We’re spending a lot of time in our homes these days. But how healthy is the environment in your home? We know this may come off as alarmist, but most traditional home furnishings are made with toxic substances and unsustainable materials that pose risk to you, your family, and the environment.
That’s why we’re tackling this area of sustainable living. It’s far better for everyone if we kit out our eco-cribs with ethical and sustainable furniture.
Shopping for sustainable furniture companies can be an overwhelming and stressful task since there are so many un-sustainable brands out there. It’s our goal to lighten your load by making your furniture shopping as guilt-free and environmentally friendly as can be. That’s why we’ve compiled this list (using these criteria) of the most ethical furniture brands we could find.
We’ll start with a quick showroom of our favorites. For sheer variety of products from multiple artisans: Etsy Reclaimed and Made Trade have some of the absolute best eco friendly furniture, especially for rustic, wooden looks. If industrial-looking pieces are more your aesthetic, Emeco is inspiringly innovative and for a minimalist, modern twist you can’t go wrong with Simbly.
Before we dive into the dining room, please remember that buying used over new will always be the more sustainable choice, there are actually websites that specifically deal in used furniture, which we talk about here.
So now, kick back in your favorite recliner and join us as we put the eco in decorate!
1. ETSY RECLAIMED FURNITURE
About Etsy Reclaimed Furniture
It’s no secret that we love Etsy. Why? Because they not only make it possible to support all sorts of small, sustainably-minded sellers around the world, but because they’re an ethical operation. Most people don’t think about the platform behind the artisans, but Etsy itself is actually a certified B-Corp.
And Etsy, oh my, talk about options! With a near-constant influx of new designs and shops, there’s no end to the truly you-nqiue pieces to be found, from wine racks made of old barrels to coffee tables made of salvaged driftwood.
To get a taste of some of our favorites, start by checking out Reclaimed Wood USA (which have made over 20,000 top-rated sales) and Urban Billy, both of which are sustainable American furniture brands that specialize in using reclaimed materials to make rustic, farmhouse-inspired eco chic furniture. We especially love Urban’s Billy’s wood art headboards and sliding “Homestead” doors.
Etsy Reclaimed’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: While there’s no end to the creative and innovative materials people use in these pieces, most of them are reclaimed (as you might have guessed). For wood, you’ll commonly find salvaged lumber, fallen logs, and palettes, and for metal, upcycled iron piping and chicken wire.
- Supply chain & labor practices: Etsy allows you to “Stand with Small”, which not only supports humble artisans and craftsmen, but it is better from an ethical standpoint. It means smaller supply chains which reduces the risk of human rights abuse.
Instead of factories, many of these pieces are made in basements and garages by one man (or woman) operations.
- Green business practices: Another commonality among Etsy Reclaimed sellers is their insistence on hand making things to order. This not only means top-notch craftsmanship and one-of-a-kind pieces, but no excess warehouse stock to go unsold and wasted.
Plus, with so many sellers, you won’t have any trouble finding some local to your country or state, which means shipping emissions will be greatly reduced.
- Community & charitable giving: While Etsy itself does not donate to charity (so far as our research goes), many of their sellers give a percentage of the sale price. Be sure to scroll below each shop’s product listings to see where your money is going.
2. MADE TRADE
About Made Trade
Woman-owned, family-run Made Trade isn’t so much a furniture manufacturer as it is a collector of some of the best pieces created by sustainable furniture manufacturers from around the world.
Using strict ethical and environmental criteria, they hand pick specific pieces from designers (some of which are on this very list) like Simbly, Emeco, Farmhouse Pottery, Masaya & Co, CDMX, and more.
These carefully selected pieces include both eco friendly dining furniture and sustainable living room furniture (like end tables, coffee tables, stools, bookshelves, and more). And, once you’ve fully furnished your new home and need to fill it, they sell all sorts of eco friendly housewares and decorations, too.
Made Trade’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: Because there are a number of manufacturers listed on Made Trade, the materials used vary, but a good number of them are made from responsibly sourced or salvaged wood, recycled metals, and natural, biodegradable fabrics. Sustainability of material is one of Made Trade’s key selection criteria.
- Supply chain & labor practices: Made Trade thinks of themselves as “ethically elevated,” a phrase which means they:
“[…] put artistry above efficiency. Fair wages above profits. Sustainability above mass production. Quality craftsmanship above mindless consumption. And transparency above everything. And because there’s nothing uglier than unfairness, hidden practices or trickery, we pledge to provide true transparency about the ethically made goods we offer.”
Aside from sustainable and vegan items, some of the things Made Trade looks out for include Fair Trade manufacturing, USA manufacturing, handcrafting using traditional art forms in danger of being lost (aka “Heritage” pieces), and items by People of Color and/or woman-owned brands. Shop each of these values here.
- Green business practices: As of writing this article, Made Trade is officially Carbon Neutral. They now offset both shipping AND any possible returns through Carbon Credit Capital.
Specifically, their credits help fund the ADPML project in Pará, Brazil, which works to protect the Amazon rainforest by educating 80 Indigenous families on proper land management. This protects the high-risk area against illegal logging for cattle ranching.
Simbly, a portmanteau of Simple + Assembly, builds sustainable wooden furniture with a minimalist, modern twist. All tables, desks, coffee tables, and benches are highly functional and designed for easy assembly and disassembly, without wear and tear. That means you can rearrange with ease for your maximum lay-out feng-shui.
It’s basically a capsule wardrobe for your house!
