How to Spot Truly Sustainable Furniture

On a mission to outfit your home with sustainable furniture? Amazing! We know this takes effort: from eco materials to responsible production practices, there’s so much to learn and compare before you buy. Factor in the reality that eco-friendly and sustainability claims can often be misleading (there’s a term for this: greenwashing). Sigh. 

So how do you cut through the noise and find companies that truly commit to sustainable practices? It takes considering how your health could be impacted, how the planet’s health could be impacted, and getting a sense of the brand’s authenticity. Let’s get into it with five tips (warning: lotttts of useful content coming your way).

Consider your own health 

1. Watch for toxic materials 

Start by looking for what you don’t want to find in your furniture: chemicals that not only harm the environment, but can pose health risks to you. Definitely stuff we want to avoid!

  • Opt for solid wood over MDF and particle board. These often contain formaldehyde and harsh adhesives that offgas. They also often don’t last as long, and as they break down they emit volatile organic compounds that are highly toxic to animal life.
  • What finishes are used to color or seal the furniture? Natural waxes and oils are great because they can be reapplied as needed and often come from renewable sources (yay bees and trees!).
  • How about the upholstery? Watch out for fabric protector spray that contain PFAS chemicals (per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances), which are linked to health problems like cancer and developmental issues and can be harmful even at low doses. If you’re concerned about spills and stains (raise your hand if your child’s favorite game=jumping up and down while you’re sipping coffee on the sofa 🤦) you still have options! You might go for a performance synthetic fabric to wrap your sofa. While fabrics like polyester are not 100% natural, it’s often a healthier choice than a spray, and you can look for options that are eco-certified (more on that below).
  • Finally, ask if fire retardants (pentaBDE, octaBDE, decaBDE, perchloroethylene, bisphenol A and triclosa) or heavy metals like lead, mercury, cadmium, and nickel are present. Exposure to either has been linked to a suite of health and cognitive concerns. Both are often found in popular consumer products, and some regulatory action has been taken on them, (especially for children’s products) but it's still a good idea to stay vigilant with these two.

Phew! That was a lot to take in. Well done.

Consider the planet’s health 

2. Look for longevity and biodegradability 

That on-trend shape may look sooo cute to you now, but maybe not in five years—consider how enduring (and useful) the design you’re considering really is. Opt for furniture with high-quality and durable materials designed to stay in place for the long haul, and understand whether those materials come from renewable sources. 

Put another way, will your furniture be high-quality enough to last for generations and not end up in a landfill? If it were to end up in a landfill (😟), is it biodegradable? 

3. Check where sourcing and production happens

Scenes from Medley's workshop in Los Angeles, California

Understanding these locations can help you imagine what kind of carbon footprint you’re working with. Think: from the frame to the filling to the finished piece, how far did the materials have to travel to come together then get to you?

Researching where the materials come from can also shed light on whether the product was sourced ethically. For example, a lot of teak wood currently comes from over-logged monsoon rainforests in South Asian countries like Myanmar, which is currently suffering from a particularly high rate of forest loss.

In a situation like this, ask yourself if a different material choice could work for the piece you’re envisioning. See if the company you’re interested in offers other, more eco-friendly woods (think bamboo and reclaimed wood) or takes part in reforestation efforts and carbon offset initiatives.

Still there? Taking notes? Eeeexcellent.

Understand the company’s commitment to sustainability
4. Look for eco-friendly furniture certifications

Take advantage of third-party vetting and see if the company meets any green certifications. If you find a label you’re unfamiliar with, check sources around the web to get to know it. There are many new labels and standards popping up, so look into the certification to understand what efforts are underway.

At Medley, our products are certified by the following organizations: 

5. Get a sense of the company’s investment in going green 

Identify whether the company sells eco-friendly furniture exclusively, or if they only carry a single sustainable line. If their efforts aren’t green across the board, are they transparent about where they can improve? Do they greenwash without backing up their claims? If you can’t find the information you’re looking for, don’t hesitate to ask the brand directly. 

That said, if you have any questions about Medley’s practices, we’re always happy to chat, and you can find information about our materials here

To start, here’s a glance at what goes into Medley’s eco-friendly and sustainable furniture:

  • Domestically-sourced, kiln-dried alder hardwood and solid walnut and maple that always comes from FSC-certified forests. We also use solid bamboo (did you know that bamboo is really a grass, not a wood? Because it's so strong and grows incredibly fast, it's a very sustainable building material). No plywood here!
  • Natural furniture polish with three ingredients: beeswax, carnauba wax, and olive oil
  • CertiPUR-US-certified poly foam (the cleanest synthetic choice on the market) 
  • Certified organic natural latex foam
  • Cruelty-free, OEKO-TEX Standard 100 wool
  • Organic cotton linings certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard
  • Greenguard Gold Certified and OEKO Certified fabrics 

Hooray! You’ve made it through our extra-long guide, and you so deserve to go shopping now. Ready? Let’s go!

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