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Ecological awareness is a term that has taken off in recent years, and with good reason. Caring for the environment and the sustainability of the planet cannot be left aside and nowadays not only can it be applied to food or cosmetics, but also the world of furniture is becoming familiar with this trend and more and more companies are opting to manufacture environmentally friendly furniture.

What is environmentally friendly furniture?

The concept of “environmentally friendly furniture” or “ecological furniture” may seem very broad, but we could define it as all those pieces of furniture that are composed of natural or recycled materials without any type of additive that alters them and manufactured in the most respectful conditions both for the environment and for people. In addition, this type of furniture, in most cases, is handmade.

The woods used for the manufacture of an eco friendly couch or ecological furniture in general are “eco-certified”, called PEFF or FSC certified and do not contain volatile organic compounds. In the case of the coverings, they are mostly jute, wool, cotton, linen… Always 100% natural and organic.

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Characteristics of environmentally friendly furniture

In order to classify a piece of furniture as eco-friendly, the life cycle of the product must be taken into account: conception and design, raw materials, the production process and the sale and distribution of the product.

Conception and design

When it comes to conceiving and designing ecological furniture, designers do so under a sustainable and ethical conception. Their aim is to manufacture durable, sustainable furniture with a friendly production based on the circular economy model, leaving aside the obsolescence that is assigned to many conventional furniture.

It is also important that the furniture is easy to dismantle, especially so that it can be better recycled. This type of furniture will be manufactured trying to optimise the use of raw materials and energy resources as much as possible, as well as trying to minimise CO2 emissions and reducing the environmental impact.

Appropriate sourcing and use of raw materials

The materials from which eco-friendly furniture is made should be natural, recycled or organically and sustainably produced.

For its production, the most commonly used raw material is wood, of which there are certifications that allow us to know if the wood comes from sustainably managed forests that promote replanting and not deforestation, as well as if it belongs to a species in danger of extinction. The most common wood certifications are: FSC certification (Forest Stewardship Council) and PEFC certification (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification).

Another type of materials used in the manufacture of ecological furniture are fibres of vegetable origin that come from ecological plantations and that do not receive any type of chemical treatment during their processing. Some vegetable fibres, due to their hardness, are used to make the structure of the furniture, while others are used for filling and padding. These fibres are: cotton, bamboo, wicker, rattan or esparto grass, among others.

Fibres of animal origin are also used which come from organic livestock farming and which, like vegetable fibres, do not receive any type of chemical additive during their treatment. These fibres are wool, silk or horsehair.

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Processing of the raw materials until they become furniture

Just as the design or sourcing of raw materials is very important when it comes to making green furniture, the production side must also be sustainable and environmentally friendly.

Ecological furniture should be produced using environmentally friendly production systems, minimising energy consumption and gas emissions, and with minimum waste generation.

In terms of finishing, traditional furniture often uses paints, adhesives, varnishes or solvents that are polluting and harmful to the environment and to health. In this case, green furniture usually has alternative finishes that are not harmful to the health of the people who make it. These types of finishes can be: water-based varnishes, natural beeswax, vegetable oils, for example.

Distribution and sale of the product

As in all phases of the inhouse manufacturing process of eco-friendly furniture, it is essential that the distribution, transport and sale of the furniture has the minimum impact on the environment.

Packaging must be sustainable and made from recycled materials. In terms of transport, it must be efficient not only in terms of space optimisation but also in the planning of the shipping route, saving energy and favouring efficiency.

The circular economy model

In addition to the concepts we have just seen, it is also important that eco-friendly furniture is manufactured based on the concept of eco-design following a circular economy model. The circular economy tries to minimise the impact on the environment not only during the manufacturing process, but also during its use and at the time of disposal.

But what is the circular economy?

The circular economy is a model based on the use of resources and the reduction of raw materials as an alternative to the linear economic model based on extraction, production, consumption and disposal.

The manufacturing process of goods and services involves an environmental cost not only at the time of production, but also at the end of its life cycle. In the case of the circular economy, we try to optimise materials and waste to the maximum by extending their useful life. In this way, we leave aside the current system of “use and throw away” to which we are accustomed and we favour respect for the environment based on prevention, repair, reuse and recycling.

The circular economy is based on the concept of the 7Rs: recycle, redesign, reduce, reuse, repair, renew and recover.

How to tell if a piece of furniture is eco-friendly

It is important to know how to differentiate an eco-friendly piece of furniture from one that is not, in order to avoid buying products that may not be in tune with our lifestyle and values.

In order to do this, we must look at the information provided by the manufacturer or the craftsman who makes them and check that they have FSC or PEFC certifications on environmental management. Wood, fibres and plastics must be classified and certified depending on their sustainability.

It is also important to take a look at the place of manufacture and whether priority has been given to purchasing and distribution from local or nearby businesses. In addition, this type of furniture has very careful manufacturing processes that guarantee sustainability and recyclability.

In the case of packaging, it is important to know how the furniture will be packaged to ensure that the use of plastics is reduced as much as possible. Transport and distribution must also be sustainable to try to reduce CO2 emissions.

As you have been able to see, the concept of ecological furniture is very precise and to be able to classify a piece of furniture as such it must meet a series of requirements, but the advantages of sustainable furniture are many. Only if these premises are met when manufacturing a piece of furniture can we contribute to creating a better, more sustainable and environmentally friendly world.

At PAU, a design and sustainable furniture company, we are committed to meeting all quality requirements and manufacturing standards to be able to offer ecological furniture with values. Visit our website and discover the perfect piece of eco-friendly furniture for your green interior design project.