To be honest, furnishings made from recycled, organic or sustainable materials can be more expensive than mass-produced department store models - though they're often priced comparably to higher-end options. Your purchase now can make a difference in the long run by helping to bring the price down: every time any of us chooses a green option, those choices become more affordable for all of us eventually.
- If you're looking for bargains, start at Ikea. The company is making a real effort to build its furniture out of sustainably grown wood. Ask your store manager to guide you to the "green" furniture in your local Ikea outlet.
- Consider antiques, which rack up nothing in additional energy, water and other manufacturing costs. They reduce the amount of trash entering landfills because that "old" furniture is not thrown away. Plus, many antiques add character and charm to your living space.
- Reupholster. Often, the entire sofa or chair doesn't need to be replaced, just the fabric covering. While reupholstering can cost as much as completely replacing furniture, you have more opportunity to use eco-fabrics. Plus, you won't be adding your furniture to the local trash heap.
- Recycle. If you decide to buy something new, donate the old furniture to a charity, a yard sale, or struggling college graduate who's trying to furnish a first apartment.
- Shop at crafts fairs. Local artisans are making beautiful furniture out of wood and other materials they salvage in their community; weavers are creating beautiful pillows, cushions, throw rugs and blankets from organic wool and cotton. Many merchants will customize their crafts to meet your specific needs.
- If you're reupholstering furniture, or need fabric for draperies or cushions, you can find organic textiles at Green Sage.
- Anna Sova offers eco-safe silk and organic cotton drapery.
- Loop Fabric features an exclusive range of textiles derived entirely from sustainable, biodegradable and/or certified organic fibers, including muslin, linen, hemp, silk, corduroy, canvas, and knits.
- Hemp Home Traders looks like a good place to get upholstery-quality hemp, a strong, long-lasting fabric that's easy to launder.
- Interface Fabrics markets Terratex, a fabric made from recycled polyester, corn-based "PLA" fibers and sustainable wool.
- Clothworks and Furnature sell organic cotton upholstery. Furnature's SafeWash removes unpleasant fabric finish and dye odors from almost any fabric.
- Do-it-yourself Organics at Heart of Vermont offers twills and flannels, as well as organic cotton and pure wool pillow kits and organic cotton futon covers.
TOWELS & SHEETS
- Rawganique features towels, curtains and bathmats made from organic cotton, hemp and linen.
- Nirvana sells non-toxic, organic cotton sheets, cotton blankets and wool comforters.
There are so many furniture companies, I wasn't quite sure where to begin. So.I'm going to pass the buck. Viridian has compiled a great list of manufacturers that create a wide variety of environmentally comfortable sofas, chairs, desks and stools. Get a cup of tea, put on your favorite music, and go ahead and browse!
- I will mention one: Asiantique specializes in antiques and hand-crafted reproductions made from teak wood reclaimed from old buildings and ships. I really like the idea of turning something old into something new, functional and beautiful. See what you think.
None of my furniture is covered in fabrics that were organically grown or made from any kind of recycled material. My couches and chairs are all at least ten years old; when I bought them, I was just happy if they matched. It didn't occur to me to wonder if they were "eco." Now, I'm thinking about redecorating, and I'm more inclined to reupholster than to buy everything new. That way, I can keep the frames and cushions (all of which are solidly in good shape) but cover them in cloth that has been manufactured with minimum environmental impact. The challenge will be to find colors and designs that aren't all beige or neutral - the most environmentally friendly, but to my eye, least visually exciting designs to live with. Sometimes design and desire just don't coincide, do they?
SustainLane has prepared a concise overview of the environmental and health impacts of fabrics and furniture here.
The Children's Health Environmental Coalition explains what to watch out for in fabric dye here.
Mattresses and Bedding deserve some special attention, given how much time we spend (or should spend) sleeping. A lot of organizations and health groups have begun to encourage consumers to consider "eco" mattresses when they shop. Why? Most mattresses are filled with polyurethane foam and other materials that have been treated with flame retardants as well as water-, stain- and wrinkle-resistant chemicals. At the least, these chemicals, which include polybrominated diphenyl (PBDEs), can pollute the air inside your home. If you're particularly sensitive, they could make you sick. According to the Children's Health Environmental Coalition (CHEC), there is some evidence that PBDEs can interfere with thyroid hormone, which is critical to the developing fetus. According to some studies, women in the U.S. have the highest levels of PBDEs in their bodies in the world. Mattresses and mattress pads are also being treated with water and stain repellents to guard against damage to the mattress. One such repellent is Teflon®, the same product used as a "non-stick" coating on pans. Recently, Teflon has come under attack because its main ingredient, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), is so widespread in the environment and in humans.
The solution? Untreated organic cotton and wool mattresses for cribs as well as adult-sized beds. CHEC cautions that, if you choose an untreated option, make sure you have working smoke detectors near the bedrooms and do not allow candles, matches, lighters and cigarettes in bedrooms. If you're worried about the mattress collecting dust, mold or mildew, you can encase it in a full-mattress cover.
Bed linens, meanwhile, may be treated with fabric finishes to repel stains or wrinkles. These chemicals may be released over time into the air we breathe. They may also irritate the skin. Organic cotton sheets, pillow cases, and comforters can help solve the problem.
To find untreated, organic mattresses, mattress pads and bedding, visit EcoBedroom, A Natural Home, or Organic Mattresses.