Pondering a nebulous term- SUSTAINABILITY

March 23, 2023

Pondering a nebulous term- SUSTAINABILITY

Furniture Today is a trade resource that publishes furniture industry news, trends, predictions and articles on macroeconomic events that are likely to impact consumer spending on  furniture and mattresses. The topic of sustainability is one that has been gaining momentum over the past few years. Furniture Today recently shared polls from retailers and consumers about their willingness to pay more for "sustainable" home furnishings and mattresses.  What is clear is that neither the retailers nor the consumers can actually define the scope of the word. 

The results were that consumers who are buying higher end product are likelier to pay more for sustainable home furnishings and mattresses than consumers buying lower priced furnishings and  mattresses.  This clearly makes sense because consumers with less discretionary income use  price as the primary influential factor to make a purchase and consumers with more have the luxury of factoring their values into the purchasing decision.  Sustainability is currently more important in certain geographical  regions and  a nascent  whisper in others. 

What I have observed for decades is that most manufacturers  and retailers seem to misunderstand the  consumers who want  more sustainable products. These consumers tend to fall into two categories that have some overlap. There  are  consumers who prioritize reuse and  circularity to keep products,  components and  packaging that do not biodegrade out of  landfills. Then there  are  consumers who want  to buy  only products that  are non-toxic  and don't harm humans  and  the  entire  ecosystem. These consumers look for natural inputs that have certifications that define inputs and purity. They value transparency and eschew  the  dreaded "proprietary" non-disclosures.  The  latter contingency believes that  since the Industrial Revolution, unregulated chemicals are ubiquitous and  a main ingredient in, not just our food  supply,  but also, in  our buildings, furnishings,  apparel, pharmaceuticals, personal care and  cleaning  products.  They view  unregulated chemicals as a contributing cause of the  ecosystem collapse and the increase of many health conditions and diseases that afflict humans in industrialized nations.

As  a  result,  I have often pondered why manufacturer and retailers seem to keep bringing  product to market that addresses  the  concerns  of just the first set of consumers  that I defined. If  the products addressed the requirements of the second contingency then products would be biodegradable, healthful, circular and drastically reduce microfiber plastics, PFAS, flame retardants, BPA and many more chemicals that are debilitating the entire ecosystem. This leads me to ask if the survey can be conducted to focus on very  specific aspects of sustainability to get a true understanding of what consumers will pay more for and what retailers would then ask of  their manufacturers.

Given my area of focus and passion, I would like  to know what the results  would be  if consumers were polled to respond to this question.  "How much more  would  you pay for products that  are  free of known toxic chemical components that could  impair the health of humans and the ecosystem?"

I  know  that nobody  reads this blog. However, I am challenging two home furnishings legends, Warren Shoulberg and Jerry Epperson, to explore this very specific question that is a criterion in sustainability.  Tag. You're it.



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