Their products are also priced reasonably with direct to consumer availability.
The company began in 2017, by Josh Dorfman and Christopher Douglas, both of whom founded different sustainable furniture companies Vivavi and Material Furniture. Josh also hosts The Last Environmentalist podcast and we do have a soft spot for fellow planet-minded podcasters.
Simbly’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: Simbly uses purely FSC certified ApplePly hardwood plywood, which they call “the Roger Federer of plywoods”. Appleply has been made exclusively in Eugene, Oregon since the 1980s, and uses soy-based, formaldehyde-free glues to hold the layers of hardwood birch together. It boasts one of the best strength-to-weight ratios of woods and is made through an efficient peeling process that uses more of a log than any other method.
To ensure your home maintains healthy air quality, all materials and finishes are food-grade, exceeding California Air Resources Board (CARB) and LEED standards.
- Supply chain & labor practices: All furniture is made in a local family-owned factory in Henderson, North Carolina. Whenever possible, they boost Appalachia economies by choosing local. The only exception is their integrated fastening mechanisms, which are sourced from Switzerland for quality and expertise.
- Green business practices: Simbly, a member of the Sustainable Furnishings Council, is working toward becoming the world’s first climate-positive furniture company, an initiative they call Beyond Sustainability.
The Henderson factory is right down the road from its main headquarters in Asheville, making for minimal shipping impact at the production stage. When shipping to buyers, they save truck space and packaging by shipping flat-pack rather than fully assembled, maximizing space by 80%.
These boxes, by the way, are made of 40%-60% recycled cardboard less than 10 miles from the factory and the logos are printed with vegetable inks.
Emeco is challenging the unsustainable furniture industry by creating simple solutions in the form of chairs, stools, and tables.
Founded way back in 1944, Emeco came to be because of a commission to make non-corrosive, fire-resistant, and torpedo proof chairs for the US Navy. That first chair, the classic 1006 Navy Chair, is still available today.
Emeco chairs are a lot of things, but first and foremost they’re built to last… 150 years at least. And they do it all out of recycled materials.
CEO Gregg Buchbinder writes, “Begin with what’s left over. Turn it into what will last. Pretty much our story.” These Hemmingway-esque fragmented phrases pepper the website and pretty much sum up the minimalist philosophy of a company of few words and even fewer unnecessary materials.
Emeco’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: Of all their materials, recycled aluminum is Emeco’s golden (er… metallic) boy. Half post-consumer soda cans and half post-industrial manufacturing scrap, the energy density of these chairs is 17 times lower than virgin aluminum (meaning 95% less energy is required) but equally as strong.
They also use cork, locally reclaimed or sustainably harvested wood, and recycled PET. They’ve been making chairs since 2010 when they collaborated with Coca-Cola to turn over 100 post-consumer bottles into a 100% recyclable chair.
They’ve even pioneered their own innovative materials:
- Reclaimed Wood Polypropylene (made from the leftover bits of plastic from the factory floor mixed with sawdust from the lumber yard)
- Eco Concrete (made from recycled glass bottles and calcium sulfoaluminate cement, which requires less energy to process and fire than regular cement). They use this in their sustainable outdoor furniture because it’s so weather resistant.
For aluminum pieces, Emeco uses VOC-free clear coat anodizing finish, and for wood, low-VOC finishes.
- Supply chain & labor practices: Emeco makes their chairs by hand through an intensive 77 step process. All this happens in a LEED-certified family factory in Hanover, Pennsylvania, the very same one they’ve been using since 1944. It complies with both federal and state labor laws. Because their expertise is metal, they rely on nearby Amish woodworkers to craft their wood products.
- Green business practices: Aside from taking a huge chunk out of their impact by using almost exclusively recycled materials, Emeco also uses green manufacturing processes, reducing energy consumption through advanced lighting systems, buying renewable electricity, and saving water by using welding machines with an internal cooling system. Any minimal scrap produced is always reused.
Of the 6% aluminum waste their production yields, all of it gets returned to aluminum recyclers.
They also use 100% recyclable shipping and packing materials and offer a chair-to-chair recycling program for any of their plastic or aluminum pieces.
VivaTerra, meaning literally “living earth”, took off in 2004 in California though they relocated to Virginia in 2014 so their headquarters, customer care center, and distribution facility could be centrally located.
Their collection of “globally-inspired” furniture that combines modern designs with natural materials includes sofas, bookshelves, side tables, cabinets, storage, dining tables, chairs, mirrors, benches, beds, and smaller home decor.
As a partner of The Good Trade, we know these sofas and house furnishings are up to sustainable snuff. But if we needed further assurance, they claim:
“We believe that ethical and sustainable conduct should be prioritized—not sacrificed—in an effort to achieve our goals. We are always concerned with the who, what, where and how surrounding our products.”
VivaTerra’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: VivaTerra furniture is made of a variety of materials, such as reclaimed or FSC-certified wood frames, vintage or block-printed organic fabric upholstery, and recycled glass or salvaged metal accents.
Their eco linen sofas, for instance, have a linen exterior and soy-based and recycled fiber filling.
All products are finished with non-toxic water-based materials and most with natural, chemical-free dyes, waxes and oils (like lemon oil).
- Supply chain & labor practices: VivaTerra sources furniture from small artisans and Fair Trade partners across over 20 different countries. You can find out exactly where a piece was made in each product description, along with materials and finishes used.
