First off, thank you so much to everyone who sent in questions for this journal, there was such a great response to my call out! It was so inspiring to see how many of you had such interesting and important questions!
Because of the overwhelming number of questions and my in-depth my answers are I’m going to focus my next couple of blogs on a couple of questions, don’t worry if you aren’t in this week – I’ll message everyone individually and make sure everything is answered!
I wanted to start with this question as I thought it was really interesting and something that is easy for all of you to apply, research and consider at home. The question was:
'If we buy furniture from a chain store can we assume it’s never sustainable? Any exceptions? '
This is an interesting question, my problem with larger chain brands is I find their process is not as transparent so it’s hard to gauge exactly how ethical/sustainable their products are even if there is a sustainability statement on their website (which most companies have these days). My other problem with the larger chains, especially if they are international, is all of the transportation emissions required for their stock. I’ve gathered a couple of well-known brands below (at very different price points) to examine their sustainability approach and whether it seems to be viable and actually environmentally friendly.
So, let’s start with the most accessible and probably well-known chain furniture brand, the one and only IKEA.
Right off the bat I want to start with my personal opinions about IKEA and sustainability. A part of me likes that IKEA has made their products accessible to all demographics of people, for the most part their products are well priced, with a broad range of aesthetics. The other part of me hates the mass consumerism, poorly designed products with short life spans. There is also a lot of packaging (a lot of it plastic) in a flat pack furniture which creates SO MUCH WASTE!
When I went onto their website is there an easy enough to find page on their sustainable products, seemed to be a good start? On the page, they list their ‘sustainable products’ which in their reusable blue carry bags, bamboo items, and LED light bulbs. They also had different articles on how to be sustainable at home.
At this stage I wasn’t filled with confidence their sustainability approach wasn’t anything more than surface level. As I continued to search around their site I found another page, People and Planet. Here is where I found some really interesting stuff, which pleasantly surprised me. There are several articles about different parts of their business and how they are striving to improve their carbon, waste, and social impact.
A couple of the stand outs to me were:
The biggest standout to me was ‘KUNGSBACKA – Kitchen fronts made from plastic bottles’
From my research, I found I was actually turned around a lot by how they run their business, and what projects they work on to improve our world. I do like their inclusivity when designing and pricing their products, however, I can’t really move on from the short life span of their products. As far as cheaper furniture stores though they seem to be doing the best job at promoting sustainability and working towards a greener future.
The next brand I researched is slightly higher end than IKEA, it’s the American brand, West Elm. It’s part of a larger group that include Williams Sonoma and Pottery Barn, so a fairly large corporation. Much like IKEA their sustainability statements are pretty easy to find, there’s quite a few different pages which explain their design and social responsibilities and environmental certifications.
On their Responsible Retail Glossary page, they explain the symbols on a lot of their products, the symbols range from ‘Certified Non-Toxic’ to ‘Fair Trade’. There’s also a breakdown of all of the ethical and sustainability buzz words. It’s definitely a good start but I wish there was more transparency to where things were sourced and how they are manufactured.
As I looked further through their website I found a few positive statements to back up their Responsible Retail Glossary page. There were:
‘Many of our collections are certified to GREENGUARD Gold or STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® standards, tested for harmful chemicals to guarantee you safe and healthy quality.’
‘Today, 60% of our products support at least one of our sustainability initiatives—and with your help, we’re doing more good every day.’
‘You want to know how your purchase was made and that it didn’t harm the planet. Our Good Design approach sources more FSC®-certified, recycled & up-cycled materials, resulting in less waste.’
Another feature I thought was a good idea is you can filter your search by ‘shop by Fair Trade Certified’, ‘Organic’. ‘Hand crafted’ and ‘Certified Nontoxic’.
Overall their website seemed to really promote their ethical and fair trade method, comparatively to IKEA I find their products to be much better quality for their price. However, I did leave the website feeling they weren’t super transparent in their processes and sourcing.
Last and certainly not least I wanted to focus on Australian brand Jardan (they have been featured a couple of times in this journal as I really do love them). In terms of being a chain store they are fairly small with four showrooms in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Perth. Their furniture is fairly high-end and really good quality.
I find their ethos is very similar to my own, create something that is beautiful, good quality and can last a life time. They have shared the following statement on their website ‘In 2005, we began a company-wide focus on reducing our environmental footprint, reducing our waste by 75% in the very first year. By making small, meaningful changes over time, we’ve made a big impact, becoming certified by the NCOS as a carbon neutral company in 2014.’ They have also released their sustainability report, you can find it here.
Jardan also states they strive to create a smaller footprint and every 90 days have their environmental management group review the following issues: raw material minimisation, waste minimisation, energy minimisation, re-upholstery, recycling, and product Stewardship.
Each of their products states where the materials were sourced from and the lighting and furniture says where it was made, in their HQ in Melbourne. For me, who lives in Australia, Australian made is one of the most important things when figuring out if something is considered environmentally friendly or not.
To be perfectly honest with you I absolutely love Jardan, their approach, and their products. I understand they aren’t competing with IKEA’s price or West Elm's accessibility, however, I think in terms of their products being sustainable they are the winner.
Now let’s summarise! After researching these three brands I have definitely had my mind changed about some aspects of chain furniture stores, I’m really pleased to see so many easily available sustainability statements. Also, each of the companies seem to be really striving towards a greener, better future. I still haven’t been converted from supporting local designers who locally manufacture their products as the most sustainable option, however, I understand that is not a realistic budget for most people. It’s very reassuring to know that if you will be buying your furniture from chain stores there are so good brands which are doing some good things for our planet!
Hopefully I’ve answered your question ‘If we buy furniture from a chain store can we assume it’s never sustainable?’ – please feel free to reach out if you have any questions about this journal or if you have any other questions you want answered in a journal.
Stay tuned for next week when I answer another one of your questions ‘ What’s your biggest consideration when designing a sustainable kitchen’.
About Amelia //
Hi there! My name is Amelia, I am the creative director and owner of Semper Interiors. I created Semper Interiors after working in hospitality studios for many years, during that time I found myself feeling increasingly guilty about the waste created throughout each project. I wanted to be able to design and create spaces that have a minimal impact on our beautiful earth. My approach to sustainability is based around ensuring my projects have longevity in both quality and aesthetic, supporting local trades, artisans and suppliers and using natural materials.
Semper Interiors a bespoke interior design studio based in New Farm Brisbane that focuses on sustainability and conscious construction practices. If you are interested in how we can help you make your home or business more environmentally conscious and beautifully designed please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.