Susan Inglis is Executive Director of the Sustainable Furnishings Council, the organization she helped found in 2006. She has led SFC to work with industry leaders in establishing criteria to gauge the sustainability of furniture products and practices. She also has developed programs for educating all sectors of the industry while attracting hundreds of companies to join as SFC members.
Susan is also founder and owner of From The Mountain, a company that engages artisans around the world to bring their skills and products to new markets. She serves on the Board of the American Sustainable Business Council and was awarded a 2017 Visionary Leadership award by the North Carolina Business Council. She lives in North Carolina.
FIND OUT WHAT IT’S MADE OF
Eighty percent of the environmental impact of any product comes from the materials used to make it. Find out what went into the product you're considering before bringing it home.
LEARN ABOUT THE WOOD
Ensure wood used in your furniture was harvested legally from responsibly managed forests. Look for certified, reclaimed, North American, or plantation-grown woods. Keep an eye out for the seals of legitimate third-party certifiers, like the Forest Stewardship Council or the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. They operate with high standards and the ability to monitor how well companies are keeping up with eco-friendly goals.
ASK ABOUT THE CLOTH
Textile production accounts for more toxic waste pollution of water than any other industry—from growing natural fibers and creating synthetic fiber to processing the fiber into thread. You can reduce the amount of toxic chemicals in your home by choosing organically grown natural fibers, and by looking for GOTS and OekoTex certifications.
CONSIDER LEATHER’S SOURCE
Leather is often produced with vast quantities of water and chemicals like chromium salts that pollute waterways. It can also have a very large transportation footprint—it may come from South America, get tanned in Europe, be manufactured in Asia, all for a product that will be bought in North America. That said, leather does last a very long time, and durability is an important part of sustainability. Though we are losing rainforest to cattle production, it is not for leather production—leather is a by-product. Eat vegan, but use leather!
WATCH OUT FOR VOCs
Volatile Organic Compounds are toxic pollutants that come from certain finishes. They "off-gas" harmful chemicals during manufacturing, and continue to release these chemicals once the product reaches your home. Look for low- or no-VOC finishes, many of which are water-based.
AVOID CHEMICALS WHEN YOU CAN
There are five harmful chemicals commonly used in furnishings that are directly linked to impacts on human health. These are VOC’s like formaldehyde, flame retardants, PFAS used to repel stains, PVC, or vinyl, and antimicrobials. Avoid them when you can!
What we throw away is the world’s most abundant natural resource. Smart companies think of ways to use that refuse to make products, including furniture components and furnishings.
KNOW THE LOCATION
Transportation is a major contributor to greenhouse gases and global warming. Look for furniture that was produced close to where you live, manufactured from raw materials found near the production facility. Buying local will cut emissions and support local economies.
GET EDUCATED ABOUT THE METHODS
If the manufacturer has an energy-use reduction plan, you can feel particularly good about buying from them. Supply chains for furniture are complex, so having a policy can make a difference in the company’s operations—they should be eager to share it with you.
THINK LONG TERM
Furnishings are considered “durable goods,” and they should last a good long time. Even if you get tired of a piece and want to replace it with another look, it should still be useful to someone. Choose something that is well made of simple, solid materials and plan to use it for a long time.