You can also easily shop your values by looking for the responsibility badges on each piece. As VivaTerra does when creating collections, you can look specifically for products that are handcrafted and artisan-made, from Fair Trade suppliers, all-natural, reclaimed or recycled, and even made in the USA:
“While we boast an ever-growing list of products made by artisans across the globe, we proudly support the artists, crafters, makers, builders, carpenters and all other types of artisans right in our own backyards by offering products proudly made in the USA.”
- Green business practices: Through partnership with TerraPass, VivaTerra offsets its carbon emissions and gives customers the option to choose “climate-friendly shipping” upon checkout. This option costs a dollar and is used toward renewable energy projects.
Sabai makes affordable eco friendly furniture in the form of upholstered living room seating. This includes sofas, sectionals, pillows, and “the ottoman that can”, by which they mean can function as either a footrest, coffee table, or extra seating.
Each design is custom made to your specifications. Just choose your cushions, fabric, and legs, allow two weeks for manufacturing, and assemble your product in under 10 minutes (no tools necessary).
Stay tuned in Spring 2020 for their upcoming release of new washable slipcovers to further extend the life and style versatility of your couch.
Sabai’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: You can choose the color and wood type of the frame, all of which are FSC-certified. Then, for the exterior, choose between three different fabrics:
- Recycled Velvet made from 100% recycled plastic bottles
- Upcycled Poly made from 100% Olefin (a waste byproduct)
- Cotton (though no mention of whether it’s organic)
All three are pet friendly and scratch proof, and the velvet and upcycled poly are additionally stain resistant. Adhesion to the frame is accomplished through VOC-free water-based glue.
The seat cushions are made of CertiPUR certified non-toxic foam and the pillows are stuffed with recycled fiberfill.
- Supply chain & labor practices: Sabai’s sustainable sofas are made by an ethical manufacturing partner located in High Point, North Carolina, near the distribution center. Everything is made in the USA.
- Green business practices: Aside from offsetting all shipping emissions, Sabai ships plastic-free in 100% recycled boxes. The protective leg bags can double as reusable produce bags.
In addition to building products with end of lifecycle in mind, they are in the process of rolling out end of life cycle programs, including a repair-don’t-replace initiative and even a potential buy back program! We look forward to seeing these come to fruition. Until then, your Sabai couch will certainly last you well into the future.
Medley started small (in an apartment back in 2005) but in “realizing there is still so much more to do to push the furniture industry forward” they’ve since grown much bigger.
Now they make everything you could want for the home, like sofas, sectionals, accent chairs, sleeper sofas, beds, ottomans, benches, accent tables, dining tables, and storage pieces.
Small studio apartment? No big deal. Use their Tailored to Your Space service for customized creations fitted to your color and material preferences, but also sized to fit into whatever space you have. These sustainable custom furniture jobs take about 4-6 weeks to complete. They still come with a 100-day free trial to ensure you absolutely love it before committing to it.
Medley’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: In the name of long-lasting duration, Medley only uses top quality materials. This means solid bamboo and domestically-sourced kiln-dried alder (for furniture frames) and solid walnut and maple (for tabletops) from FSC-certified forests.
Their upholstery has two different cushion options: CertiPUR-US®-certified foam (the cleanest synthetic currently on the market) and Global Organic Latex Standard certified organic latex. If you have a latex allergy and aren’t sure if the covering will be enough of a barrier, they’ll send you a sample to test.
Other materials include OEKO-Tex 100 cruelty-free Eco Wool (in their mattresses), natural jute webbing, GOTS certified organic cotton (used in the linings of all upholstered items), and either recycled or Greenguard Gold Certified synthetics.
All the pieces are free of VOC adhesives, fire retardants, fluorocarbons, and other ozone depleters, heavy metals, pesticides, preservatives, phthalates, formaldehyde, or azo dyes. Even the wood is finished with an all natural furniture polish made with only beeswax, carnauba wax, and olive oil.
8. URBAN WOOD GOODS
About Urban Wood Goods
Female founder and CEO Erin True stumbled on a DIY salvage magazine article and made a bench she only ever intended to make for herself. This was back in 2010, long before sustainable furniture was trendy. Thousands of such tables and benches later, and her one-woman show has grown into a fully-fledged sustainable operation.
Urban Wood Goods specializes in reclaimed wood tables of all sorts and sizes, from desks to conference tables to quaint two-seaters for your breakfast nook. And what good would a table be without some industrial-chic bar stools or benches?
If you really can’t get enough of the dichotomous metal and wood aesthetic, you can upgrade your home storage with reclaimed pipe shelving units and commission custom pieces.
With so much history in the salvage, these pieces bear “a unique vibe or soul” quick to become the focal point of any space. No better place to make memories with your family than over a table with so many already.
Urban Wood Goods’ Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: Roughly 30 million tons of demolition wood waste goes to the landfill every year. That’s why all their lumber (unless otherwise noted) is reclaimed barn wood and centuries-old “Old Growth” lumber. Choosing to use this lumber is “an attempt to respect the present, and preserve the past” by highlighting “those who chose the more challenging path of deconstruction versus demolition, landfill dumping or incineration.”
While ensuring all finished products are comfortable and functionally smooth, they don’t overprocess the textures. This ensures the wood retains its original warps, nail holes, textures, and other character elements.
Urban Wood Goods combines these wooden table tops with salvaged metal pipe accents and American made steel structures.
- Supply chain & labor practices: All products are “Grown in America & Built in America..for you”. The team of 20 craftsman work in their very own Chicago woodshop.
