The 6 Most Popular Sustainable Hospitality Furniture Materials (and 3 materials to avoid)￼
Sustainability has become an increasingly relevant topic for many different industries, including hospitality furniture manufacturing. In the last several years the U.S. eco-friendly furniture market has grown, for both residential and commercial furniture. Hotel guests are looking for more eco-friendly accommodations with high-efficiency utilities. According to data from Booking.com, 81% of global travelers confirm that “sustainable travel is important to them” and 57% of travelers would “feel better staying in accommodations if they knew it had a sustainable certification.” Hotel guests care about sustainable sourcing and expect transparency. For many hotels, sustainability is no longer an option — it is quickly become requirement of a success business strategy.
Furniture made with sustainable materials provides hotels with a unique opportunity to appeal to not just your average guest, but the “green” guest as well. According to a study by GreenPrint, nearly two-thirds of Americans are willing to pay more for products and services that are eco-friendly and sustainable, and these factors will continue to make a growing difference in where guests decide to stay.
In this blog, we’ll cover the six most popular sustainable hospitality furniture materials, as well as some non-sustainable materials to avoid.
Organic fabrics are made from organic agricultural systems that must be certified through governmental organic farming standards to prove the materials are grown and farmed without GMO seeds. Also, organic fabrics don’t contain harmful chemicals or non-biodegradable coatings, reducing their environmental impact — even after they are disposed of. Organic fabrics are also more durable alternatives to manmade materials, making them a suitable option for hospitality furniture. The most common organic fabrics utilized in the hospitality industry are cotton, wool, silk, and hemp.
Bamboo is considered one of the most sustainable building materials — it’s fast-growing, self-regenerating, abundant, and strong. Modern processing techniques have made it possible to utilize bamboo for a variety of applications in hotel furniture. Most commonly, bamboo is used to provide a wood-like substance for boards, panels, and even sometimes fabrics. Bamboo is actually a grass but has a tensile strength stronger than steel making it durable and long-lasting — a sound option for hospitality furniture.
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Despite being a natural resource, not all wood is considered sustainable. Sustainable wood is sourced from managed forests and must be vetted by third-party certification programs, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) being one of the most-well known. The main stipulation for harvesting sustainable wood is harvesting the lumbar in a way that doesn’t decimate the ecosystem. Trees cut down for lumber in managed forests are carefully selected, harvested only in limited amounts, and regularly replaced. Common species of wood grown in sustainable forests include pine, oak, maple, and white ash.
Often sustainable woods are utilized in hotel casegoods in combination with veneers to reduce environmental impact without sacrificing desired aesthetics. Wood veneer furniture is made with a thin layer of real wood bonded to a less expensive piece of manufacturing wood (i.e.: plywood).
Cork is a renewable resource that can enhance the eco-friendliness of almost any space. It is a carefully harvested bark that is lightweight and soft, but also very durable. It makes for a great insulator for heat and sound, is very versatile, and can be integrated into hospitality furniture in a multitude of ways. It’s most commonly utilized in headboards, end tables, nightstands, chairs, and benches.
The material also has some drawbacks. It is still considered a niche product and is hand-harvested, which can make it expensive. But as more companies begin producing cork, it’s becoming easier and cheaper to source.
Stone is a tricky material to classify because it in some cases, it’s not sustainable. Once stone is taken from its native environment, it is gone forever — it does not grow back. And once it is shaped, it will stay that way. However, “natural stone” is considered a sustainable material because it is naturally occurring, doesn’t contain harmful chemicals, and when reintroduced back into the environment — only takes up space. Natural stone also takes less water to process, last longer than other popular materials like concrete, glass, and quartz, and requires less maintenance over time.
One way that natural stone is certified in the U.S. is through the Natural Stone Council (NSC), a collaboration of businesses and trade associations that promotes the use of natural stone in commercial, residential, government, institutional, and educational applications. The NSC has set the Natural Stone Sustainability Standard which examines and verifies numerous areas of stone production including water and energy usage, chemicals and materials, transportation, site management, land reclamation, excess materials, and human health and safety. Stone materials are often utilized in hospitality furniture most commonly including marble, granite, quartz, and limestone.
Reclaimed materials are a play into recycling and give items destined for a landfill a second life. This is called “upcycling” which is a popular eco-friendly movement. When utilizing reclaimed materials through upcycling, often “old” items are repurposed for something fresh and different. Products are brown down into various parts and reconfigured into new products. This is a creative and often cost-effective way to incorporate an eco-friendly initiative into hotel design and furniture production. There’s a wide variety of materials that can be reclaimed, or “upcycled” such as unfinished wood, metals like aluminum, steel, copper, glass, ceramics, and even stone.
Plastics have an adverse impact on the environment. Plastics are typically made from polymers that are derived from petroleum, a fossil fuel. Making plastics demands a lot of energy and resources to make and due to their chemical composition and durability, it is impossible to break them down — meaning they stick around indefinitely as microplastics. While some plastics can be recycled, however, that is not the case with the types of plastics commonly used in furniture manufacturing.
Some finished woods are unsustainable because of their coatings. Some finishes incorporate toxins that pose risks to both humans and the environment. When these materials decompose in landfills, the toxins have the potential to leach into groundwater supplies unless proper precautions are taken. While there are environmentally friendly finishes and coatings available, they are not common practice and can be costly.
Many fabrics used in furniture manufacturing are coated with chemical protectants thar aren’t environmentally-friendly to make them more durable. Another way to improve the durability of fabric components on furniture is to utilize synthetic fabrics. Unfortunately, synthetic fabrics are not biodegradable and are commonly used in everyday products. Unsustainable fabrics include polyester, acrylic, nylon, and faux leather.
Changing consumer expectations and growing environmental awareness are making implementing sustainable solutions a priority in hospitality. Often companies are hesitant to invest in sustainable materials for furniture because of the high initial purchase price. However, the benefits outweigh the additional costs. Sustainable furniture is often made to last longer, which means there is less cost to replace broken or worn products. By lowering the environmental impact of manufactured furniture and embracing sustainability, you can market your hotel as an active participant in the green movement — which is highly favorable to guests looking for eco-friendly accommodations and can boost your brand’s overall reputation.