How do you know if you are buying sustainable design?

When looking at a design for your home, more people are now conscious of the origin of the material, and many producers of furniture have caught on to this trend. This means that the market is also becoming less transparent, with furniture companies promoting themselves as ‘green’ and the consumer becoming increasingly confused. But how do you know if your new chair, table or bed base is indeed sustainable? Founders of “For the Common Goods”, Angie and Tommy, explain.

Q: What is the difference between green and sustainable? 

“Green” and “Sustainable” are sometimes used interchangeably but they aren’t the same thing. We think of green furniture as being focused on the impact on the environment, and sustainable furniture as going beyond environmental impact. Green furniture can mean for example furniture that has reduced or low carbon footprint, and furniture made using recycled or recyclable material. Sustainability, on the other hand, concerns itself with the bigger picture. Sustainability is caring about the life cycle of a finished product – whether the materials used renewable and sourced responsibly, whether the manufacturing practices are respectful of resources and benefit local communities, how the product was packaged and shipped, and what can happen to it at the end of its lifespan.

Q: What should I look for if I want to buy sustainable furniture in Singapore?

There are product certification consumers can look out for, such as Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a certification system for responsible forestry and wood sourcing, and GREENGUARD, a certification system for products and materials that have low chemical emissions.

Q: Wood is always the one we look for when thinking sustainable, are there any other materials used in sustainable design, that would be worth looking at?

Yes, and a good example is rattan. Rattan is a naturally renewable palm that grows by climbing trees in the tropical forest. As one of the fastest-growing natural materials, rattan can be harvested every 5 to 7 years. Compared to most tropical hardwood, rattan is easier to grow, harvest and transport. As it depends on the existence of trees, forests need not be cleared for its cultivation. In fact, in forests where rattan grows, its economic value to the local community ensures the protection and preservation of forestland.

Q: Is it best to buy local? Are there any countries one should avoid?

No simple answer to this question. Buying locally does not guarantee the quality or reduced carbon footprint as the furniture or the raw materials are likely to have been imported into Singapore. The good thing about buying locally is that you can verify the quality with your own eyes and ask questions.

Q: How do I become more informed about buying sustainable design?

Have a think about where your furniture comes from – does it travel all over the world just to get to you or does have efforts been made to reduce carbon footprint. Question the lifespan of the product and where it is going to end up. There are forward-thinking designers and furniture makers out there that take into account recyclability when they design and build furniture. Consumers can ask if the furniture piece contains any parts or pieces that come from naturally renewable, reclaimed or recycled materials, and whether it can be disassembled into reusable or recyclable parts at the end of its lifespan. A single product may not tick all the boxes but the value is in the collective power to make some difference, however big or small.

Tommy and Angie Huang are founders of furniture retailer, “For the Common Goods” whose aim is to bring furniture that are thoughtfully designed and sustainably produced closer to the common folk, enabling a better appreciation of good product design and craftsmanship.


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