All reclaimed lumber is salvaged from local sites and any other materials also come from nearby USA suppliers, including Wire Basket Inc. (for locker accents), UWG Metal Manufacturer (for their reclaimed table and stool tops), and Metal Shaper (for steel leg fabrications).
- Green business practices: To minimize cost and shipping emissions, they only ship to the US and Canada.
9. WEST ELM “SUSTAINABLY SOURCED” COLLECTION
About West Elm
As part of the Pottery Barn conglomerate, global furniture giant West Elm is proof that big, established companies can change for the eco-better.
While West Elm as a whole still sells plenty of traditionally toxic pieces, their ever-expanding Sustainable Sourced collection gives us hope, now comprising 60% of the total line. Currently, over half of their wood furniture is either FSC certified or 20% reclaimed.
This new high end sustainable furniture line includes anything and everything for the living room, dining room, bedroom, and patio. They even have eco friendly nursery furniture. Which is sure to put your mind at ease knowing these changing tables, cribs, and baby bedding are Fair Trade and GREENGUARD Gold certified.
West Elm’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: Much of West Elm’s Sustainably Sourced items are made either from reclaimed wood or FSC-certified wood, finished with low-VOC finishes. Many of their items now possess Greenguard Gold or OEKO-Tex 100 certifications.
As for fabrics (as seen in their sofa upholstery, bedding, and rugs), they use either 100% organic cotton, TENCEL, or REPREVE® recycled polyester (which has saved 14 million plastic bottles from landfills).
- Supply chain & labor practices: With the launch of West Elm LOCAL, they made a big push to return manufacturing to the USA. Currently, they’ve at 65%, meaning the company has invested over $10M in small American-made businesses. Part of this means designing 95% of products in-house.
Even though West Elm isn’t perfect, they have tons of various certifications backing up their ethical claims for their sustainably sourced items. As of 2020, 15 of their factories are Fair Trade certified, supporting over 13,000 workers with fair pay, health clinics, and over $2 million additional dollars paid to Fair Trade community development funds.
- Green business practices: They believe in using organic cotton for their fabric components, and they’ve partnered with the Better Cotton Initiative to train farmers in organic practices. In 2018, they trained over 1,500 farmers.
- Community & charitable giving: West Elm has several different charitable partnerships like Nest, Human Rights Campaign, the ASPCA, Vision Spring, HERproject, and of course St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, with which they’ve donated over $50 million across their 15-year partnership.
“You will spend nearly one-third of your life in bed, so it’s important to have a non-toxic mattress.”
That’s why Avocado is here to save the day (or night, rather). This Sustainable Furnishings Council member, makes mainly mattresses and toppers, with a handful of reclaimed bed frames, end tables, and dressers. The mattresses come in all sizes (even cribs) in either organic wool or PETA-approved vegan versions. They include a 1-year sleep trial and a 25-year warranty, but with over 10,000 5-star customer reviews and the being highest independently rated mattresses, the warranty is really a gesture of good faith.
While they’re still pending Certified B Corporation, this “farm to mattress” brand is still one of the most ethical furniture brands we’ve seen, far exceeding our strict expectations on so many levels.
Avocado’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: The base of Avocado’s mattresses is 100% GOLS organic, eco-INSTITUT®, and OEKO-Tex 100 certified Dunlop latex which they make themselves. They use no polyurethane or memory foams, off-gassing chemical adhesives, or synthetic latex. They’re so certain their stuff is safe they invite you to read their legal labels (which actually have really strict requirements so pro tip: take a look at the one on your mattress!)
Both have a natural hydrated silica fire barrier that still exceeds all federal flammability and CPSC standards without using chemical flame retardants (which have been linked with organ toxicity and neurological damage). They’re also free of heavy metals, formaldehyde, solvents, functional nanoparticles, GMOs, chlorine bleach, Azo dyes, phthalates, and PVC.
The wooden furniture they offer (which is actually hand built by Urban Woods in their factory) is made of either reclaimed or FSC certified wood with a zero-VOC sealant and no superfluous elements like knobs and handles
- Supply chain & labor practices: Avocado sources main materials from India where they co-own several FSC-certified organic rubber tree farms. They also own their own ethically raised free range sheep, employing over 100 farmers and 400 herders across 50 Indian villages that provide fair, living wages that adhere to International Labor Organization (ILO) standards.
For even more sourcing steps, see their Farm to Mattress page.
All mattress manufacturing takes place in their own GOTS and GOLS organic certified factory in Los Angeles where they “pay living wages and provide comprehensive medical care, from our factory floor through every tier of the company.” On top of that, employees get quarterly paid volunteer days, remote work opportunities, and access to free Headspace and Classpass accounts to encourage mental and physical health.
- Green business practices: A Carbonfree® Partner, Avocado offsets 100% of emissions generated by shipping and factory operations. Through Carbonfund.org, their offsets specifically fund reforestation and forest preservation projects.
- Community & charitable giving: Avocado is a member of 1% For The Planet. And what’s better than 1%? Why, 2% of course, which is the percentage of annual revenue (regardless of profit) Avocado donates to EcoHealth Alliance, Breast Cancer Prevention Partners (BCPP), among others.
They also offer free yoga and meditation classes, workshops, readings, live music, and coffee and kombucha at their Certified Green Business “Experience Centers” and donate 90% of returned products to various nonprofits.
Nothing says eco-cozy like one of EcoBalanza’s non-toxic and hypoallergenic sustainable sofas and sectionals.
