Sustainable Furniture

Read on to learn what to look for in eco-friendly furniture

What do fashion and furniture have in common?

The fashion industry has been plagued by fast fashion: inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends. These pieces of clothing are worn an average of seven times before being discarded.

This same mentality has spread to the furniture industry.

Fast furniture

Inexpensive pieces of ‘fast furniture’ are mass-produced and not built to last. This production faces many of the same issues as fast fashion: ethical issues such as exploitation of workers, use of toxic chemicals, and overproduction leading to a waste of resources.

These items are usually built from cheap materials, especially particleboard, which makes it more susceptible to damage and can be more challenging to repair—unlike a solid hardwood piece that can be sanded and refinished. Fast furniture manufacturers are more likely to use glue, paint and stain, wood finishes and chemical retardants which contain toxic chemicals. And once these items shows wear and tear, it’s easier and cheaper to buy new than to fix what you already have. These pieces aren’t meant to last a lifetime and the materials are much more difficult to recycle.

piles of furniture in a landfill

According to the EPA, 12 million tons of furniture was disposed of in 2018, up 450% from 1960. Most of the furniture currently cluttering dumps was made within the last 10 to 15 years. The most common material? Wood, followed by ferrous metals. Plastics, glass, textiles and other materials were also found in furniture.

Why is this a problem?

Furniture is among the most bulky objects thrown away, and pieces are often dumped illegally. These large items constitute 5% of household waste and are contributing to clogging up landfills. Many of the materials used in furniture do not biodegrade. In addition, the emissions and other resources used to create and transport these items is increased as the rate of buying and dumping these items skyrockets.

How do I know whether furniture is sustainable?

The appeal of fast furniture is undeniable: it is inexpensive and easily accessible. Quality pieces can be costly and can take weeks to arrive, especially post-pandemic. I strongly believe that quality is always better than quantity, and to view these items as investments. You will save both money and resources in the long run by buying well-made furniture that is meant to last. You can keep it forever and pass it on to your children or others to use.

But first, how does one identify fast furniture? Simply touching it can be a good indicator—you can tell when it wouldn’t take much for something to break. The material used is also a good gauge. Inexpensive materials like plastic, plywood, or particleboard are not as sturdy and long-lasting as others quality materials.

Furthermore, the good and the bad news is the price is usually an accurate indicator. Chances are, if you’re only paying $100 for a main centerpiece of a room, such as a sofa, bed or kitchen table, it’s fast furniture and won’t last more than a few years. In addition, these pieces also often require self-assembly.

Sustainably-sourced materials

Choose furniture made from sturdy, strong materials such as solid woods and metals. When shopping for sustainable wood furniture, seek out items that are FSC certified, ensuring the wood came from responsibly-managed forests. Many traditional woods like oak or maple, and even bamboo, are available with this certification. Reclaimed wood is also an excellent eco-friendly material.

SCS Recycled content is a reliable certification for items made with recycled materials.

For upholstered furniture, look for fabrics made from natural fibers instead of synthetic materials like polyester. Furniture made with man-made materials are fossil fuel-based and much more likely to contain harmful chemicals, including VOCs (see below). Buying organic furniture is the best way to avoid exposure to these toxic chemicals. GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certification is the gold standard you will encounter for organic furniture.

There are also certifications ensuring sustainable and ethical sourcing for other types of materials, including latex, cotton, down, wool, and leather. Below are the most common logos you should look for in sustainably-made furniture.

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)

Look for this certification label on wood furniture. It is the most creditable independent certifier that ensures products come from responsibly managed forests that provide environmental, social and economic benefits.

Certified Recycled Content

SCS Global’s Recycled Content Verification label verifies products are made from pre-consumer or post-consumer material diverted from the waste stream. Certification measures the percentage of recycled content.

Better Cotton Initiative

Their mission statement is “to help cotton communities survive and thrive, while protecting and restoring the environment.”

Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS)

GOTS evaluates the processing and manufacturing of textiles on the basis of both environmental and social criteria. There are 2 GOTS label grades: ‘organic’ requiring a minimum of 95% organic fibers and ‘made with organic materials’ requiring at least 70% organic fibers.

Global Organic Latex Standard

GOLS is the standard for products made out of organically grown natural rubber latex. All the raw materials in the product (other than approved additional materials/accessories) comply with the requirements on organic origin.

Responsible Down Standard

The RDS certifies that feathers and down come from geese and ducks that are raised on certified farms in compliance with the principles and criteria of animal welfare.

Responsible Wool Standard

RWS farmers and ranchers must meet animal welfare, land management, and social requirements.

