Table of Contents
- How to choose sustainable, non-toxic furniture
- The best eco-furniture: our top picks
Sustainability encompasses more than just the raw materials out of which products are made. It means looking at how and where those materials are sourced and processed, by whom and under what conditions. It also means thinking about the ongoing use of a product, its durability, and end of life disposal. As such, the best sustainable furniture brands might not be those that shout the loudest about GreenGuard Gold certification, though it sure helps!
It’s also important to point out that you needn’t break the bank adding non-toxic furnishings to your home. Ikea makes this list.
How to choose sustainable, non-toxic furniture
Furniture and textiles are two of the major contributors to poor indoor air quality. Why? Because these items are often riddled with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as formaldehyde, benzene, and others that off-gas and pollute the air. Choosing sustainable, non-toxic furniture helps to keep indoor air breathable and healthy, and it’s better for the planet too.
What to avoid
My top tip is to skip the cheap and toxic furniture made with plywood, laminate veneer, and medium density fiberboard (MDF) and opt for a solid wood option that will stand the test of time, be easier to repair, and be easier on the environment and your health. As a bonus, buying a good quality piece of furniture that will last for years to come, if not your whole life, is much less costly than having to replace poor quality furniture every few years.
In general, it’s a good idea to avoid furniture that features any of the three Ps:
- Polyurethane foam
This also means skipping chairs, couches, and other items made with vinyl or PVC covers.
As well as the materials themselves, it’s smart to find out how they were treated. This means any flame retardant chemicals, stains, dyes, polishes, waxes, and so forth. Many of these are highly toxic and damaging to the planet and the people making them, using them, and ultimately disposing of them.
Here’s a thought: Why not make a couch from materials that aren’t, essentially, gasoline and are instead naturally flame retardant? Yup, most couch cushions are made with polyurethane, which is incredibly flammable. This means it has to be treated with toxic flame retardants before it can be deemed ‘safe’ enough for sale in the US. In contrast, many natural materials, such as wool, are already flame resistant, meaning they don’t have to be doused in chemicals to meet safety requirements.
Better materials for sustainable, non-toxic furniture
As I just mentioned, solid wood is a great choice for furniture. Sustainably sourced softwoods work for pieces that don’t see a lot of rough and tumble, whereas hardwoods are a good choice for furniture liable to be banged around a bit. Ideally, hardwood furniture will be made with reclaimed wood, given how long it takes for hardwood trees like beech, maple, and oak to grow and mature. If you come across furniture made with rosewood, sapalee, ebony, merbau, mahogany, and teak, be sure to ask where the wood comes from as these tend to be harvested unsustainably.
Going for unstained, natural wood finishes is best, then you can always choose to stain using natural materials at home – the bonus being that you can finish all your furniture with the same stain, so everything matches!
Metals such as steel, wrought iron, and aluminum are also good options for furniture, with steel and iron typically very hardwearing and durable. Steel and aluminum are almost endlessly recyclable too, meaning your old steel futon frame could become a new piece of furniture in the future. Metal is also much less likely to break, warp, or become misaligned over multiple house moves that require disassembly and reassembly, and metal also doesn’t off-gas (unless painted with something toxic).
As for cushions and covers, natural latex, wool, and even kapok or recycled down are great options, in addition to recycled steel springs and wooden slats. Organic cotton, hemp, or linen covers work well when washable, and wool is a great material for an outer wrap to meet standards for fire resistance.
Certifications to look for
There’s no shortage of sustainability certifications for furniture, though some amount to little more than industry greenwashing. Ones to look for that actually mean something include:
- Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)
- Cradle to Cradle (c2c)
- SCS Indoor Advantage Indoor Air Quality
- Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)
- Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS)
- Fair Trade
- ISO 9001.
Other, lesser, but still meaningful certifications include:
- Greenguard Gold
- Oeko-Tex Standard 100 (or, better, Standard 1000).
The best eco-furniture: our top picks
Here are our picks for the best sustainable furniture brands based on our leaf rating methodology.
