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New Age Furniture: Ethics Vs Aesthetics

December 14, 2018
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About a decade ago, furniture in most countries was all about aesthetics and ergonomics. Beautiful looking furniture which was very functional and comfortable was all that the designers cared for. Big furniture manufacturers in Europe and the US who created designer items were essentially concerned with high aesthetics and some degree of ergonomics as well. That was a period when furniture was created as a work of art with an aim to embellish the interior of a residence. To enhance its aesthetic appeal, materials other than wood, such as stainless steel, plastics and even ceramics, were being used in making furniture.

On the other hand, voices in support of environment protection were continually growing. A host of environmental agencies, both state-owned and private were already studying the environmental impact of a lot of industrial activities. In this context, production of all man-made material and items gradually began to be seen for its impact on environment. A demand for environment protection was now being made on the global stage by most of the advanced nations. Among other man made things, even furniture began to be evaluated for its impact on environment.

Some of the award winning furniture designers initially voiced their disapproval for environmental considerations in furniture design. They stated that aesthetics were being sacrificed in the name of ethics. They thought it was an unnecessary conflict created by the environmentalists who had no idea of aesthetics. But, despite that the environment protection movement continued to grow, with full backing of developed nations, and also economic blocks and organizations of countries.

What is eco-friendly furniture?

Eco-friendly primarily means helping the ecology and environment. In context of furniture, eco-friendly would mean the following –

Use of wood in furniture leads to depletion of forests. However, other alternative materials were seen to be in greater conflict with sustainability. Hence, specific wood types have been accepted as environment friendly.

Wood used in furniture should aide forest preservation & restoration. This means wood should be taken from such trees which can be grown or restored easily. Technically it is called “wood from sustainably harvested forests”

Bamboo plantation should be encouraged. This would help availability of bamboo for furniture manufacture. Bamboo is actually grass and is not a tree. So this does not lead to depletion of forest cover.

Furniture should be manufactured in processes that help water conservation and reduced use of water.

Furniture should be durable, so it has a long life cycle and it would not need replacement for several years.

In addition to the environment friendly characteristics, there is an addition emphasis on sustainability. Apart from environment, sustainability covers social and economic factors as well. When sustainable design principles are applied to furniture, the following needs consideration –

Reclaimed material should be used for manufacturing furniture, e.g. wood scrap, saw dust etc.

Furniture should be made from low impact materials: material should be recyclable and should involve least amount of processing time, from its input or natural state to the finished state.

The material should have low toxicity. This means the furniture during its usage, would not emit toxic gases which could harm the environment.

The furniture should use energy efficient processes in its manufacture.

The furniture must have a low carbon footprint. This means all the processes used in furniture production and its transportation should emit the least amount of carbon dioxide.

While selecting readymade furniture or getting it manufactured, a user too can consider some broad factors which would make his furniture more environment friendly –

Furniture should be made of wood which can be reused and recycled. Bamboo furniture should also be considered for spaces where it is feasible.

Some polycarbonate sheets can also be used which have been declared more environment friendly.

Use of plywood and particle boards, which need a lot of processing in its manufacture should be minimized.

Use of laminates should also be minimized for their lack of environment friendly characteristics.

Furniture upholstery should use natural fabrics and natural colors as far as possible.

Upholstery should be easy to clean and use less water and energy for its maintenance.

All the paint & polish used in the furniture should have used non-volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Today all of us dream of a grand house with beautiful and aesthetic furniture. But, we need to also consider how environment-friendly our furniture is. In this context, beauty is not what pleases the eye alone, it needs to please the environment as well.

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