Leather Working Group

LWG is a non-profit organization that drives best practices and positive social and environmental change for responsible leather production.

Avoid VOCs

VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, are a group of harmful chemicals, such as formaldehyde and benzene, which are emitted from many sources found in most households, such as cleaning products, paint, carpet, and, of course, furniture. These chemicals are off-gassed, or airborne released, at the highest concentrations during the first year of an item’s life. That new furniture smell? Off-gassing. This process can continue to off-gas for years, even after that smell is gone. (This is an advantage of buying used furniture). These vapors compromise indoor air quality, which can have adverse health affects on everyone, including pets, and especially the very young, elderly, and those with underlying immune or respiratory issues.

If you are concerned about VOCs or are having symptoms, purchase an air quality monitor. My sister and her husband recently remodeled their kitchen, and afterwards were both experiencing significant headaches. They purchased one of these monitors and discovered their VOCs were much higher than WHO recommendations. They took steps to speed the off-gassing of their new cabinets, the VOC levels decreased, and their symptoms went away.

How do I rid my space of existing VOCs?

  • Remove the source, if possible. Place item in a garage, spare bedroom, or outside.
  • Increase ventilation to overcome the off-gassing rate. To accomplish this without wasting energy, you can control ventilation based on air quality monitor VOC measurements. Running fans at full power 24/7 is not cost-effective or energy efficient.
  • Heat speeds up the off-gassing process. Place items in the sun or use a space heater.
  • Filter VOCs out of the air. This can be accomplished with air purifiers or your HVAC system. A method with mixed data is using plants that are capable of absorbing VOCs.

The best way to avoid VOCs is to prevent them from entering your home in the first place. Steer clear of furniture made of:

  • Vinyl or PVC
  • Particleboard or plywood. Besides the aforementioned downside of lacking durability, these materials are held together with glue containing formaldehyde.
  • Items that contain PFAS chemicals or flame retardants.

Non-toxic furniture certifications

Look for the following third-party certifications that ensure the furniture you are buying is non-toxic.

UL Greenguard.
UL Greenguard

This certification is an important one that verifies a products such as furniture meet compliance with chemical emission standards for decrease indoor air pollution from harmful VOCs.


A non-profit organization that certifies foam in bedding or upholstered furniture that meets its standards for emissions, content, performance, and durability.

Level by BIFMA

This third-party certification contains three tiers which rate commercial furniture based on their adherence to sourcing, environmental, and social standards.

SCS Indoor Quality

SCS is a third-party organization that works with accredited, independent laboratories to certify furniture and building materials products for low VOC emissions.


Certified products have been tested for harmful substances and deemed harmless for human health. The OEKO-TEX Made In Green certification goes beyond the Standard 100; these products have been manufactured in environmentally friendly facilities under safe and socially responsible working conditions.

Where to Buy Sustainable Furniture

Affordable sustainable furniture options

While it is true that stronger, quality materials often come with a heftier price tag, that doesn’t mean you need to break the bank to get quality pieces.

For those on a budget, or lovers of DIY projects, consider buying used or vintage furniture. This way you can get nice, quality pieces for a fraction of the cost. There are many options for used furniture listed below. If needed, some minor repairs, a fresh coat of paint or stain, or refurbishing can go a long way into breathing new life into an item.

Another option is to rent furniture. Companies like Fernish and Feather offer stylish, contemporary furniture for rent, complete with a rent-to-own option. This is an especially great option for people who move frequently. For more businesses, check out The Spruce’s list of best furniture rental companies.

Where to buy used furniture

Sustainable furniture companies

The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and Sustainable Furnishings Council (SFC) have created a Wood Furniture Scorecard, which scores companies based on responsible wood sourcing policy, practices and performance, and other actions.

I was pleasantly surprised to see IKEA made the list as well, despite being considered fast furniture by many. Much to my relief, my longtime favorite furniture stores—Crate & Barrel and Pottery Barn—ranked among their top scorers.

Crate & Barrel

Crate & Barrel aims to use 50% FSC-certified woods and 60% preferred fibers by 2025. Many of their textiles are composed of GOTS certified organic cotton and OEKO-TEX certified. All the their children’s furniture is Greenguard Gold certified. The company is working toward making their distribution centers more eco-friendly with projects like installing solar panels.


Williams-Sonoma is the parent company for Pottery Barn, Pottery Barn Kids & Teen, West Elm, and their newly-launched sustainability focused store, Green Row. You may be surprised to find out that such a large retailer is among the most sustainable home furniture company out there: Williams-Sonoma has also been listed on Barron’s 100 Most Sustainable Companies in the U.S. for the last four years—the only home furnishings company to do so.

