

Increased time requirements to produce ethically produced materials, as well as increased design time, high-quality construction, and a dedication to more complicated and costly means of powering a factory with green technologies and sustainability initiatives at the forefront can mean that the final cost of the piece on the showroom floor is higher than the conventionally produced alternative.

There’s also an aspect of increased training and the acceptance of a more difficult discipline, requiring these companies - and the people who work for them - to be able to understand the limitations of sustainability, business, marketing, public policy and environmentalism.

What you get for the  additional cost, is piece of mind that you’re contributing to the success of an industry that is putting quality, resourcefulness and eco-friendly practices - both in terms of sustainability and green materials - first. You’ll be investing in a piece of furniture that’s meant to be passed down to your children, and can the quality potential to become an  heirloom of sorts.

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In closing, sustainable furniture design and production has to push past the constraints of what the  Green movement has become - a feather in the cap of the industry, and one that touts the importance of ethically produced goods, rather than opts to solve the problems that are responsible for the movement in the first place.

In conjunction with good research, dedication to pollution-reducing technologies and ideas, and good design - will help this much-needed contrast to emerge as the real issue in furniture design; because the problems that have contributed to the appeal of a Green label is much deeper than simply changing where building materials come from. 

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