As a boutique designer, these luxury sustainable living room furniture pieces aren’t exactly inexpensive eco friendly furniture (they start around $4300 for a standard 3-seat sofa), but if ultra customized couches are within your budget, by all means!
EcoBalanza’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: EcBalanza believes everyone should know what’s inside a sofa, so they’ve made a handy graphic to help you out.
Their material list is minimal and limited, just what we love to see! They choose third party certified natural materials such as GOTS organic long staple cotton batting, GOLS-certified organic Dunlop latex foam, locally sourced Cheviot and Dorset cruelty-free merino wool, kapok, jute webbing, jute burlap, steel springs, hemp twine, and formaldehyde-free FSC certified hardwood frames.
With various material supplier certifications such as OEKO-tex 100, Biokreis, European Centre for Allergy Research Foundation (ECARF), and GREENGUARD, this would be ideal for those with multiple chemical sensitivities.
- Supply chain & labor practices: All materials are sourced from ethical suppliers, local ones wherever possible. And every single one of them holds at least some sort of sustainability credential, as you can see by the fact that each of their materials holds a relevant certification.
The manufacturing magic happens in a single workshop in Seattle, of which you can take a virtual tour of.
- Green business practices: Absolutely everything about these sofas are handmade (down to the individual stitching), which is why they offer “endless customization” opportunities to truly make your couch feel like an extension of yourself or your family for years and years to come.
EcoBalanza uses top tier craftsmanship methods, like using hand-tied jute cord to counter-tension every steel spring, a process that helps the sofa maintain integrity and support over time. Sustainable luxury furniture quite literally to the core!
12. THE JOINERY
About The Joinery
The Joinery, a certified B-Corp since 2010, crafts artisan ethical furniture for both residential and commercial spaces out of the solid hardwoods and eco friendly fabrics.
Since 1982, they’ve offered a full range of home furnishings which includes beds, nightstands, dressers, mattresses, sofas, loveseats, coffee tables, dining room tables, office desks, storage units, coat racks, lamps, decorative tiles, and shelving units. They even sell wooden toys for kids, like this adorable Push T-Rex.
Every piece is intended to be Furniture for Life, and “have a longer lifespan than the trees from which they originate”. They’re backed by a lifetime guarantee and restoration promise.
The Joinery’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: The majority of the wood that The Joinery uses is FSC-certified, locally sourced, or both. They include solid hardwoods like Cherry, Western Walnut, Eastern Walnut, Maple, and Oregon White Oak, though they can source other hardwoods for custom requests — “in all cases seeking to find the most environmentally responsible source.” They minimize hardware by utilizing durable wood joining techniques.
They also sell four different eco friendly mattresses (all non-toxic and chemical free) and made of various combinations of GOLS organic Dunlop latex, organic cotton, and organic wool. For sofas, choose between EcoWool, Leather, or Velvet. For obvious reasons, we recommend EcoWool.
- Supply chain & labor practices: While these products are made of various US hardwoods, most are responsibly and locally sourced from Oregon and Washington.
Manufacturing then moved to a shop in Portland, Oregon, where they invite you to drop by and see the woodworkers at work. The joinery began as a one person furniture repair operation, and they keep that spirit alive but ensuring every piece is wholly built by a single woodworker.
- Green business practices: The Joinery writes, “The quality of our craft may be our single greatest environmental contribution.”
But in fact, they do tons of other stuff, include using biodiesel powdered delivery trucks, high-efficiency lighting, solar and wind energy to power their workshop, reusing their own scrap lumber, and even compacting any dust and sawdust into wood briquettes for donation to community building projects. They also encourage recycling by giving an annual Metamortise Award to the employee who creates the most innovative reclaimed furniture.
They’ve been named Oregon Business Magazine’s 100 Best Green Workplaces in Oregon and frequently find themselves on B Corp’s “Best for the Environment”.
13. CISCO HOME
About Cisco Home
Cisco Home believes “furniture shouldn’t be thrown out after three years. It should stay with you; remind you of home; make your home.” By backing their craftsmanship with lifetime guarantees, their sofas, beds, tables, dressers, and the like are designed to become heirlooms.
Cisco is the namesake of a Mexican immigrant who found solace in working in a makers shop after moving from a 20-family village in Mexico to Los Angeles. Cisco says, “I would go to the flea market and get things no one else wanted. I remember picking up this old pink fabric and bringing it back to the shop to use on a couch.”
That “ugly pink couch” inspired him to expand his craft and open his own shop in LA, where this founding member of the Sustainable Furnishing Council (SFC) still resides thirty years later. Although today, his creations are a little more posh than pink, that same spirit of whimsical reclamation remains.
Cisco Homes’ Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: The most sustainable choice you can make is opting for Cisco’s Inside Green pieces, which is an alternative extra sustainable method of building that can be applied to any of Cisco’s pieces. It costs a bit extra but it’s well worth the price, considering it means all components are non-toxic (but still inherently flame retardant without the use of chemicals).
Their sustainable fabrics for this collection include Natural Latex foam, Jute, Hemp, Wool, Organic Feathers, and Down. All frames are made of FSC Certified or reclaimed wood, absolutely no illegally harvested timber, genetically modified trees, or wood from forests that threaten either conservation or civil rights. This wood is sometimes inlaid with hand blown glass and finished with water-based stains and organic oils.