Highlights: Seattle-based company making beautiful, sustainable furniture using natural, non-toxic, eco-friendly materials like organic cotton. No composite woods, polyfoams, or flame retardants, just plenty of robust accreditation and excellent warranties!
Ecobalanza is a Seattle company making boutique and ethical upholstered furniture on-site using traditional techniques. The handmade furniture features natural and recycled materials that are non-toxic, with no polyfoams or composite wood with formaldehyde. Ecobalanza uses wool as a flame barrier, rather than chemicals. The company also sources eco-friendly fabrics (such as GOTS certified organic cotton) from its women-owned textile partner, Two Sisters Ecotextiles, located close by in Seattle.
Couches feature hardwood frames that are sturdy and sustainable, made with FSC certified Alder and Western Maple. Ecobalanza uses sustainably harvested organic GOLS Dunlop latex to pad cushions. Inner wraps are made with certified organic merino wool for natural flame resistance. Traditional practices such as hand-tying steel coils with jute fiber cord help to make the furniture strong, comfortable, and sustainable.
Ecobalanza only uses zero VOC wood stains and finishes. If you want a more stain-resistant couch, you can choose recycled polyester upholstery and Greenshield stain resistant treatment or leather (vegetable-tanned and free of heavy metals, as certified by the German natural textile association IVN, Germany’s fourth-largest farming Biokreis association, and ECARF Institute of the European Center for Allergy Research Foundation).
Ecobalanza offers a Couture Collection and can make custom designed couches, sectionals, loveseats, ottomans, and more. The idea is to make furniture you’ll love and that will last for generations to come, which is why Ecobalanza offers a lifetime guarantee on the frame, springing and structural craftsmanship of every EcoBalanza sofa, as well as a 10-year warranty on latex cushions, and a 5-year warranty on kapok cushions (though both can last far longer).
There’s a lot to love about EcoBalanza, including that all the furniture is made in the company’s Seattle factory. Everything in the space is non-toxic. You can even visit the workshop to see for yourself!
Highlights: Sustainable company expanding its catalogue while maintaining the eco-friendliness and sustainable measures that helped to establish its brand to begin with.
Avocado is a member of the Sustainable Furnishings Council and offers some of our favorite eco-friendly mattresses (for humans and pets). The company also offers a small range of beautiful bed frames, end tables, and dressers, made with reclaimed or FSC certified wood, though, meriting a mention on this list.
Avocado is a certified B Corporation and one of the most ethical furniture brands around. The company uses materials free from heavy metals, formaldehyde, solvents, and other troublesome chemicals, and uses a zero-VOC sealant on its furniture. Thanks to Avocado’s smart designs, these pieces have no unnecessary handles, knobs. This means there are fewer components that can easily break, get lost, or that require gluing.
Avocado is an ethical workplace, offering a variety of employee benefits. It is also a 1% for the Planet member and CarbonFree® Partner, offsetting 100% of emissions from shipping and factory operations. In addition, Avocado donates 2% of annual revenue (not just profit!) to EcoHealth Alliance, Breast Cancer Prevention Partners and others. The company also has a range of other charitable and sustainable initiatives and donates over 90% of returned items. that earn it top marks from us!
Highlights: Emeco is a longstanding and very eco-friendly company with a robust environmental commitment. The minimalist style product range includes chairs, stools, end tables and other items made with recycled metal, glass, PET, concrete, wood, or a combination.
Emeco was founded in 1944 as a result of a commission to make non-corrosive, fire-resistant, and torpedo-proof chairs for the US Navy. So, if you’re looking for robust furniture, this is it!
Nowadays, Emeco offers this classic 1006 Navy Chair (built to last 150 years at least) alongside a range of other items, including some beautiful bar stools, desk chairs, dining chairs, and shelving, all made from recycled and reclaimed materials. These materials include recycled aluminum from post-consumer soda cans and post-industrial manufacturing scrap. This metal has a significantly lower energy footprint than virgin aluminum but is just as strong.
