The wellness wave of health consciousness is so far-reaching now, that it's hard to imagine only 100-years ago, the best available advice came from a Michigan Sanatorium Director. His approach to learning to stay well and allowing the body to heal itself, through exercise, diet, and fresh air, was almost sacrilegious at that time.
When I first started in product design (not quite 100-years ago) with Herman Miller, I wanted to bring the eco-friendly, sustainable ideas in my mind to life. Today, this is quickly becoming a reality for the furniture market as the wellness wave finds a new way to change the things we buy, and especially why we buy them.
What's It Made Of?
Susan Inglis, of the Sustainable Furnishings Council talked to me about their initiatives on helping brands and retailers move to more sustainable choices, so that we can reduce the chemical loads in our homes. They've started a "What's it Made of" initiative that is quite an interesting resource for brands because it does more than act as a certifying body. Their aim is to encourage transparency in the supply chains with the overall goal of reducing harmful chemicals in the manufacturing process.
What Are Sustainable Furnishings?
Sustainable, environmentally-safe, and eco-friendly are all ways of the saying the same thing: the furnishing is made and distributed in thoughtful, conscious ways to protect our planet. Furniture companies who choose to become a member of the council mentioned above, put their money where their mouth is, and take immediate steps towards minimizing:
- carbon emissions
- waste stream pollutants
- un-recyclable content
Let's Talk About Sourcing
Plenty of the designers and inventors I work with have sourcing issues when they first get to me. The plain truth about sourcing is that you, the designer/owner/inventor, are responsible for knowing the content of the primary materials you source. A lack of knowing is no longer an acceptable approach. We cannot turn a blind eye, any longer, to the details we don't want to see. Your goal should be to move all primary materials from unsustainable sources to a product platform under your control.
The New Rule Book
This is what the Sustainable Furnishings Council is doing for the furniture industry, and we should all take note. I believe, as we immerse ourselves even deeper into the wellness wave, we will see this shift in every industry. Consumers will hold a higher standard for everything they buy. In the 90's there was this buying frenzy where, by the masses, consumers were thrilled to just buy, buy, buy, and toss, toss, toss. Cheap is out, this isn't the 90's, and the rule book is changing. Consumers will wait, hold the line, research, and only buy when they have found an item that meets the requirements they've laid out. And for plenty of consumers, sustainability is at the top of the list now.
Why Does It Matter?
Think about the time you spend on your couch. It isn't sterile, with you in protective clothing, and wearing a ventilator. On my couch, there are some days I become one with the thing. My kids are all over it, sideways, upside-down, face first. Now think about what your couch is made of. If it were chemical-laden materials or wood, you might think twice about melting into it. And think about how many pieces of furniture you have in your home. On the flip-side of that, currently about 13 million hectares of tropical forest are cut down each year--an area the size of England. We cannot continue this path.
Does It Pay to Do the Right Thing?
90% of consumers identify themselves as being interested/very interested in buying environmentally safe home furnishings and willing to pay more for eco-friendly, legally sourced materials. That means, for the companies that side with the Sustainable Furnishings Council, their potential at bottom-line improvement is high.