Industry gives itself so-so grade on sustainability

HIGH POINT — The furniture industry sees room for improvement in its sustainability efforts after retailers and manufacturers primarily gave a “C” grade on its progress in an exclusive Furniture Today survey.

Despite the overall middling score, 77% of manufacturers and 58% of retailers believe sustainability should be a priority.

In the survey, 42% of retailers and 40% of manufacturers graded the industry with a “C” — or satisfactory — on achieving its sustainability goals, with many noting that while the furniture industry is trying, the movement toward sustainability remains slow.

Just 8% of retailers felt the industry was doing “A”-level work on sustainability, while about one-fourth of furniture retailers and manufacturers graded efforts with a better-than-average “B.” Meanwhile, about one-fourth of retailers issued “D” and “F” grades for their effort; approximately one-third of manufacturers opted to assign below-average grades.

“Seems like it’s being done slowly and reactionary to consumer sentiment vs. real dedication to the impact on nature,” wrote one retailer. There is a focus on recycling and reduction, said another, “but (the industry) is not sophisticated enough to reduce emissions.”

“The industry is trying its best without doubling the cost of all their products,” was another comment from the retail side.

A retailer who graded efforts as a “D” cited “fast furniture” as part of the problem. “The industry is still not focused on creating a better product that lasts longer.”

One manufacturer, who gave the industry a “B,” said, “there is more being done in terms of circularity, reducing waste and using sustainably sourced products.”

The industry earned a “D” from a respondent who commented: “There is some effort, but it seems minimal.”

Part of the problem is communicating the message, said one manufacturer. “I don’t feel vendors do a good job of telling what they do specifically to be sustainable or any future initiatives.”

We’re “just scratching the surface of what can be accomplished,” wrote one manufacturer. “(We) do not have 100% alignment between manufacturer, retailer and consumer.”

Other themes in the comments that accompanied “C” or lower grades revolved around packaging waste or the lack of recyclable packaging and an absence of industrywide domestic and international sustainability standards.

Along with an assessment of the industry’s progress on sustainability, retailers and manufacturers also weighed in on what areas should be the focus going forward. Making products that use sustainable or recyclable materials was the top choice by both groups, and the clear leader among manufacturers (87%).

Materials matter

Respondents also cited making products using materials that extend a products’ life as important (62% retailers and 30% manufacturers), although manufacturers ranked prioritizing domestic product as second (39%).

The survey found 80% of manufacturer respondents make sustainable products, with half claiming such items make up more than 50% of their inventory. Both case goods and upholstery were well-represented among the categories, with sofas and loveseats leading the way at 45%.

Among retailers, nearly 75% said they sell sustainably made goods, with 22% offering more than 50% of their inventory from sustainable producers. Sofa and loveseats and dining/kitchen furniture are the top sustainable categories offered by retailers, followed closely by bedroom furniture.

Demand for sustainably made and sourced products has grown in the past 12 months, according to manufacturers, with 40% saying it is up over previous years, and the remaining 60% saying it has stayed level. The leading reason given for the demand spike, cited by all respondents, was that consumers have become educated on the issue of sustainability. Other explanations were increased popularity in sustainable materials (50%), an increase in product assortment (38%) and prices aligning with those of non-sustainably made furnishings (38%).

In contrast with manufacturers, just 30% of retailers said demand for sustainable product has risen in the past 12 months, while 49% claimed demand remains the same and 15% said there is no demand right now.

Among those retailers saying demand was down or didn’t exist, the top reasons cited were higher prices for sustainable goods (50%), consumers’ lack of understanding on what sustainable means (40%), a lack of popularity for sustainable materials (40%) and a desire for a brands that don’t offer sustainably made products (40%).


The findings contained in this report are qualitative in nature. They are derived from a small sample of respondents and shouldn’t be projected in numeric terms to larger populations. As such, the findings are directional and should be considered descriptive rather than explanatory.

The survey was conducted between March 25 and April 11 and results provided by Furniture Today/Strategic Insights.

See also:

  • Sustainability conversations spark a few green thoughts | Sheila Long O’Mara
  • 2 Top 100 companies pick up honors for sustainability efforts

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