At the Dalhousie University School of Resource and Environmental Studies, Tony Walker studies how companies and consumers can more efficiently use valuable and limited earth resources. Disposable water bottles are of particular concern. “Bans often sound like they will be truly successful,” he said. “Oftentimes, it’s more important to educate people about the effects of their choices. When people know the consequences, they often make better decisions. “
However, from his personal life, he knew how difficult it was to maintain strict sustainable principles during the locking of COVID-19. Trapped at home, lonely and worried about the future, many of us look for diversions. Sometimes simple things are enough, like baking more scones and sourdough than might be eaten. But that can also mean scanning the living room, getting tired of looking at the same old sofa and chair, and deciding to go shopping online. “Just last week, my wife got a bug to replace some furniture,” Walker said. “Of course, I don’t want him to do that. So he keeps doing it.”
What’s wrong with splurge for changing rooms (besides the risk of extorting large credit card bills as the economy slides into the abyss)? Potentially nothing. “Intergenerational furniture – the kind of items you plan to give to your grandchildren – is fantastic,” Walker said. “Unfortunately, many things are not built to last long. And like anything we add to the word “fast” – fast food, fast fashion and now the term fast furniture – there is an excessive exploitation of resources, valuable minerals, metals, forestry products, to make products. And then you have another problem at the end of life. Most of it is thrown away. “
Canada does not track the amount of furniture that ends up in landfills. But in the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency said that around 9.7 billion pounds of furniture, from sofas to credenzas, are sent to the junkyard every year – roughly the same amount as clothing, and an increase of 38 percent from 2005. “Even if some furniture is recycled, recycling requires a lot of energy, “Walker said.” Moreover, recycling is not always possible. Adhesives that enter the furniture quickly can make such pieces difficult to separate into reusable parts. “
Montana Labelle, a Toronto-based interior designer, understands the desire to renew space now. “I shop online all the time,” he said. That doesn’t mean he spends crazy bills at Pottery Barn and Wayfair. “My favorite is vintage,” he said. “I like to look for extraordinary treasures that have stood the test of time. I recently discovered my own 1960s sofa, Mario Bellini, on the Facebook Marketplace. 60 years old and still looks amazing. I don’t think I can say the same thing in 60 years for something from CB2. “
For Labelle, the benefit of searching for a unique one time is that you will end up with things that aren’t “on 75 other people’s Instagram,” he said.
Another benefit of buying a solid vintage piece is that even if it’s not an addition to your main dream, you still have something that is well-made and durable that has survived many movements, and can usually be transferred to someone else. Conversely, one big problem with ordering fast and low-quality furniture online is that these items can arrive damaged, and broken pieces tend to be discarded by the manufacturer, just because it’s the cheapest and easiest option.
“The average industry of goods damaged in transit is around three to five percent,” said Duncan Blair, director of marketing Article.com, an online furniture retailer that has seen strong demand lately, especially for home office products. “Obviously, that is not good for the customer experience. But there are also enormous environmental costs for shipping, removing and replacing damaged goods.”
Article.com, which does not like to be called fast furniture – “We deliver quickly but are also obsessed with quality,” Blair said – reducing the level of damage to under half by one percent. The company is trying to be more sustainable by offering as many replacement parts as possible, so instead of having to provide an entirely new seat, they might just replace the legs or slanted pillows. “I would say with a balance that helps customer retention,” Blair said. “But unfortunately there is sometimes a cultural expectation that the peak in customer service is to deliver new goods as a whole,”
Maia Roffey, owner and chief designer of Black Sheep Interior Design, suggested that one way homeowners can focus their furniture shopping is by identifying small evergreen trees. “Fast furniture is sometimes good for accents,” Roffey said. For example, now is the right time to refresh your existing credenza by buying new hardware. But be careful that the smaller one is not always the same as the more sustainable one, especially if the item is made of plastic and thrown away quickly. The potential plus is that compared to larger purchases that tend to be occupied, eaten on, scratched and often used, something that mainly won’t pill, break or tear quickly.
For homeowners who want to reshuffle, Roffey offers a 30-minute e-design session at a price of $ 100 (with $ 50 of the costs incurred for a charity for at-risk youth called Eva’s Initiatives). Recently, a client bought a sofa from CB2. “It is not of good quality and must be sent back,” he said. “Items that are not layered are usually not worth something. The cheap one is always a mess. And they are almost impossible to buy online. I always recommend sitting-testing the sofa before buying it. “
Not all fast furniture is verboten. According to Roffey, “IKEA makes the best carcasses, the best bones in terms of kitchens and large box storage,” he said. Although he recommends upgrading the IKEA cabinet with special doors and counters (“some of their doors are very good at showing finger stains,” he said), the base frame is very durable – the smart way a cash-strapped homeowner can save money. Plus, the structure is made of fiberboard. Although the material is often ridiculed because it is not solid wood, it is relatively sustainable because it consists of pieces of wood and sawdust left over from other industrial processes, remnants that would otherwise end up in trash.
Even Dalhousie’s Walker is impressed with aspects of IKEA’s operations, especially because Swedish companies have committed to becoming what is called a circular business for the next 10 years. By 2030, IKEA intends not to produce waste, reincorporating as much material as possible throughout its supply chain and offering programs for customers to return old items for reuse rather than just throwing them away.
“If IKEA can do it and still make a profit then I’m sure other players in the market can do the same thing,” Walker said. “Until then, I think as consumers, we also have a choice. We can buy goods that are more sustainable. Or we use the absolute cheapest products. But it might be made with less good materials, with very little environmental control, and last longer at landfill than in our homes. “