While they do use full-grain leather, they claim it’s sourced from humanely raised cattle and they use any manufacturing scraps in their Andy and Pouf Ottomans. We hope to learn a little more about the chemicals (or hopefully lack thereof) used in tanning, but overall we’d recommend sticking with one of their vegan options.
- Supply chain & labor practices: To Cisco, “sustainability isn’t just a value, it’s a lifestyle” which is why they also “make sure all of our organic materials have the proper documentation, were fairly traded, or repurposed.”
Because they “value the integrity of people, not machines”, every part of the manufacturing process is done by hand in their LA factory.
And they work with only the best suppliers and makers. For instance, their long term linen supplier is Belgium’s flax weaving mill Libeco, which is ranked among the top three linen manufacturers in Europe.
- Green business practices: They not only ‘grow’ furniture at their LA factory, but fresh fruit, vegetables, and herbs, which are free for their craftsmen to take home.
- Community & charitable giving: Cisco founded and continues to work with two Los Angeles nonprofits: Making Education the Answer (META), which gives college scholarships to Latino students in underserved So-Cal communities, and Refoundry, which trains the formerly incarcerated to repurpose discarded materials into furnishings so that they may one day have the skills to open their own business.
14. URBAN WOODS
About Urban Woods
According to the California Integrated Waste Management Board, about 28% of the state’s waste stream is wood from either construction or demolition.
That’s why Urban Woods takes this local Los Angeles wood waste and turns it into beautiful and customized beds, bookcases, coffee tables, credenzas, desks, dining tables, dressers, end tables, floor mirrors, and entertainment stands.
Urban Woods’ Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: Urban Woods products come with the promise that “no trees are harmed in the manufacturing of this product”. That’s because absolutely everything is made from reclaimed old growth solid wood timber.
Aside from reducing large amounts of landfill-bound waste, using reclaimed wood is beneficial because of its density and age (about 50-100 years old), it provides superior resistance to deterioration or warping, thus needing minimal protective finishes. Any stains, coatings, or glues the brand does use are non-toxic, VOC-free, water-based, and formaldehyde-free.
They do not use plywood, MDF, or particleboard, nor do they use imported, tropical hardwoods that risk harming the rainforest.
- Supply chain & labor practices: Urban Woods starts local and stays local for production (though fear not, they ship globally), thus maximizing local jobs and supply chain traceability. First, they source all reclaimed wood from Los Angeles vintage buildings (meaning those made from quality old growth timber rather than plywood) slated for demolition.
They continue to transform the wood into furniture by hand in Los Angeles in their own sustainably-minded factory. Fun fact: They actually produce for VivaTerra there.
B-Corp MIO is the picture of eco-modernity, out to prove that eco friendly furniture can fit just as well in a Frank Lloyd Wright house as it can in a log cabin.
If you like bright colors, clean cut designs, and conversation starters, check out their unique and colorful desks, folding stools, asymmetrical glide swivel stools, and even a see-saw, as part of their “Work is Play” sustainable office furniture collection. If you have all your big furniture and are just looking to sustainably spruce up the place, they also sell lighting, decor, wall and ceiling tiles, acoustic tiles, and room dividers.
By creating user-friendly and affordable sustainable furniture, their true mission is “to change the way consumers think about their purchasing decisions […] We want sustainability to be something that everyone seeks.” We hope to see such a day when conscious consumerism is the default, no assembly required (just like most MIO pieces!).
MIO’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: MIO chooses materials that are recyclable, renewable, or “fit into closed-loop manufacturing systems”. They commonly used FSC certified wood, cardboard, fully recyclable aluminum, partially recycled aluminum alloy, felt, and cork.
Any aluminum products are finished with a low VOC powder coating that does not emit any breathable particles or odors.
The power of MIO’s contemporary sustainable furniture lies in the efficiency and functionality of user-friendly design. Their Nomad Stools, for example, are hardwear free. They fold totally flat and support up to 259 pounds. Oh, and did we mention they’re only made of FSC certified cardboard?! That’s a pretty sturdy design if we do say so ourselves.
- Supply chain & labor practices: MIO chooses to work with smaller, local manufacturers, carefully chosen based on labor conditions and practices, as well as their commitment to efficiency and innovation.
In the name of transparency, each product has sustainability specs, as well as its origin and original designers.
- Green business practices: MIO prioritizes local brands, namely those close to their East Coast headquarters. Look for the Locally Sourced badge which indicates pieces that were made within 100 miles of the distributor.
Some of their products not only encourage sustainability at the manufacturing stage, but at the use stage. Look for products with the Active Sustainability badge for those that “transform daily activities into acts of environmental conservation [by generating] a positive and quantifiable environmental impact each time it is used.”
Additionally, “MIO designs products that encourage conservation, or active sustainability, throughout their entire lifecycles.” Each piece of eco modern furniture is designed to require little to no assembly.
16. VERMONT WOOD STUDIOS
About Vermont Wood Studios
Founded in 2005, Vermont Wood Studios has its humble roots in the spare bedroom of a home. Now, it exists to make every room (spare or essential) a cozy one through tons of furniture and lighting accents. Shop bookcases, headboards, dressers, wardrobes, and other fully customizable, non-toxic options.
If it’s not already “Furniture You Can Feel Good About”, know your investment is backed with a lifetime quality guarantee.
Vermont Wood Studios’ Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: These pieces are crafted mainly using sustainably grown North American trees or salvaged building wood, kiln-dried. They’re also non-toxic, using water-based glue and low VOC finishes, like linseed oil and Poly Gel, meaning any VOCs residue dries up.
