The carbon footprint of furniture

carbon footprint of furniture

We live at a time when the world is asking questions about the environmental cost of almost everything we do and buy. There’s a growing concern for the planet and what our modern way of life is doing to it.

The figures are stacking up and yet it can be confusing to make sense of it all. It can be even harder to decide what sensible moves you can make to genuinely reduce your impact without having to live in the woods eating only fallen nuts and wild berries.

As a furniture repair company we want to understand how our industry affects the environment. We’ve been looking at data about the carbon cost of producing different types of furniture and wanted to understand it in a down to earth common sense way. We had fun looking into it and found some interesting facts, so we’ve turned our research into an article to share some of what we found out.

What is a carbon footprint?

Before we get into it, we should just mention what a carbon footprint is all about. Carbon dioxide and other gases cause global warming by better insulating the planet. A carbon footprint is a measurement of the amount of planet warming gasses that were produced whilst delivering a given product or service.

If you’re looking for specifics, the FIRA furniture industry carbon footprint report has excellent general information about carbon footprints and practical information about how they managed to come up with furniture industry figures in real life. We found their report very helpful and are glad the furniture industry benefits from this data.

What is not about carbon?

Carbon footprint does not take into account other forms of environmental impact such as habitat destruction, environmental pollution and non degradable waste produced. So it’s not a bad yardstick for the cost of consumption but just thinking about carbon won’t do a thing for all the plastic in the ocean and habitats being destroyed.

The carbon footprint of furniture

Before we start looking at the carbon cost of different types of furniture, we need something to put it into perspective, a bench-mark of some sort. After some research we came up with a surprising candidate, a Tesco Cottage Pie.

The production of a Tesco Cottage Pie ready meal releases roughly 1KG CO2e. This means the production of one of these tasty items emits the equivalent of 1 kilogram of CO2 released into the atmosphere. That figure will include everything from the carbon cost of refrigeration and transport to an estimate of the methane in cow farts released in producing the beef.

So if the carbon cost of the foam inside a standard armchair means 14.3KG CO2e, we know that’s about 14.3 cottage pies worth. Interested in the carbon footprint data from Tesco?

Carbon cost of sofas & armchairs

Below is are some tables showing the carbon costs of different furniture items and how that cost is split between different aspects of sofas and armcharis.

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The above shows the average carbon footprint for various items of furniture. Below we can see a breakdown for sofas and another for armchairs, so we can see which aspects of manufacturing and shipping the furniture produced the most greenhouse gasses.

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What does this data tell us?

  • A new sofa produces the same planet warming effect as 90 Tesco Cottage Pies
  • Two armchairs are pretty much as bad as one sofa
  • Foams and fillings have the greatest carbon cost of all the different aspects of producing new furniture at around 30-40% for upholstered items.
  • If you drive an average petrol car until the tank runs dry you’ve produced about 40 KG CO2e so a 3 piece suite might be about the same as driving from Edinburgh to Monaco and back again!
  • Producing a sofa does indeed produce a sizeable amount of greenhouse emissions

These are average figures and only cover gasses released in production, when it comes to disposing of sofas there’s a whole lot more trouble for the environment. So this data only tells us half of the story.

How to be ‘green’ with your furniture?

It’s clear that every time you buy a new item of furniture, that’s the product of a huge supply chain that puts out some cottage pie busting amounts of greenhouse gasses. If you average one sofa per decade you will be responsible for a much lower environmental impact than someone who puts 3 or 4 in the landfill in that time.

If you look into the detail of the Fira report, they found that the carbon cost of producing a sofa didn’t vary all that much between the different manufacturers and models they tested at that time.

So if you’re buying a new sofa you should look for a KG CO2e figure and compare it to the averages above but you might also consider the style of furniture and what it’s made of, how long it will last and how degradable it will be when it goes in the bin.

However any new sofa comes with a huge carbon cost so the most effective way to reduce your impact is through increasing the lifespan of your furniture.

If you’ve got a good piece of furniture with a fatal flaw, it makes much more environmental sense to get a furniture repair service rather than go shopping for a replacement. If you’re thinking about replacing your current furniture, consider whether a repair and deep clean wouldn’t keep it going for a good few years yet.

So the biggest environmental gains are made when we get furniture we’re happy to keep for the long term and we make it last.

Old-school values

We love to work on high quality, properly made furniture. If something was built to last, it’s usually practical and cost effective to repair. If something was built to the lowest price and expected to last a couple of years, these are usually the repairs that aren’t worth the cost.

So we support you in going out and buying a sofa, armchair or other furniture that’s constructed properly and built to last. Use it, take care of it and enjoy it for a decade at least. That’ll shave the most off the environmental cost of your furniture and will nearly always work out cheaper over that kind of timescale.

It seems that a little old-school thinking is needed to reduce the environmental impact of furniture.

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