In September 2022, Macy’s rolled out its first-ever wood-sourcing policy for its furniture sales after more than 150 years in business.
It requires the use of responsibly sourced wood or recycled or reclaimed materials. And it also prohibits the use of timber that has been harvested illegally or from threatened areas, among other restrictions. At the outset, the policy covers wood-based products in Macy’s private labels, while buyers will use the policy as a guide for onboarding new suppliers and brands.
“We’re really thinking about this policy first from the products that we own and buy, and where we can continue to expand it across our assortment,” said Keelin Evans, vice president of sustainability at Macy’s.
The policy follows Macy’s $5 billion commitment announced in March 2022 to become more sustainable in its policies and practices. It also rolled out a new cotton sourcing policy to ensure cotton isn’t harvested by underage workers or those in forced conditions.
But Macy’s is far from alone among furniture companies paying close attention to sourcing amid heightened consumer awareness against “fast furniture.” Wayfair, in October 2022, launched a new section to showcase products that meet sustainability certifications. And Crate and Barrel, in August 2022, put out a new sustainability policy that includes ensuring 60% of textiles are Certified Preferred Fibers by 2025.
Macy’s also doubled its score from 9 to 18 on the Sustainable Furnishings Council and National Wildlife Federation’s 2022 Wood Furniture Scorecard — it was among 37% of companies on the list that scored higher than they did the year before.
Part of what’s motivating brands is increasing recognition from shoppers about the environmental impact of production: the eco-friendly furniture market hit $43.26 billion in 2022 with an expected CAGR of 8.6% through 2030, per a recent Grand View Research report.
“Rising awareness among consumers towards sustainable production of furniture products has largely influenced the adoption of eco-friendly furniture in residential spaces,” the report said.
From a retailer’s perspective, though, getting more responsibly sourced materials can be an uphill battle. For example, Evans said that it took about two years to develop the wood policy. And it will take time to implement it across the brands’ product assortment.
“Furniture has long lead times. And sustainability is not about changing things necessarily overnight, but really working with your partners and your suppliers so that this can start to show up more and more,” Evans said.
Conor Coghlan, co-founder and CEO of Hoek Home, launched the DTC brand with the goal of creating easy-to-assemble furniture while minimizing the use of plastic waste. Products include side tables, desks, benches and chairs and Coghlan said the brand aims to keep the prices affordable as possible — a flat desk goes for $495, with a bundle that includes additional shelves for $795.
Some parts of its products use high density poly ethylene, which comes from recycled milk jugs. It also uses sustainably sourced plywood that’s Forest Stewardship Council-certified, indicating responsible sourcing.
One of the challenges with these materials, though, is reliable sourcing. When the brand launched as a Kickstarter in late 2020, there were a plethora of options, Coghlan said. But when supply chain issues kicked in during 2021, suppliers served larger clients first.
“For small companies who are ordering $8,000 or $10,000 worth of postconsumer [materials] instead of $800,000, they just weren’t answering our emails. So it got more difficult,” Coghlan said.
Hoek also aims to source as locally as possible, relying more on U.S-based manufacturers rather than foreign birch or materials. But that can put added cost on the product — and drive the price point higher for consumers.
Still, it’s a balance that Coghlan is willing to try to find in light of widespread concerns about climate change and environmental protection.
“I think it’s important, as we kind of grow up as businesses, that we just seem to be responsible and care for the environment and make the right, sustainable choices,” he said.
With much production happening overseas, many furniture brands rely on third parties to monitor manufacturers and facilities.
Evans from Macy’s said the wood and cotton sourcing policies build on top of existing protocols. The brand regularly monitors its global supply chain with social compliance teams located throughout Asia.
It also relies on third-party auditors that visit factories every 18 months to ensure that suppliers and factories are adhering with the brand’s code of conduct, Evans said, particularly with regard to how workers are treated.
“When we actually identify issues with partners, we’re really all about remediation plans, corrective action plans, continuous improvement and working together,” she said. “So if we identify anything, we can make improvements and actually ensure that they’re having a better working experience and they’re being cared for.”
Barbora Samieian, co-founder of the Canadian DTC furniture brand Sundays, said the brand relies on site visits and quality control teams on the ground with its factories in China, Vietnam, India and Eastern Europe. Working with manufacturers that are using responsibly sourced products, though, typically means a higher price point for the end product. Sundays makes living, dining and bedroom furniture priced in the mid-range; its best-selling white oak Field dining table going for $2,190 while a four-piece sectional ranges from $4,670 to $5,180.
Sometimes, having a sustainability-first mind, it means there might be a product that doesn’t pass muster: for example, a recent stool design out of Europe was left out of a new collection because it did not meet California’s Proposition 65 environmental guidelines.
But sustainability at Sundays also means paying close attention the longevity of pieces, with a focus on designs that can fit with many aesthetics and are built with long-lasting materials like solid wood.
“We’d rather our customers have a fewer number of pieces that are sort of workhorse items in their homes that can be multipurpose, rather than expanding to huge numbers of SKUs,” she said.
But Sundays is wary of greenwashing, Samieian said. Much of the wood used in Sundays products is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, which is a third-party nonprofit designation that ensures timber comes from responsibly managed forests. For it rugs, it relies on certifications from GoodWeave, which verifies products were made without child labor. Still, the brand is careful not to make too many claims for the purpose of marketing or wooing customers who are in the market for an eco-friendly product.
“We’re working really hard behind the scenes and with our partners and making strides and making progress,” she said. “We believe we have to do the right things first, then start talking about it.”
It also means being in a higher price bracket, Samieian said.
“We’ve really focused on solid wood and that’s more expensive and that means we have to play in a certain price point,” she said.