Other materials include cork, sustainably harvested or locally reclaimed wood, recycled PET (from water bottles and such), and glass. In 2010, Emeco made a 100% recyclable and recycled chair from 100 post-consumer bottles in collaboration with Coca-Cola.
Excitingly, Emeco has even invented its own materials, including Eco Concrete made with recycled glass bottles and calcium sulfoaluminate cement. This material is great for outdoor furniture as it is weather resistant, and it uses significantly less energy to process and fire compared to regular cement. Other Emeco concoctions include Reclaimed Wood Polypropylene made with plastic scraps from factory floors and sawdust from lumber yards.
In addition to using sustainable materials, Emeco uses VOC-free clear coat anodizing finishes on aluminum furniture and low-VOC finishes on wood pieces. The wood pieces are made by local Amish craftsmen while metal pieces are made in-house in the company’s LEED-certified family factory in Hanover, Pennsylvania.
Some of the upholstery materials leave a bit to be desired, though the company does strive to use recycled leather, polyester, and other sustainable materials. Check listings carefully if you would rather avoid synthetics, leather, or conventional cotton or wool.
Emeco is very transparent about its environmental product certifications and commitments. The company also runs an energy efficient factory with LED lighting, renewable power, and water conservation courtesy of specialized welding machines. While designs are created to minimize waste, any that does occur is reused or returned to recyclers.
Products are shipped using 100% recyclable packaging materials and Emeco offers a chair-to-chair recycling program for plastic and aluminum furniture.
Highlights: Eco-minded US-based furniture company making smartly designed and convertible modular pieces using sustainably sourced wood.
Floyd makes beds, sofas, tables, storage, and accessories that are modular and sustainable. The company manufactures its products in the US using American grown wood that is mostly Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified. This helps to cut emissions associated with transporting raw materials, and helps preserve forests in other countries.
Floyd operates with the ethos that “furniture should be made for the home, not the landfill.” This is why the company uses smart designs where individual pieces can be replaced or fixed if they break. These simple, stylish, modular design also means that many of the pieces, such as the Floyd bed can be easily converted, such as from a Queen to a King size (or vice versa).
By 2025, Floyd has committed to launching a Resale and Refurbishment program, ensuring 70% of material comes from either recycled or renewable sources, minimizing packing materials and eliminating single use plastics, and using 100% FSC certified wood across all products. The company also measures, discloses, and is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions across its supply chain.
Highlights: Well-designed hardwood furniture made in the US using eco-friendly materials (for the most part) in a range of styles.
Medley is a California based furniture company that uses sustainably sourced, eco-friendly materials to hand build well designed, sturdy and modern sofas, sectionals, storage, accent chairs, dining, office, and bedroom furniture, poufs, benches, and ottoman, accent tables, and more. The company favors alder hardwood frames and certified organic Dunlop latex cushions with responsibly sourced down filling, but also offers CertiPur-US® poly foam cushioning at a lower cost.
The company doesn’t use harsh chemical treatments or fire retardants, and uses zero-VOC glues, natural jute webbing, and organic fabrics in furniture linings. There are several organic fabric choices available for upholstery and most of the materials are Oeko-Tex 100, GOLS, GOTS, or Greenguard Gold certified. There is some wool in some Medley furniture, mostly as an upholstery fabric and filling for chairs and sofas. This wool is Oeko-Tex 100 certified and comes from well cared for sheep.
Medley uses kiln-dried alder for its furniture frames and solid maple and walnut for tables and other (as well as some bamboo). The hardwoods are grown in the US, FSC certified, and treated only with non- or low-VOC waxes and stains. For drawer bottoms and sides of storage pieces, Medley uses lightweight FSC certified, low-VOC CARB 2 compliant plywood. To polish furniture, Medley uses Daddy Van’s mixture of natural beeswax, carnauba wax, and olive oil. The polish is USDA certified bio-based, odor-free, and free from unpleasant VOCs.
