How Sustainability is Changing the Furniture Industry

The concept of sustainability is a popular one and for good reason.

Efforts that companies make to become more sustainable are rewarded with increased sales, better brand sentiment and greater customer loyalty. Consumers care about the environment more than ever before and are actively seeking out brands that commit to sustainability. But what does all this mean for the furniture industry? It’s great news for companies who have adopted a sustainable business model, but for those who haven’t, change is needed and quickly.

Becoming more sustainable can bring huge benefits to businesses in this industry. One of the most significant is the potential cost savings – on things such as materials, systems and logistics. More affordable products for consumers and greater awareness of cost efficiencies in the production process can benefit everyone, from manufacturers through to suppliers and consumers. Changes are needed at every level of the organization, from the way that products are designed to the materials used to assemble the product and the way that items are packed and shipped to consumers.

The Design Process – Making sure that the products reflect ‘green designs’ selecting the best materials and ensuring that the entire process is as sustainable as possible.

Manufacturing – Reviewing existing systems and processes to make them more streamlined to reduce carbon footprints and ensuring the careful selection of raw materials to make the furniture items, swapping artificial products for natural ones or those that are kinder to the environment.

Supply chains – Using eco-friendly transport to collect materials and distribute items to customers.

Packaging – Exploring the use of recyclable or recycled packaging.

Reuse or Recycling – Consideration given to the lifecycle of the product and what happens to it at the end of its natural lifespan evaluating the circular economy and looking at initiatives such as buyback schemes, recycling and upcycling as well as recommerce.

If a business is to become truly sustainable, changes are needed at every level of the organisation. A shift in attitudes, systems and processes is needed if sustainability is to become embedded into organisational culture and everyday practice.

Sourcing Materials

The materials used during the manufacture of furniture items can make a huge difference to sustainability if swaps are made to find more suitable alternatives. The use of raw, organic materials which are readily available and easy to source will help, so too is the use of materials that are easy to recycle. While there are many types of materials that go into furniture production, there are two main types: wood and upholstery.

Wood – A traditional material that has been used to craft furniture pieces for centuries. Readily available, wood is a naturally renewable product depending on the type that is used in the production process. Furthermore, wood produces much less waste than other, artificial materials and any waste materials are biodegradable too.

Upholstery – Furniture manufacturers are beginning to explore more and more textiles and fabrics that are kinder to the environment. Materials such as wool are readily available, natural and biodegradable. Other, more innovative materials are also being introduced such as yarn made from PET plastic bottles.

The Manufacturing Process

Building furniture pieces whether it’s a sofa, table, chest of drawers or storage unit may involve the use of harmful chemicals in the manufacturing process and in finishing products when the item is shipped to the customer.

Many of these substances are harmful and can emit gasses long after the manufacturing process is complete.

Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of environmental and health issues associated with furniture production. These risks primarily relate to Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) which are emitted from preservative sprays and coatings used on furniture items when they are shipped. Consumers are becoming more aware of how these compounds are emitted in the home, office or workplace for many weeks or even months after purchase and the impact they can have on the environment and health. Therefore, a clear shift is taking place as a result and there is a distinct movement towards kinder products and those that are more human and environmentally friendly. Sustainable practice would eliminate the use of Formaldehyde and other flame retardant coatings. Instead, low VOC or water-based glues, finishes and foams are preferred.

As well as consideration paid to the manufacturing and materials selection process, attention should turn to packaging. For many years, single-use plastics such as air pockets and Styrofoam have been used in the packaging of furniture. These are not only unkind to the environment but create huge amounts of plastic waste. As a result, the focus is turning to recyclable and recycled packaging in addition to biodegradable materials which can reduce natural waste at the end of their natural use. Furniture suppliers must look to more sustainable ways to package their products while still maintaining the unboxing experience that customers expect.

Greater Efficiencies

Sustainability is also changing the way that the furniture industry operates, encouraging organizations to be more mindful of the waste generated during the manufacturing process.

This involves things such as eliminating or reducing waste, reusing surplus materials in other furniture items, reusing offcuts of wood or material and recycling as much as possible rather than it going into landfill. While all of these things appear to be common sense, it is surprising how many companies overlook making these small but significant changes. With a greater focus on waste reduction, it also achieves cost savings for the business too.

The Supply Chain

Every aspect of a manufacturing business has the potential to become more environmentally friendly including the supply chain.

More and more companies are setting sustainable business goals. Some are even going so far as to select suppliers based on their environmental performance. Sourcing products in a way that’s kinder to the environment is becoming a clear objective for businesses and those furniture suppliers who are yet to adopt these practices are being left behind as consumer buying habits and preferences change.

The Circular Economy

A factor that businesses must consider is what happens to the furniture product at the end of its natural lifecycle. Traditionally, furniture manufacturers don’t play any part in the lifecycle of the product once it reaches the customer, but an increasing number of furniture businesses are exploring the circular economy and innovative uses of unwanted or old furniture items. A focus on innovation is encouraging a number of furniture companies to establish partnerships with companies that specialise in the reuse, recycling, upcycling or resale of second-hand goods. This can involve many things such as:

Product Redesign – Repurposing the furniture into something else or using alternative materials.

Product Take-Back Schemes – At the end of the natural lifecycle of the furniture, the company will take it back to be recycled.

Product Restoration – Restoring the item and then reselling on a second-hand marketplace.

In the future, buying sustainable furniture items is likely to drive the market, with consumers clearly preferring items that have been designed, manufactured and supplied with sustainability in mind.  The furniture industry must demonstrate that the products it manufactures are designed to be sustainable over the long term.

Sustainability is achievable. It just needs a different approach to the traditional and established systems and processes that exist in manufacturing. With greater innovation, creative thinking and commitment, the furniture industry can make positive changes towards a more sustainable future.



Are returns and overstock impacting your furniture brand? If you are ready to join the reCommerce revolution with a sustainable selling solution, contact ClearCycle now.

Find out more about reCommerce and how it can benefit your business on the ClearCycle news and insights hub… 

A Guide to Reverse Logistics and How it Works | Inventory Liquidation Strategies Every Brand Should Know | How to Improve the Product Returns Strategy for Your Brand

Dan Hague ClearCycle

Dan Hague

24 June 2021

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