Shop Sustainable: How to Know What Products Are Environmentally-Friendly

By: Amanda Ray Filed under: Interior Design

April 20, 2012

Spring is often considered a time for renewal and change.  When planning your home “spring cleaning” and design changes, consider what products and furniture you own that are sustainable.  This is an opportunity to make modifications that will not only bring a new energy to your life but environmental benefits too. 

What does sustainable mean?  It has many definitions but as a consumer, you should know that sustainable products were approached with an attempt to limit the impact to the environment and its resources. Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment.  Sustainability is important to making sure that we have and will continue to have the water, materials and resources to protect human health and our environment.  

More simply, when assessing a product, sustainability relates to the source and type of materials that go into the product, the origin of where it is made, cost of manufacturing and transportation, life span, and reusability or recycling capability.  The Art Institute of Portland Industrial Design Instructor Jim Arnold says that some of the key items consumers can take into account for sustainability are electronics, vehicles, clothing and toys.

When shopping, look out for certifications to help identify if a product is sustainable.  According to The Art Institute of Seattle Industrial Design Instructor Therese Kunzi-Clark, one of the best approvals is from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).  The FSC label ensures that the forest products used are from responsibly harvested and verified sources.  Another symbol to look for is the recycling symbol and numeric coding, which consumers can use for personal recycling.

Arnold also recommends considering if a product is pre- or post-recycled.  Pre-recycled is scrap that is generated during the normal manufacturing process that is recycled back into its raw material state.  Post-recycled is an item that was used after production of the product, and then re-cycled such as plastic water bottles.

Industrial Design Instructor Joe Stefanile from The Art Institute of Seattle adds that one of the best approaches a consumer can implement is to purchase locally produced products, which means a lower carbon footprint.  Also, when selecting furniture, consumers should consider the lifespan of the style or appearance, as well as the overall expected lifespan of the product.  

Kunzi-Clark warns that many companies promote the appearance of sustainability so read up on a brand’s practices and review product labels carefully.  For example, the trend right now is to use bamboo but she says there are drawbacks. “The increased demand for bamboo has caused the elimination of some natural forests, which has a negative impact on the local environment in terms of plant variety and animal life,” adds Kunzi-Clark.  “Another factor is that most bamboo is imported from Asia at a high carbon footprint cost.”  Do not just follow the fads. 

When shopping, remember these tips to follow a sustainable or “green” practice:

Check where product is made and remember that local is best.

Consider what the product is made from and are the materials reusable. Will this product end up in a landfill?

Buy higher quality, longer lasting products. Ask yourself if you really need the product and how long you will keep it.

The Art Institutes ( is a system of more than 45 educational institutions located throughout North America. The Art Institutes schools provide an important source for design, media arts, fashion and culinary arts professionals. Several institutions included in The Art Institutes system are campuses of South University. OH Registration # 04-01-1698B; AC0165, AC0080; Licensed by the Florida Commission for Independent Education, License No. 1287, 3427, 3110, 2581. 

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