The company is very transparent about materials and happy to answer questions via email or phone. Medley makes every item to order, so delivery can take a bit longer than an off-the-shelf model. It ships to every US state and Canada and can ship to almost anywhere else in the world. It offers a lifetime warranty on alder hardwood frames, and most sofas do not require assembly (with the exception of those with longer legs). The company offers a 100-day trial and free returns.
Medley wins extra points at Leaf Score because for every tree used to make its furniture, the company plants three trees in partnership with the National Forest Foundation. A single alder tree can make around three Medley sofas or one large sectional, according to the company, and the trees used in Medley furniture can take 25-40 years to mature.
Highlights: Yep, that IKEA. The Swedish giant is ahead of the curve on sustainability, offering responsibly sourced wood and textiles, smart designs that minimize waste, and factories and outlets powered by renewables.
Sure, the big box stores might not seem sustainable, especially as they arguably encourage unnecessary consumption, but IKEA has ambitious sustainability goals and is on track to meet them. IKEA was way ahead of the curve, in fact, and launched its sustainability strategy – People & Planet Positive – in 2012, based on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
The company has made great strides to improve energy efficiency, including switching all lighting to LEDs. IKEA sources a large proportion of energy from renewables and has a goal of being fully powered by renewables by 2030. In fact, in 2020, IKEA was set to produce as much renewable energy as it consumed, thanks to investments in wind turbines and solar panels.
IKEA also enjoys certain advantages of scale, including being able to carefully plan, cut, and shape wood so as to minimize waste. Scrap wood from larger pieces can be used to make things like storage boxes and other knickknacks.
As for textiles, IKEA is committed to using 100% Responsibly Sourced Wool by 2025, and already sources 100% of its cotton in a more sustainable fashion, meaning that it is either recycled, or grown with less water, chemical fertilizer and pesticides (though it isn’t organic, alas).
IKEA is also using more bamboo these days. You’ll see this renewable plant-based material in panels and slats in accessories and furniture, for instance. The company stated a commitment to source 100% of all wood as FSC certified by the end of 2020, though it’s not clear if this was met.
As for plastic, IKEA has committed to only using plastic based on renewable or recycled material by 2030. The company phased out all single-use plastic products from the global home furnishing range in January 2020. Other products will be made with biobased plastic from renewable sources like corn, sugar beet and sugar cane.
You may also have noticed an increasing number of plant-based foods in the IKEA food hall and market in recent years. This is part of the company’s move to promote more sustainable lifestyle choices.
For us consumers, the trick is to only buy things you actually need and to choose the most sustainable products. This largely means sticking to simple softwood items made with pine wood from sustainable sources. Other good options include outdoor furniture made with acacia, a durable and rot-resistant wood from FSC certified plantations.
Interestingly, IKEA has acknowledged that unsustainable consumption is one of its biggest challenges and has committed to figuring out ways to prolong the life of its products and make them easier to repurpose, repair, reuse, resell and recycle as part of the circular economy. To this end, the company is working with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the Circular Economy 8 (CE8), which bodes well!
IKEA also fares well on other sustainability measures, such as ethical labor and ethical sourcing. The company as a whole has adopted ethical hiring practices that are inclusive and diverse, and it runs a variety of employment and education programs focusing on youth, people with disabilities, older adults, and migrants, refugees, and women who face barriers to entering the workplace.
Highlights: Delightful kids furniture made in the US with eco-friendly Baltic Birch. Designed to last and adjust as your kid grows.
Sprout Kids offers a delightful range of Montessori inspired furniture for children and is made with eco-friendly materials that are also kid-friendly. The company is clearly committed to sustainability, with care taken to reduce manufacturing waste and to create designs that are easy to assemble and reassemble and are adjustable as your child grows.
Sprout Kids uses sustainably sourced hardwood or Baltic Birch plywood for all products. The hardwoods are sourced primarily from sustainably managed forests in Oregon and Washington. Most of the company’s products are made from engineered wood products from pre-consumer recycled materials, meaning sawdust and fall-off from lumber cutting.
