The simple answer is maby… but probably not…
Sustainable furniture and cheap production do not go hand in hand. When trying to combine sustainable and affordable it makes the mind wander… How can IKEA create a dresser for less than 45 USD when you have to pay more for the raw materials alone?
Let’s dive a little deeper into what sustainable furniture is, and why you can get furniture crazy cheap.
The Problem With Cheap Furniture – The Environmental Cost
I love IKEA, they create nice looking design furniture shipped worldwide with ultra optimized packaging and mindboggling assembly techniques. From an engineering and designer point of view, this is quite impressive.
But looking at cheap furniture from an environmental point of view, it’s like looking at the devil.
Imagine this: You see a product and are surprised about how cheap it is, then think of a price that would seem reasonable and fair for that same product. Then take the two numbers and subtract them. (Math… I know)
What you are left with is the amount of money that other people and the environment had to sacrifice, in order for you to get that product at such a low price.
The Human Aspect
Let’s look at the human aspect first, and what we pay for human labor hours. In the west, we have a fairly high hourly rate, so when anything is produced here, we have to add the high cost of the hourly rate. And in other parts of the world, the price drops significantly. Why?
It correlates greatly with the standard of living, and life security.
If I lose my job here in Denmark, I get a good sum of money by the state and my union until I get a new job. I have health care benefits. No one can force me to work more than 37 hours a week. I have paid holidays. And the list goes on.
Of course, it will cost a boatload of money to have 50x Danes employed in a factory producing furniture. But the upside is that we as a country we feel safe, and almost everyone is quite happy with their life.
As long as we can sell our expensive products to people who enjoy and need them, everyone wins.
The big problem with cheap furniture is that the money you save has to come from somewhere or someone.
When hourly wages drop too much, the benefits and living security goes out the window. We strip it down to just surviving.
And that is not beneficial for the human population as a whole.
A bold statement could be:
When you save money on a “bargain”, someone else is paying with a terrible living situation and no hope in their life.
Yeah, it sucks.
The Environmental Aspect
The other big loser when doing bargains deals is the environment.
If we go back and take Denmark as an example. We have a lot of taxes on eg. energy, and a whole lot of regulations on how much CO2 factories are allowed to send out.
Again, this drives the cost of production up when adding filters, disposal regulations, and material restrictions.
But It is good for the environment. Can we do more… yes… But that is another story.
So by cutting down the cost of a product, and getting it produced in a country without a high level of environmental regulation may not be a sustainable path for the future.
Again, when you get a good deal on a piece of furniture and save a lot of money. The difference is paid for in CO2 being pumped into the atmosphere.
Also by producing on the other side of the planet, the environment is getting a big CO2 hit from transportation.
Yeah, that sucks too.
In reality, most equal products cost the same. It is only a matter of who is paying the price.
Other people in other countries
Characteristics Of Sustainable Furniture – The Eco Home
So what are the characteristics of sustainable furniture? And does it exist?
Yes, good furniture does exist, but the problem is that it is very hard to know how a piece of furniture has been produced.
The main things to consider:
- Source of materials – Choose local FSC wood.
- Production location – Choose as local as possible. Regional or national.
- Quality and style – Get the best quality as possible. Save to buy rather than buying cheaper now.
- Keep your furniture as long as you possibly can.
The last point is probably one of the most important points. Because with cheap furniture comes that feeling “I can just replace it when I feel like it” – and that is a toxic thought.
You don’t have to buy the most expensive furniture you can find. Or only buy design classics.
Almost everyone can buy more sustainable furniture if they choose to do so.
An added benefit is that buying local you are also supporting your own local community and your country’s economy.
A human story
I will end this post with a little story – Imagine:
John is a local furniture maker, and he loves wood. John always buys wood from Mary at the local lumber mill. Mary only cut down a sustainable amount of trees, and she helps keep the forest in good shape by clearing paths and planting new trees.
John spends all his time turns the wood from Mary into custom wood slab tables and dressers that are just gorgeous.
You come across John’s web page when it pops up in your Facebook feed and decides to check it out.
You fall in love with the Natural feel and hand crafted furniture that John produces. But the price is a little high and there aren’t any dining tables in the right size… You pull yourself together and drive the 5 miles over to Johns workshop to see the furniture in real life. You hope that he has something that aren’t on the web page that will fit your requirements.
You discover that John is an awesome guy, and he can actually make you a dining table to your exact measurements. Furthermore he is willing to divide the bill into two payments if required.
But since it will take him about 4 weeks to source the wood from Mary and create your new table, you actually have time to get the money before delivery.
You get the dining table of your dreams, John enjoys creating a gorgeous table and Mary gets the opportunity to take care of the forest that she loves.
Now that is a great story 🙂
So by buying locally, your money is moving around and supporting your local community.
There is almost no transportation.
And you will probably keep that table for many years to come, since you have a strong personal connection to it.
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