For durability reasons, their Polywood patio furniture is the exception, which is made from over 90% post-consumer plastic bottles.
- Supply chain & labor practices: From using locally sourced trees harvested within 500 miles of their workshops to making everything by hand in Vermont, this brand is all about “support[ing] Vermont craftspeople and American economies.”
Rather than using one big company factory, they contract to individual artisan studios, four in particular: Vermont Furniture Designs, Maple Corner Woodworks, Copeland Furniture, and Lyndon Furniture. In addition to those larger studios, they sometimes work with even smaller single-artisan shops for more custom pieces.
They state outright, “Our furniture makers receive fair compensation for their considerable talent and they work in a safe and healthy environment.”
- Green business practices: Rather than shipping from studios to a warehouse and then to you, all pieces are shipped directly from makers to buyers to eliminate middle man shipping emissions.
Some of their workshops are powered by solar fields and all sawdust waste is either used as fuel to heat the space or by donating it to local farms.
17. USED FURNITURE
Buying used furniture is ethically and sustainably the best decision you can make. After all, the most sustainable furniture is that which already exists. We’re what you might call thrifting enthusiasts and we encourage you to look into used options before buying new. You’ll also save a pretty penny too.
In addition to eBay and your local thrift and antique stores, there are several websites that now deal exclusively in the realm of gently loved furniture and home decor. Some of the best we’ve found are:
- AptDeco perhaps the largest retailer of used modern furniture brands, along with a smaller selection of vintage items. They make it easy to buy and sell high quality, gently used furniture.
- Kaiyo (formerly known as Furnishare) is similar to AptDeco in that you can buy and sell furniture, but the company also inspects and cleans every piece before selling. Easier for the seller and more peace of mind for the buyer. They do only resell items that are like new or very lightly used. So far they’ve saved 1,219,793 pounds of furniture from going to landfills.
- Chairish used a consignment system to sell used furniture and decor in every category imaginable, including lightning, rugs, and wall art. They sell everything from less expensive brands to designer ones, and compile their current stock into collections if you want to get some aesthetic ideas from the pros.
- EBTH: short for “Everything But the House”, this vintage estate sale website works on the same bidding system as eBay. They also have experts to authenticate the quality of each item.
WHY CHOOSE ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY FURNITURE?
Why should we choose ethical furniture brands? What does eco friendly sustainable furniture have that traditional furniture doesn’t? Most of it is still made from wood, right?
Yes, but it turns out, there’s a lot wrong with the furniture industry.
To start, much of the wood used to make furniture is cheap and not designed to last. Sadly IKEA is one of the worst offenders. This leads to a glut of materials going to the waste stream (about 28% according to the California Integrated Waste Management Board). And most of these are either upholstered with petroleum-based fabrics or are coated with toxic chemicals making it impossible to safely biodegrade.
Deforestation and biodiversity loss due to illegal and unsustainable logging is another big problem. Rainforest deforestation, happening at a rate of 1.5 acres every second, is particularly troubling, wiping out an estimated 137 species of plants and animals every day. While this isn’t due to the furniture industry alone (palm oil plantations are another major contributor), many desirable hardwoods are only found in the rainforest.
Then there’s the shipping. Moving large heavy furniture across continents is responsible for huge carbon emissions output. Especially when you consider that a lot of it is mass produced and shipped out of China.
It’s hard not to sound alarmist here but traditional furniture isn’t just bad for the planet. It’s bad for our health because it’s a major contributor to indoor air pollution (which is far worst than outdoor air pollution according to the EPA) and “Sick Building Syndrome” which is often mistaken with having a common cold.
Scratchy throat and runny nose aside, indoor air pollution can also cause all sorts of severe health issues. Which makes sense seeing as though furniture finishes are chock-full of formaldehyde, neurotoxins, carcinogens, and toxic polyurethane foams. According to Len Laycock, CEO of Upholstery Arts, “Research […] indicates that toluene, a known neurotoxin, comes off gases from polyurethane foam products.”
In fact, a New York Times article describes how workers had suffered from severe nerve damage due to being in close proximity with polyurethane while making pillows.
On a positive side note: Starting a small indoor garden is a great way to help combat indoor air pollution!
HOW WE FOUND THESE ETHICAL & SUSTAINABLE FURNITURE BRANDS
This is the first time we’ve covered any ethical eco friendly furniture, so we had to take some time to consider: What makes furniture sustainable?
Turns out, pretty much the same things that make up sustainable and ethical fashion, and after a LOT of research in that field, we have a good idea of what to look out for.
There are four main considerations (and lots of micro ones!):
- Materials: This is the main consideration because material choice determines the majority of an item’s impact, which is why we want to talk more in-depth about this one just below.
- Supply chain & labor practices: This pertains to who manufacturers the furniture and where they got their materials. Often in the case of ethical furniture companies, it’s just a small workshop and a minimal supply chain, which makes providing traceability a lot easier than in the fashion industry.
Local manufacture is always preferred, rather than sourcing from countries with a risk of human rights abuse. Local factories mean a good level of transparency (and way fewer shipping emissions!). Many of the brands we chose are Made-in-the-USA for that reason, which is good because the U.S. has strict labor standards.
Still, for extra reassurance regarding fair labor practices, third party auditors and certifications can help:
- B-Corp: The gold standard certification. Obtaining it means a brand is subject to a yearly audit in over 80 impact areas, which considers ALL entities in the supply chain and ranks brands numerically on their performance.
