Beyond Material: What Makes Eco-Furniture Sustainable

Ginny Figlar Colón by Ginny Figlar Colón | November 4th, 2009 | No Comments
topic: Green Living

When I saw Artek's 10-Unit System, I also started to think that one piece of furniture is enough.

Artek's 10-Unit System Chair raises the cool factor (and wow factor) of sustainable design.

Think of sustainable home furnishings, and the words bamboo, recycled soda bottles and FSC-certified probably come to mind.

Makes sense. I mean, the material of a product is the easiest eco-criteria to evaluate. But lately I’ve been curious about the not-so-obvious qualities of a product that could make it a more sustainable choice — things like function, transport and recyclability.

It all started on a recent trip to Helsinki, Finland, when I stepped inside one of the design shops to find some unexpected green innovation: a chair that can be reconfigured to be a bench and reconfigured again to be a table. It’s Artek’s 10-unit System Chair, which consists of 10 L-shaped pieces that are put together in different combinations. One product for three different functions.

Multi-functional use

Designer John Green’s Embrace adds even more minimalism to multi-functional furniture design. These pieces of bent plywood can be interlaced and used for both shelves and tables. (I want it!) And Tomita Designs’ Megu offers simple building blocks to create shelving, end tables or a coffee table. This one also happens to be made of bamboo.

Less air in travel means less CO2 emitted

Great design becomes less great if it isn’t shipped efficiently. The Swedes at IKEA (and I should disclose that I have been an honorary one for the past four years) have mastered the art of fitting huge cabinets — and even a sofa — into teeny-tiny boxes. They flat-packed their first product more than 50 years ago. Now other companies are starting to follow suit or offer carbon offset shipping options.

Flat-packed furniture does require that you spend time putting it together yourself at home. But, doesn’t it feel good to put in a little elbow grease for the planet?

Designed for recycling

It also feels good to be able to take that piece of furniture apart and drop it off at a recycling station. Herman Miller engineers and re-engineers many of its ergonomic chairs and office systems with the sole purpose of making them recyclable and easy to disassemble. The Mirra chair, for example, is a work chair that includes many small parts and is still 96 percent recyclable.

A product that includes all of these characteristics — plus is made from a sustainable material — truly deserves “sustainable” in its title. I’d say the Artek chair satisfies that. Have you come across any others?


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