Some company sustainability highlights include:

  • All company factories are Fair Trade certified; products include some handcrafted items
  • 50-60% FSC-certified wood and 95% certified responsibly sourced cotton are used
  • Products are Greenguard Gold and OEKO-TEX certified
  • Some items are made from recycled materials, obtained from diverting about 200 million pounds of plastic bottles from the ocean and landfills.


Avocado – Certified B Corp, GOTS & GOLS certified, RWS Standard, Made Safe, Greenguard, FSC certified, Climate Neutral certified, Certified Vegan, 1% for the Planet member

The Citizenry

The Citizenry – GOTS, OEKO-TEX, and FSC certified, ethically sourced wool and leather, Fair Trade international artisan goods

The Joinery

The Joinery – Certified B Corp, FSC-certified wood


Joybird – Greenguard Gold certified, One Tree Planted partner some pieces made from reclaimed woods and fabrics made from recycled plastic bottles

Made Trade

Made Trade – Climate Neutral certified, Women Owned; includes FSC-certified hardwood furniture, recycled furniture, artisan-crafted pieces which are eco-friendly, sustainably harvested, and low VOC.


Medley – FSC, CertiPur, OEKO-TEX, Greenguard, GOTS, GOLS certifications


Parachute – Climate Neutral certified, Fair Trade certified, GOTS and OEKO-TEX certified, Responsible Down Standard, SCS Recycled Content


Sabai – Certified B Corp, FSC Certified wood, CERTIPUR-US Certified foam, plastic-free packaging; recycled, upcycled, and natural fabrics; local materials source less than 100 miles from production

Savvy Rest

Savvy Rest – Greenguard certified, GOTS certified, Cradle 2 Cradle Gold certification


VivaTerra – Woods are FSC certified or reclaimed, uses recycled or reclaimed natural materials

More places to shop for sustainable furniture


Etsy is another solid choice for sustainable furniture. The company was listed among Just Capital’s America’s Top 10 Companies for Environmental Performance in 2022.


Target can be a good place to find reasonably priced sustainable furniture by using their filter “Sustainability Claims & Certifications.” For example, you can find FSC-certified pieces or ones that contain recycled content.


Wayfair has also made it easier to search for sustainable furniture with their “Shop Sustainably” filter.

For mattress information and recommendations, click here. Shop for sustainable kids furniture here.

Furniture Care

Caring for your items, including tightening up the bolts and cleaning upholstered pieces, are just two ways to reduce waste by increasing the lifespan of your furniture. Other tips include:

  • Checking the manufacturer’s instructions for care recommendations specific to your item.
  • Using the appropriate types of non-toxic cleaners and treatments for each material.
  • Closing window shades and blinds to protect from direct sunlight.
  • Utilizing coasters and trivets to protect wood and porous stone surfaces.
  • For dents and dings in wood furniture, purchase a wood repair kit. They are easy to use and work remarkably well to hide imperfections.
  • Don’t give up too easily on furniture: paint or stain items yourself, have pieces reupholstered, or find a furniture repair shop to take broken items. For large items, they can perform the repair at your home.

How to dispose of old furniture

Make sure you donate, sell, or give away unwanted furniture in good condition.

  • Thrift stores
  • Non-profits such as Habitat for Humanity ReStore, the IRC, or Big Brothers Big Sisters. Some of these organizations may be able to facilitate old furniture removal.
  • Give away through your local Buy Nothing or Freecycle group.
  • Sell on an online marketplaces like Facebook Marketplace or online furniture consignment stores like Kaiyo.
  • IKEA has a Buyback & Resell program where they will buy back old furniture for in-store credit and resell your used pieces second hand.
  • Hire a hauler like Junk King who will come pick up furniture from either from your curb or inside your house. This is a good option for both donatable furniture as well as unusable pieces. Their website states they reuse, repurpose, or recycle 60% of what they haul away. Load Up is another good option.

Do your best to try all of these things in order to avoid the landfill—there are few opportunities to recycle furniture. Mattresses can be recycled in many places, and metal pieces to be recycled at a scrap yard. Other than that, unsalvageable pieces will most likely have to be taken to the landfill, unless you can find a furniture recycler in your area. If you can’t or don’t want to haul furniture to the landfill yourself, check whether your community has a bulk waste collection that will take furniture. If none of these are option, utilize a junk hauler to remove old furniture.

In a perfect circular system, furniture products would be made without virgin materials, be designed to last longer, and be fully reusable or recyclable.

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