Originally Published on March 28, 2016. Last Updated on March 18, 2020.
When Kermit the Frog said it wasn’t easy being green, he obviously had never reclined in an eco-friendly chair. Over the years, the eco-friendly furniture industry has worked to find balance between functionality, stability and style and, spoiler alert: Eco-friendly furniture is here to stay.
Fortunately, more and more manufacturers are choosing eco-friendly materials and processes, and you’ll continue to see plenty of “green” options available to consumers. Eco-friendly outdoor furnishings prove you don’t need sacrifice style and comfort when you want to commune with nature.
Read on for our guide on all things eco-friendly outdoor furniture. We’ll tell you what it is, why wood furniture isn’t as sustainable as you might think … and how to choose eco-friendly options that live up to the hype.
What Exactly Does Eco-Friendly Mean?
Eco-friendly furnishings are all about the materials and production process. Manufacturers creating “green” furniture options use:
- Materials from sustainable, renewable sources
- Produced with minimal chemicals or toxins that are bad for the environment
- Smart manufacturing practices
What Are the Different Types of Eco-Friendly Furniture?
Around here we’re pretty big fans of POLYWOOD® lumber (for obvious reasons), but there are several other eco-friendly options for conscientious shoppers, too. In fact, designers and manufacturers are always on the search for new and innovative ways to make more comfortable, earth-friendly furniture options people will actually want to buy. Here are a few eco-friendly materials:
High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) Lumber
Remember that water bottle you drank from after your workout? Turn over the water bottle. Chances are good it’s labeled HDPE or #2 plastic. Environmentalists estimate that high-density polyethylene (or HDPE) materials take around a century to biodegrade in a landfill because of its rigidity and strength. That’s a long, long time.
But did you know that those water bottles — and quite possibly your milk jugs and detergent containers, too — may get a new chance at life in your outdoor furniture? It’s true. In fact, 28% of those HDPE milk jugs and water bottles actually are recycled.
We use HDPE lumber in our furniture options precisely for that reason. Plus, the recycled material is non-absorbent, and it won’t rot, splinter, crack, or peel … even if you live in a damp climate. The lumber is also resistant to fading when exposed to constant sunlight. Easy to maintain, HDPE cleaning generally requires just soap, water and a soft-bristle brush. That’s it. Another bonus with HDPE: Its clean production process means that no harmful emissions are released during the making of our furniture.
More than 50% of aluminum produced in the United States. That’s good news for shoppers looking for eco-friendly outdoor furnishings created from domestic materials. While it’s difficult to mine aluminum, once it’s actually in production, aluminum is hugely recyclable; in fact, it can be recycled again and again. And recycling aluminum only requires 6% of the energy used to mine it from nature.
Aluminum furnishings don’t rust, so it’s great for beach houses or lake houses. This super lightweight option allows you to easily rearrange furniture as needed. Mild detergent, water, and some good old-fashioned elbow grease take care of the maintenance of aluminum pieces.
Super durable and versatile, bamboo is an excellent “green” choice both figuratively and literally. This fast-growing plant requires little to no pesticides to grow, and certain species may shoot all the way up to 150 feet in a mere six weeks. (Fun fact: That’s 3 to 4 feet per day for some species!) And unlike traditional hardwoods, which take 50 years to regrow, bamboo only takes about five years to regrow after being cut.
Bamboo is a super pliable material that can easily be flattened, sliced, and molded into furniture. Bamboo is durable and versatile, as long as you keep it away from excessive moisture. Since it’s a wood material, however, bamboo furniture needs to be cleaned and sealed to prevent molding or rotting over time.
The Downsides of Traditional Wood Furniture
Teak, mahogany, mango, jatoba and rubber wood may be a few of the tropical hardwoods you’ve seen in outdoor furnishings, particularly in years past. But because the demand for this raw wood material increased over the years, tropical habitats became overharvested, and some species were actually eradicated as a result of deforestation in areas of the world like Southeast Asia. In fact, more than 137 types of plants and animals were terminated by the destruction of rainforest trees, making wood a much less sustainable furniture choice.
Plus, hardwood outdoor furniture requires much more maintenance than aluminum and HDPE lumber. Wood requires regular cleaning, sealing and oiling for preservation. Sun, wind, water, fire and certain chemicals can not only discolor furniture, but may accelerate the rate of rot.
Overall Benefits of Eco-Friendly Furniture
Whether it’s your furniture or your deck, materials matter. So when we say “eco-friendly” or “green,” what exactly do we mean?
Cost-Effective: Eco-friendly furnishings provide affordable alternatives to traditional wood. In fact, with more eco-friendly furniture companies on the market and with often lower production costs (owing to recyclable materials), you, the consumer, often benefit cost-wise.
Prevent Deforestation: We all know we need to do our part to preserve the planet. One simple way to do so is to look for sustainable and recycled materials that don’t adversely affect the environment. Wood alternatives can help preserve the environment due to their more sustainable nature.
Environmentally Friendly Manufacturing Process: The production process of HDPE, for instance, doesn’t release harmful emissions into the air.
Non-toxic, renewable materials: Look for eco-friendly pieces that are harmless to human health and the environment.
How to Choose Eco-Friendly Outdoor Furniture Options
You’ll need to do your research to find furnishings that are not only eco-friendly, but also offer the comfort and durability you rely on to enjoy your outdoor space season after season and year after year. Here are a few questions to consider:
- Is the furniture weather-proof?
Read reviews, and “test drive” furnishings when possible. You’ll want to look for durable outdoor sets that can withstand any weather condition — sun, sleet, snow, and rain. If you live near the ocean or in the mountains, make sure the furniture holds up to salt air or cold, windy conditions.
- What’s the maintenance?
When you purchase your outdoor furnishings, you’ll want to find something with simple upkeep. Can you clean that outdoor sofa simply using a soft-bristle brush, mild soap, and water? Or does your outdoor chair require yearly sealing, occasional repainting, and chemical cleaners?
- Is it comfortable?
You know those cute sandals you buy for the beach only to slide your feet in them and realize they’re stiff and rub against your ankles? Uncomfortable furniture is like that, too. What good is a stylish Adirondack or a classic porch swing if you don’t want to sit on them? Look for ergonomic features in your eco-friendly outdoor furniture options, and make sure you can accessorize with comfortable cushions, too.
- What’s the fine print?
Any eco-friendly furniture company worth its salt should back up its product with a solid warranty and honor any returns or exchanges. Before you buy, check out the company’s policy. We provide a 20-year limited residential warranty on all of our pieces, and we offer returns within 30 days of delivery if you’re not satisfied. With a range of eco-friendly furniture options, you can create a serene outdoor haven that makes this planet a little better. Browse our stylish, comfortable furniture collections.