- Fair Trade: As the name implies, this means all materials and finished products come about through fair means, both in labor conditions and pay. It ensures fair wages (i.e. above minimal wage), safe workspaces, proper training, and protection from discrimination, harassment, abuse, or child/forced labor.
- B-Corp: The gold standard certification. Obtaining it means a brand is subject to a yearly audit in over 80 impact areas, which considers ALL entities in the supply chain and ranks brands numerically on their performance.
- Green business practices: Any other cool eco-initiatives a brand has going on. For instance, dealing in only handcrafted sustainable furniture means the company isn’t relying on machines, which use energy and create emissions.
Other points we consider here include buying carbon offsets, using renewable energy, using low waste/biodegradable packaging, and having sustainable business certifications under their belt. Those by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and Green America are most common.
- Charitable endeavors: If a company is a little larger and can swing it, we love to see not only minimizing the bad but maximizing the good by giving back to the community and the planet. Whether it be providing time, money, or just advocacy for various organizations and issues, that always gives a brand a (couch?) leg up for us.
An example: Some of the brands are members of the Sustainable Furnishings Council, which is a coalition of furniture manufacturers and retailers that aren’t just making sustainably designed furniture, but are aiming to change the whole home furnishings industry by advocating for such practices.
Sustainable Furniture Materials
Biodegradable materials (like wood) are obviously ideal because they’re fully recyclable (like aluminum). If something isn’t biodegradable, then it’s crucial that it’s high quality and designed to last for years and years. Let’s talk trees a little more.
Ethical wooden furniture is a great option, but we have to consider what types of wood are involved. The most sustainable wood for furniture are woods like bamboo, cork, and latex (tapped from trees like syrup and used for the foam of mattresses and sofas). These are excellent because they’re fast producing and regenerative.
One the other hand, hardwoods (like beech, oak, and maple), take hundreds of years to grow and mature.
Not all hardwoods are equal though. Some are endangered and can only be grown in specific areas or in areas that aren’t known for sustainable harvesting. These include Rosewood, Merbau, Sapalee, Ebony, Mahogony, and even Teak (which is especially common in “eco green” furniture). Some are typically found in old growth forests (like Douglas Fir, Cedar, and Redwood) so unless they’re certified or salvaged, avoid them.
If you’re construction-clueless like us, you might be wondering, “What about plywoods and particle wood?” Hardwood is a solid piece, whereas plywood is comprised of thin sheets of wood that have been glued together. Same with particle board, but with wood chips and sawdust.
Not only do these conglomerate woods typically include toxic adhesives and formaldehyde, but they’re far less durable than hardwoods. Rem
Where does Sustainable Wood Come From?
Next, we consider where the wood comes from.
The best choice is wood that has been salvaged or reclaimed. That is wood that would otherwise go to the landfill despite being high quality. Many of these reusable stocks come from older buildings which predate cheap lumber and building standards that have come to define the modern age. Such old growth lumber is harder and more durable than newer sapwood lumber, which is less dense and more prone to warping, twisting, and bending.
Preventing waste and getting a longer-lasting product? Win, win!
A close second is wood that is certifiably sourced responsibly. The Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) is the authority here. They ensure that wood and any of its derivatives (like latex) are sourced from a responsibly managed forest (i.e. that does not encourage deforestation and other harmful practices). It includes a Chain-of-Custody which traces products throughout the entire supply chain.
Last but not least, how the wood (or fabric or whatever the material may be) is treated and finished matters. Again, we want our furniture to make a healthy home, not a hazardous one, so it’s important we look for those with organic, non-toxic treatments and low-VOC (short for volatile organic compounds) finishes and stains. The following certifications are useful identifying the good from the bad:
- Greenguard Gold: Holds furniture to the strictest standards of non-toxicity, meaning a piece and all finishing agents is safe even for babies, the elderly, and the chemically sensitive.
- OEKO-Tex 100: This means no harmful colorants, heavy metals, formaldehyde, azo-dyes, or other chemicals were used at any point in manufacturing.
- Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS): Certifies fabrics have been grown and made into final garments without chemicals, pesticides, fertilizers, or machine harvesting. For furniture, this mostly applies to cotton and wool.
- Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS): As with above, but specifically for latex.
- Made Safe: Confirms no toxic substances were used that could potentially harm you, the environment, the animal kingdom, and aquatic ecosystems. They also test for bio-accumulation to make sure a substance doesn’t build up in humans over time.
- Greenguard Gold: Holds furniture to the strictest standards of non-toxicity, meaning a piece and all finishing agents is safe even for babies, the elderly, and the chemically sensitive.
Be aware of greenwashing, or falsely hyping up the sustainability of products. A good example in the furniture industry is soy/poly blend sofas, which are often marketed as eco friendly simply because they replace some amount of petroleum product with soy. Which is also responsible for massive swaths of deforestation (and human rights abuses) in South America.
To ensure we don’t fall victim to any greenwashing, we’ll be reaching out to each of these brands directly to confirm all the policies we’ve detailed above.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON SUSTAINABLE, ETHICAL FURNITURE
Whether you’re kitting out your home furnishings for the first time or replacing that cheap Ikea flat pack you bought after college, we hope this guide has helped you learn where to get sustainable furniture.
With these brands here to help, you’ll have no trouble transforming a house into a home…and a green one at that!
If you know anyone who’s looking to upgrade their upholstery or beautiful bedroom, we’d love it if you would share this list of them. Help us transform homes into models of sustainable living.