The Sustainable Office – Part 8: Furniture

Remember when you were a kid, and you had that one friend who had all the cool, crazy furniture all over his house like car seats for chairs and couches, road signs for coffee tables, and tobacco spittoons for water pitchers? Well that furniture is still cool because not only is it fun to actually be in a driver’s seat when playing Mario Kart, but it’s all a form of sustainable furniture as well.

Before you completely write off this sustainable furniture idea as nothing more than home decorating through petty crime or being too lazy to take a trip to the landfill, you should know that there are other, more elegant ways to deck your house out sustainably. Here are a few tips to reduce your impact on the environment while sitting on your derrière.

1. Buy Bamboo/Certified sustainable wood

Maybe it’s stealing food from pandas, but using bamboo still sustainable. It can grow up to 4 feet per day, making it one of the most sustainable sources of wood around. Bamboo does use a lot of water, but, in many cases, few or no pesticides are used to produce it.

We all know the many advantages of trees (climbing, swinging, tree houses, and carbon dioxide to oxygen conversion), so it makes sense that we should purchase furniture that is made from sustainably-harvested forests. When you purchase something that is made of wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), you can be sure that the forest it came from is still in as good or better shape today as when the wood for your product was harvested. You can typically ask your retailer if the wood in a product is FSC certified, or you can look for products here.

2. Buy Recycled and Reclaimed materials

Buying materials that have already been used is one of the best ways to reduce the impact of your furniture. Old wood from other furniture, houses, or anything else can be processed and reused, as can metal and plastic from just about anything. I am still pressing for us to get some beanbag chairs filled with old packing peanuts here at the Verteego office. There is no reason to send anything to a landfill that can be easily processed and reused in a useful form.

3. Buy old furniture

Even better than recycling, buying old furniture doesn’t even require any processing. Used furniture may require some new upholstery or finish, but then you’re good to go. Plus, you can get some pretty stylish old stuff from antique stores. Ex-Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain decorated his office with a 19th century credenza, a George IV chair, and some other old stuff. Sure, decorating his office cost $1.2 million, but can you really put a price on sustainability? John Thain, I salute you for trying to single-handedly jump start the economy by buying sustainable materials. Truly an American hero. You can also take the cheaper route by searching yard sales for cheap used furniture.

You should also consider selling or giving away your old furniture so that it doesn’t end up in a landfill. Try to pass it off to friends, sell it on e-bay or craigslist, or have a yard sale. If all else fails, I guarantee you college kids, nature’s little recyclers, will take it, no matter what you are getting rid of.

4. Buy furniture that lasts

The less frequently you have to replace the desks, chairs, and everything else in your office, the fewer resources you use, and the lower your impact will be. You will also likely spend less money in the long run. Even if that chair is made from the most sustainable materials in existence and costs 5 bucks, if it breaks in two weeks, it’s not going to be as sustainable or cost-effective as a chair that lasts a lifetime.

5. Buy low VOC furniture

As I said in my last post about indoor air quality, a lot of new furniture emits VOCs, which poison the air and make your workplace unhealthy. Buying furniture made from organic materials or that are certified by Greenguard will help reduce the amount of VOCs floating around your office.