Baltic Birch plywood is an industry leading material that is very strong and lightweight, beautiful, durable, and eco-friendly. It is made using birch veneers from north-east Europe (the Baltics) and is popular for cabinetry, skateboards, and airplane furnishings.
This specialized plywood is highly resistant to cracking and warping and has few voids, with the same material used throughout, rather than softer wood in the center as with most plywood. It is fine-grained and has a satin-like sheen that makes it a great choice for kids furniture because it’s super easy to clean and maintain.
Best of all, the Baltic Birch plywood used by Sprout Kids is CARB compliant. This means it meets or exceeds fairly rigorous standards for off-gassing of VOCs. The plywood is finished in the US using non-VOC ultraviolet cured finish (an epoxy acrylate topcoat) or water-based paints and a non-VOC UV cured finish. This is pretty much as good as it gets for this kind of furniture!
The company offers Value-Grade items that are functionally and structurally secure but might have a few dings or notches that temper their aesthetic value. It’s great that Sprout Kids makes these items available at a lower cost, rather than scrapping the products and creating waste unnecessarily. The furniture is also designed to have interchangeable parts, so any damaged pieces can be replaced without having to scrap the whole thing. Sprout Kids offers a 5-year warranty during which damaged parts can typically be replaced for free. After that period, you can purchase replacements for most parts at a low cost.
The company ships items flat to reduce shipping associated carbon emissions and resources. Sprout storage bins and packaging are made from up to 30% post-consumer recycled material. The packaging is also designed to be minimal and is almost all recyclable.
Highlights: A specific catalog within the more well-known Pottery Barn’s wide list of offerings is particularly eco-friendly and worth consideration.
Pottery Barn merits a mention here for its Sustainably Sourced catalog. This product range of a couple hundred or so items includes beds, shelving, tables, chairs, and sofas often made from reclaimed wood and Greenguard Gold certified materials. Many are also Fair Trade certified, and the products are typically hard wearing, well designed, and easy to maintain and/or resell.
Highlights: A wide variety of bespoke and one-off items made by small-scale artisans using reclaimed materials. Etsy offsets all shipping-associated carbon emissions and many vendors donate a portion of profits to environmental causes.
Etsy offers some amazing, unique, eco-friendly, sustainable furniture in its Reclaimed Furniture category. You can find real bargains here, and your purchase supports small business owners. The only downside is that these smaller scale operators don’t have splashy environmental reports and sustainability goals neatly laid out for potential buyers, so you’ll often have to ask about the exact materials and finishes used in each piece.
This Etsy category has a lot of turn over, with one-off pieces popping up nearly constantly and going just as fast. Creative furniture makers offer driftwood coffee tables, oak barrel wine racks, live edge coat stands, unique headboards and doors, all manner of woven raffia chairs, benches, tables, and more. Materials most common in this category include salvaged lumber, fallen logs, driftwood, pallets, and upcycled metal such as iron piping.
Given that these materials come with various potential safety concerns, you’ll want to have a clear idea of what you’re buying before finalizing a deal. In general, I’d steer clear of any items intended for babies or small children. Unlike new furniture made and sold in the US, these one-off items are not subjected to rigorous safety testing or testing for heavy metal contaminants.
Another nice thing about Etsy Reclaimed is that these small scale operators typically work to order and out of their own homes or studios. This means less waste and fewer overheads associated with big factories and large runs of items that may go unsold. If you’re able, try to find local sellers. This helps to keep carbon emissions low and means you’re more likely to get a piece made with materials that grow near to you. Happily, though, Etsy offsets all carbon emissions associated with shipping! Many of the sellers also donate a percentage of sales to charities.
Highlights: A good pet-friendly option for couches, chairs, and more. Made in the US with CertiPur foam, FSC certified low-VOC plywood, maple, and recycled or upcycled synthetic fabrics by a company offering a range of buy-back, repair and replace, and trade-in programs for sustainability.
Sabai is based in North Carolina and has a family-owned factory where workers are paid a living wage. This eco-minded company makes luxury furniture including sectionals and sofas, loveseats, ottomans, and chairs using a variety of mostly sustainable materials.
