Worried about climate change? Buy sustainable furniture, but less often

We all want to do our bit for climate change, right? Buying quality sustainable furniture that won't need replacing any time soon is a wise move. We investigate...

Climate change and sustainable furniture: Living room with grey and white furnishings and bay window
(Image credit: James French)

When it comes to doing your bit for climate change, is buying sustainable furniture a nonsense ? Or can you shop for a new sofa or kitchen cabinets in a way that can help reduce the environmental impact of your purchase? Sustainability is becoming a concern for more and more consumers, but it can seem like a vague requirement that is difficult to fulfil. And how effective is it anyway?

As we learn more about the different problems associated with the manufacturing of furniture, even sustainable furniture, the facts can actually have a paralysing effect on making the right choice at all.

Did you know, for example, that the furniture type with the highest carbon footprint is the sofa, with the foam and filling components being the worst offenders? Or that MDF and metal, two materials commonly used in the manufacture of everything from kitchen cabinets to chests of drawers, have a huge carbon footprint because of the manufacturing processes involved? 

And the carbon footprint is only one aspect of the sustainability of a piece of furniture. The provenance of the wood in wooden furniture has long been a tricky issue, although buying FSC certified timber is a solution. 

Then there is the issue of labour conditions at manufacturing plants, which is also part of the sustainability rating of a product. 

It's not unreasonable for a consumer to feel that no matter what furniture they end up buying, it'll be unsustainable in one way or another. And, sadly, this is probably true, especially where the carbon footprint is concerned. 

There is some good news, though: you can significantly reduce your impact on the environment by buying your furniture less frequently. There is very little difference between the carbon emissions generated by cheaper and more expensive furniture products, but if you buy only one sofa in a decade, rather than two or three lower quality ones that need replacing more often, that is a big difference. 

The same applies to a new kitchen: if yours will last you 20 years rather than 10, you are significantly reducing your contribution to climate change and deforestation. 

'Buy me once' (or at least not too often) is a good approach to furniture shopping. 

For more tips on living more sustainably, visit our eco hub page.