Recent research shows that consumers want – and expect – eco-friendly options in home décor. How can lighting write its way into this narrative?
Once upon a time, the most important decisions faced when making a home furnishings purchase were style and cost. Tides have changed, and today, asking “What’s it made of?” is nearly as important as “What other colors does this come in?” Transparency in manufacturing and the utilization of eco-friendly practices is becoming more and more imperative for industry vendors, retailers, and end consumers because of statistics like this: 91 percent of the world lives in a place where air quality exceeds the World Health Organization’s guideline limits; humans are adding 1.2 trillion gallons of untreated waste water into the water supply each year; and it’s estimated that the world is losing 18.7 million acres of forest annually.
When faced with this reality, any change that can be made – regardless of how small – is resonating with people, from manufacturers on down. “Green” is a catch-all term for something that benefits the environment, such as conserving energy or using recycled materials; “Eco-friendly” means something that’s not harmful to the planet; and “Sustainable,” which according to the United Nations World Commission on Environment & Development means a practice that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The power to create and purchase home furnishings products that are friendly to Mother Earth is growing by the day.
Regardless of which term is used, one thing’s for certain — consumers care. Recent industry research indicates just how much.
What Consumers Want
The 2018 Green Home Furnishings Consumer Study, conducted for the Sustainable Furnishings Council (SFC), sampled male and female homeowners ages 30-60 with household incomes of $50,000+ who have spent more than $500 on home furnishings in the past 12 months. Virtually all respondents – 98 percent – were concerned with environmental issues including natural disasters, indoor air quality, and global warming. And, if style and cost were comparable, an overwhelming majority of respondents – 92 percent – indicated that they would purchase an environmentally safe option, and 69 percent said they would work with an environmentally conscious interior designer.
- Respondents also indicated that they are either “interested” or “very interested” in:
- Buying wood furniture certified as legal wood coming from responsibly managed forests (92 percent)
- The chemicals and materials used in the furnishings manufacturing process, which play a role in the purchase decision for at least 9 in 10 respondents in children’s, living room, bedroom, and dining room furniture
- Eco-attributes across all four furnishings categories, including labor practices (8 in 10), traceability of the manufacturing process (3 in 4), and the company’s eco-story (7 in 10)
The implications of this research for the lighting category, according to SFC’s Executive Director Susan Inglis, mean going back to the basics. “Sustainability is happening on two fronts in lighting, specifically from
manufacturers — in their own operations, like more effective manufacturing or transportation logistics, and then in product development, like using finishes that don’t emit toxic VOCs.”
These benefits then trickle down to the retailers who sell these products, which is an important connection to close the circle. In addition to healthier finishes (such as powder-coating), the use of natural materials is a way to produce lighting with a sustainable slant. New introductions abound in this realm as the organic look is in demand.
Going further beyond making mass-produced more eco-friendly, there are companies taking this sustainability story to the next level. Cur8, which opened in 2017 as a wholesale marketplace, sources brands that are rethinking design. They offer products that are:
- “Smart,” meaning connected and/or innovative in design or manufacturing method, such as 3D printing and biofabrication
- “Healthy,” meaning good for the person, the space, and the planet
- “Made Here,” meaning sourced, crafted, and available to the local community
Cur8 co-founders, Greg O’Neal and Jasmine Jaco, believe that the principle of purposeful consumption is key for our industry moving forward. They put together a slate of offerings that demonstrate just how innovative product development is becoming.
From Brooklyn, N.Y.-based designer Danielle Trofe’s MushLume pendant collection (which is literally grown from mushroom mycelium and agricultural byproduct) to the Hektor pendant from IUMI (which is made from sustainable birch, laser-cut for zero waste, and dyed using only natural pigments), lighting options from Cur8 provide eco-friendly benefits, and even cooler stories, at every turn.
But that’s not enough. This fall, Cur8 will go direct to consumers since most interest in its product is coming from the end user. Although the industry seems to have embraced the concept of “what’s next” in design and agrees that these eco-friendly, smart and healthy products are important, retailers are faced with the reality of budgets and margins.
“Wholesalers are interested in buying things that do good and promote more than just the product,” says Greg O’Neal, co-founder of Cur8, “but even those who are forward-thinkers are having to think with their pocketbooks.”
Making large investments in these products is risky when the payoff is uncertain, but their place in moving the industry forward is vital. The next chapter is here, and eco-friendly is a major plot line.