Unfortunately, their seat cushions are padded with CertiPur US® poly foam, with no alternative offered. CertiPur foam is a little better than most polyurethane foams in that it has no flame retardants or formaldehyde added, but it would be nice to see organic Dunlop latex offered as a cushion fill instead. The back cushions are filled with recycled polyester batting.
What I really like about Sabai is its environmental initiatives, including Sabai Revive. This program lets you trade in your Sabai furniture or find a secondhand piece that has been professionally refurbished, helping to save resources and money. The company’s Repair Don’t Replace initiative offers replacement parts such as cushions, covers, and legs, to help extend the life of your furniture. Sabai also offers a buy-back guarantee and generous benefits whether or not your used furniture sells on the Revive marketplace.
You can order free fabric swatches to make sure you get the color and cover you want, and furniture is fully customizable, with orders made and shipped within 2-4 weeks. All furniture is tested to withstand ten years of regular use by a person that is 275 lbs.
Sabai sources almost all (90%) of its materials within 100 miles of production, helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These materials include upcycled polyester (olefin, a byproduct of oil refining) and recycled velvet fabric created from plastic bottles. The latter is verified recycled (Global Recycling Standard, GRS) and Oeko-Tex standard 100. The synthetic fabrics are naturally stain resistant and pet-friendly and, as such, are untreated, with no glues used to upholster the furniture and no flame retardants.
The furniture frames are made with FSC certified birch and pine plywood. The wooden legs are made with domestically sourced maple and are treated with a low-VOC stain. Because each piece is made with mechanical fasteners rather than glues, this allows easy recycling at end of life.
The company customizes all orders and ships products flat in multiple packages, making for more eco-friendly transportation and ease of delivery and assembly (which they claim only takes 20 minutes!). The company ships all orders free over $100 across the US and at a low fee to Alaska and Hawaii, and uses totally plastic-free shipping and 100% recycled cardboard boxes.
Highlights: If a tree falls in the forest… can you make an end table from it? If you’re Alabama Sawyer, yes!
This (surprise!) Alabama-based furniture company is a wife-and-husband operation intent on turning local tree waste into usable items such as shelving, credenzas, desks, seating, and tables.
The couple gathers logs in their local community, including from houses, businesses, and city-owned properties (legally, one assumes). The logs are then processed, and the wood is carefully stacked and dried locally for half a year or until 70% of the water is evaporated. The wood is then kiln fired to make it more robust and durable, and is brought to the company’s wood shop in North Birmingham where each plank is turned into a unique piece of furniture or home accessory depending on its size, type, and other qualities.
Because of the unique process, lead time for Alabama Sawyer pieces is generally eight to twelve weeks. The company uses “Blanket-wrap” shipping where possible, to protect furniture and ensure that nearly all packaging is reused indefinitely.
The company offers a tree concierge service to help you identify trees that could yield useful timber, helping to preserve trees through selective logging. Though they don’t chop down the trees, they can mill the lumber for you.
If you live in Alabama and have a tree that has fallen or needs to come down and measures at least 20 inches wide, you may even be able to work with Alabama Sawyer to make a truly bespoke and personalized piece or suite of furniture!
Oh, and the company’s tagline is pretty cute: Trees Fall Y’all!
Final thoughts: Smart design for sustainability
When assessing the sustainability of furniture, look for smart designs that will work with you as your family grows and/or if you move to a new house. This means looking for sectional couches that can be reconfigured to fit different spaces, tables with inserts or leaves that let you adjust the length, and beds that accommodate mattresses of different heights.
This kind of versatility is even more important when it comes to kids furniture. Look for change tables that convert into dressers, cribs that convert into toddler beds and then full beds as your kid grows, and even high chairs that convert into regular dining chairs.
Smart design also means that individual components can be replaced or fixed if broken. This avoids having to scrap a whole piece of furniture.
Finally, look for furniture made using recycled materials that can themselves be recycled. This helps foster a circular economy that doesn’t waste resources and helps conserve energy.