Sustainability: the future of furniture

The global scientific consensus is clear: as a species, we need to change our consumption habits or face environmental disaster. Most people are aware of the danger posed by energy consumption. Other threats, nearly as serious, are often overlooked. Not least amongst these threats is the devastation of the world’s forests. Tropical rainforest once covered more than 14% of the Earth’s surface. That figure is down to 6%. Most experts believe that it could be 0% within 40 years if urgent action isn’t taken.

The rainforests of the tropics are beautiful, magical places. They’re also sometimes called the “lungs of the Earth” because they produce so much of our atmospheric oxygen. More than 20% of the world’s oxygen is produced in the Amazon Rainforest alone. Scientists estimate that more than half of all species on Earth make their home in the tropical rainforests. These species are rapidly becoming extinct—according to some estimates, as many as 10,000 species a year may be dying out.

The paper and construction industries are responsible for much of the world’s timber-use, but furniture production accounts for a significant proportion, too. IKEA alone uses 1% of the world’s wood every year, and less than half of this wood comes from sustainable sources.

When we started making furniture, we knew we wanted to use only sustainable wood. We named our company Valdivian after the Valdivian rainforest in South America, because we were determined to put our commitment to sustainability at the front and centre of our brand. We believe that sustainable furniture is not only good for the planet, it’s also good for consumers.

Sustainable furniture is better furniture

The benefits of sustainable furniture begin with the wood. At Valdivian, we source all the wood we use from sustainable forests, only using wood which is FSC or PFEC certified. Certified wood is produced without causing deforestation, but it’s also high-quality wood from a trusted source. High-quality wood lasts, so although the retail price of sustainable furniture is generally (although not always) a little higher than the price you’d pay for disposable furniture, the long-term durability of furniture made from high-quality wood ultimately makes it far more economical. Our craftsmen build furniture with long-term durability in mind. That means furniture that will last, and keep looking great, too. The same goes for upholstery. We work with a range of suppliers to ensure that all our fabrics are sustainably sourced, which means well-made, long-lasting fabrics.

It’s healthier

Sustainable furniture isn’t only good for the planet, it’s also good for you. Although the research is sparse, there is enough evidence to suggest that health-conscious consumers would be wise to avoid unsustainably-produced furniture. Most unsustainable furniture is saturated with chemicals, many of which may be harmful to your health. For example, composite wood, used in most disposable furniture, is manufactured by a process which involves formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is carcinogenic, and it has been linked to asthma and allergies in young children. The upholstery on unsustainable furniture is typically treated with fire retardant chemicals which do little to increase consumers’ fire safety while potentially creating the risk of cancer, birth defects and other medical issues. Commonly used stain repellents have been linked to breathing problems and hormonal changes.

It’s good for business

As consumers become more aware of their environmental responsibilities, it’s ever more important for businesses to demonstrate their commitment to environmental change. One great way to do that is by installing sustainable furniture in offices and other buildings. An eyecatching piece of sustainable furniture incentivizes employees, clients and customers to share their experience on social media and highlight your company’s concern for the environment. Sustainable furniture makes the perfect anchor for the kind of feature space in a restaurant or hotel which pulls in guests and encourages them to tag you in their selfies! The durability of sustainable furniture also means that businesses can make significant savings by switching away from less long-lasting unsustainable products.

It’s beautiful

Sustainable furniture manufacturers believe in changing the world not just by protecting the rainforests, but also by making beautiful objects for people’s homes and businesses. By working with the best materials and honouring the value of those materials, we believe it’s possible to make better-looking furniture than you can make with wood torn irresponsibly from vulnerable forests.

…and it’s good for the environment!

By opting for sustainable furniture, you can do your bit to halt the destruction of the world’s forests. Most sustainable furniture makers, including Valdivian, also integrate sustainability into their whole product journey. As well as responsibly sourced wood and fabrics, we use biodegradable packaging to make sure our business does as little harm to the environment as possible. At the end of the day, you can sit more comfortably when you know that the furniture you’re sitting on is not only well-made and beautiful but good for the planet.

By Liam O’Donnell, director of Valdivian Furniture, a British furniture manufacturer that specialises in bespoke, hand crafted contract furniture

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