September 5th 2023
The Cost of Fast Furniture: It is Neither Cheap, Sustainable, or Vegan BY Aline Dürr
I recently had a chat to one of my students who specialises in Sustainable Interior Design and wants to expand her knowledge to all things Vegan Interior Design. We talked about the demand for vegan and sustainable interior design and conversations we have with clients and she mentioned that she has many clients who, when she talks about the benefits of sustainable design, say things like: ‘Ok yeah, but I don’t really need it to be sustainable, it just needs to be nice and I don’t want to spend the extra money.’ I have the same experience with many non-vegan clients who say ‘Ok, ethical would be nice but it’s not really a requirement, it just needs to look and feel good and I want it well-priced.’ I also have vegan clients who state that as long as it is vegan, it does not need to be sustainable.
For someone who is working hard on creating a vegan and sustainable world and knows that the two go hand in hand, these comments are always demoralising and quite mind boggling to be fair. Of course, at the end of the day, all home projects come back to affordability, availability, look and feel. And somehow most people are still under the impression that sustainable and ethical products are a higher priced luxury which is not a priority or necessity because there are much cheaper options out there. While in this day and age products that last, that do not make you sick and that come from a place where no animal or human has been harmed in the process of making it should be the norm, I agree that we are not there yet. But even though truly ethical, sustainable and healthy products are not the norm yet, it does not mean that they are only reserved to those with that extra little bit of cash. In fact, you can design sustainably and vegan on a budget without any compromises on quality, comfort and looks and I am happy to prove that every day of the week.
What the mentioned client comments illustrate to me though, is that what fundamentally needs to shift is the way we look at, value and purchase items for the home and this is where ‘fast furniture’ comes in. Similar to fast fashion which is a bit of a buzzword these days, fast furniture refers to inexpensive furniture with a short lifespan that can easily be thrown out when not needed anymore and that is equally as bad as fashion for the planet and all of the animals in it including us. Understandably, everyone loves a bargain and I will admit that, from time to time, I am myself tempted by cheap, nice looking furniture pieces from inexpensive retailers or online shops to fill an empty space at home until I find that perfect piece to replace the cheap one with.
Old Furniture at the Garbage Tip ©Wellphotos
There are two big issues with that though which lead back to veganism:
It’s not ethical – Cheap labour is talked about a lot in fashion but somehow ethics are often overlooked when it comes to furniture. Fact is that by the time you have taken home a seemingly unexpensive piece of furniture and the retailer and manufacturer have both made a profit from it, the person who actually made it rarely earns a living wage. In addition to generally unfair working conditions, forced labour and child labour are still widely occurring in furniture production. While this is not strictly a vegan issue, you would assume that someone who strives to avoid exploiting and harming animals at all cost, would extend that compassion to children and all humans as well.
It is not sustainable – In Europe alone, more than 11 billion kilos of furniture are thrown away every year of which only 10% is recycled while 80-90% is incinerated or ends up in landfills. A company called The Substitute in the Netherlands draws attention to this with the ‘Slow Down Fast Furniture’ campaign which is well worth looking into because it is very eye-opening. Fast furniture is a vegan issue because even though it does not harm animals directly, the production of all this inexpensive, short lasting furniture is extremely harmful for the environment and every being in it.
Every year, 16.000.000 hectares of forests are lost due to the high demand of wood for furniture. According to The Substitute, the old forests of Eastern Europe still suffer from illegal logging in order to meet the demand for hard-wood furniture and this can of course be extended to all other parts of the world where trees that are substantial for the survival of many animal species are, often illegally, cut down for fast furniture. Generally, up to 80% of animals living in forests lose their habitat due to this continuous destruction.
Deforestation for furniture ©Freepik
To come back to the clients’ comments at the start, fast furniture is generally NOT CHEAPER. Just like with clothing, a sustainable piece of furniture may seem dearer when you first buy it but if you take the entire lifecycle into account and consider it an investment that will last you much longer than the three or four cheap ones you will have to buy within the same time frame, it is not actually more expensive over the long run. It’s easy to go for the less expensive option and sometimes we may have to. But it is good to be aware of the cost and the consequences of our choices. And if you know what you are doing or work with someone who does, sourcing vegan and sustainable products does not have to come with premium prices to start with.
While the suggested methods in the graphic below may not be feasible for every home project, they are definitely showing ways to a more sustainable and intrinsically more vegan way of living.
Extract of ‘Slow Down Fast Furniture’ Campaign Poster by The Substitute
Founder and director Aline Dürr is an award-winning interior architect, thought leader, author and voice for the voiceless. She offers interior design services for commercial and residential projects worldwide, has an educational platform teaching interior design students and established interior design businesses how to include a fast-growing conscious market into their customer base. Learn more about her as an interior design professional and her offerings at Vegan Interior Design.