Affordable Eco-friendly Wood Furniture Choices
Are you on a budget? Well, so am I. For that reason, I often find myself contemplating ways to make living in harmony with the Earth easy on the wallet. Regardless of your income, you can live in a way that reflects your deeper values and the kind of world you want to create .
So, let’s get started. . Pretend we are about to shop for a dresser together (doesn’t that sound like fun?) Of course, you can apply these tips and insights to any wooden item you buy, whether it be a table, lumber or wood flooring. I realize that we all have different budgets we are working with. The furniture options I am presenting are all under a $1000 pre-taxes, shipping, delivery and any other costs (trust me, there is plenty $1000+ sustainable furniture that will be none too hard to find.)
What Not To Buy
Before I tell you what to buy, let’s look at what to not buy. Avoid composite woods like particleboard, plywood and medium-density fiber-board; these can off-gas toxic formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is a carcinogen and can also cause headaches, insomnia and respiratory problems.
Avoid conventionally grown wood which is devastating the environment. Straight from Gaiam’s blog, let’s look at what how wood is conventionally grown and harvested:
Most of our wood products come from forests harvested by a method called clearcutting. When a forest is clearcut, it’s essentially leveled- all trees and vegetation are removed by giant machines, some of which literally snip trees like a huge pair of scissors. The result is a barren, muddy landscape of stumps and debris which is often burned and then treated with herbicides to prevent non-tree vegetation from regenerating. To “restore” this land, harvesters commonly replant it with just a single variety of tree. Typically planted in evenly spaced rows to make future harvests easier, these seedlings create a massive tree farm where a biologically diverse living forest once stood.
Also, beware of stained and painted furniture, especially when buying new. Conventional wood stains and paints emit VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds). VOCs can cause headaches, eye, nose and throat irritation and dizziness. Long-term exposure to certain VOCs may lead to chronic diseases or cancer. Second hand furniture that is stained or painted conventionally is safer since it did the worst of it’s off-gassing in someone else’s home within the first year of use.
Such forests are never clearcut. Instead, only carefully selected trees are removed. A healthy mix of different tree species of different ages is left behind, and loggers take care not to damage vegetation or soils as they go. Instead of returning to cut more trees in 7-10 years (as is the case with fast-growing replacement tree farms), loggers typically wait up to 30 years to allow the forest to regenerate. The original forest is thus left largely intact to provide healthy habitat for plants, animals, and people to enjoy, and a steady supply of lumber in perpetuity. With sustainable wood, one thing is clear: Everyone, including the environment, wins.
West Elm, for example, has a few FSC-certified wood dresser options under $1000.
Another option is to get furniture made from reclaimed wood. I was absolutely delighted when I googled “reclaimed wood dressers” and saw that they can be more affordable than their FSC certified counterparts. Check out the Etsy shop, Timeless Journey, that makes rustic furniture from reclaimed barn wood. Their dressers range from $400 – $600. Sierra Living Concepts also sells some reclaimed wood furniture.
As I googled these options, I wondered what affordable sustainable furniture exists in my own neck of the “woods”, New York City. I feel buying local items that don’t have to travel far is more sustainable with the added benefit of investing in your local community. Plus, you don’t have to deal with shipping charges, which can be very expensive.
The other day, while meandering through Park Slope, Brooklyn, I caught a store out of the corner of my eye called Trailer Park. Something about the furniture outside on display had the vibe of vintage, reclaimed materials and affordability (am I the new bargain eco-whisperer?) I looked the store up online and, sure enough, I was right. Trailer Park sells vintage furniture items along with handmade Amish furniture made from recycled barnwood.
If you’re on a super budget, there is always second-hand. You can peruse Craigslist, Freecycle, thrift stores and/or yard sales. I love second-hand furniture because it is the ultimate recycling and also an adventure of sorts, where truly unique items can be found that add a creative flair to your home. This method of shopping may take a little extra time and patience, so be sure to not wait until the last minute.
Last, but not least, imagine you’re about to buy an awesome reclaimed or FSC certified dresser. Don’t forget to ask your retailer if the stain/paint is low or no-VOC? If not, perhaps, they have have an unfinished version that you can stain yourself. Green Depot has some awesome stain and paint options. I also found homemade stain option using beeswax and olive oil that I am going to try soon.
Because I like to keep the bigger picture in mind of how all of our actions effect the greater whole, I would like to leave you with two more inspiring thoughts . Sustainable forestry, as practiced by the FSC, ensures that human rights for communities and forest workers are respected. The local people who traditionally use forests to gather food, firewood, building, materials and/or medicinal plants must still have access to these forest resources. The FSC must also get permission from indigenous people before using their land.
The other inspiring thought is that by preserving forests, like the Amazon, we also preserve biological diversity, including plants that may have medicinal value for humans. I recently read about the derivative of a plant that could cure AIDS. Plus, don’t forget the all the air-purifying and oxygen- producing benefits that habitat preservation brings for all us. All in all, there is so much beauty in sustainably choosing where your wood comes from.