22 May 2024, 13:17
By Susan Inglis Apr 25, 2019

Sustainable concerns and the US consumer

The latest consumer study from the Sustainable Furniture Council (SFC) found that over 90% of US home furnishings purchasers will choose eco-friendly home furnishings if they like the style of the products and the price is within their budget – yet lack awareness of homewares’ eco-friendly credentials, writes Susan Inglis …

Our latest study presents both challenges and opportunities for home furnishings manufacturers, suppliers, retailers and interior designers. 

And cause for great optimism – nearly all respondents (98%) indicated they are concerned about environmental issues.

Furthermore, compared to past SFC consumer research studies, a greater number of respondents are concerned about the environment and are taking environmentally responsible action because they acknowledge that climate disasters are touching them personally.

The ninth instalment of our research, which we conduct to assess consumer awareness, interest in and behaviour regarding sustainable furnishings, shows that virtually everyone is concerned about environmental issues, including natural disasters, indoor air quality, and global warming. 

Practising eco-friendly habits has become near-universal, and 89% have purchased environmentally safe products.For those who have not purchased environmentally safe furnishings, a lack of awareness (39%) and cost (28%) were the primary obstacles cited.

Most respondents (77%) have a positive reaction when they hear a product claiming to be good for the environment, and more than two thirds of them (68%) spent $1000 or more on household furnishings in the past year, – indeed, 40% expect that amount to increase this year.

The top three most important attributes respondents look for when purchasing furniture are quality (99%), style (99%) and a fair price (98%). Eco-attributes rank alongside considerations such as brand and immediate availability.

Respondents are willing to pay up to 5-10% more for furnishings they consider eco-friendly, including wooden furniture that is certified as legal and responsibly harvested, and home furnishings which are certified to be environmentally safe.

On average, respondents expect their furniture purchases to last at least eight years, while [voluntary Government programme] Energy Star (73%), recycled content (64%), and reclaimed wood (63%), are the most familiar home furnishings eco-attributes. For those buying home textiles, 78% indicated that a Fairtrade label resonates.

An overwhelming 97% of those surveyed expressed concern about hazardous indoor air quality – one-third said they are directly affected, while half described themselves as not directly affected, but believe everyone should be concerned. On the subject of global warming, 87% expressed concern.

Practising environmentallyfriendly habits has become nearly universal. More than eight in 10 consumers recycle and replace light bulbs with energy-efficient options, and 67% have made food/drink-related changes including reducing their consumption of bottled water and/or regularly buying organic food. 

More than three quarters (78%) are going green when shopping, with 71% opting for reusable shopping bags and 46% purchasing green products. Seven in ten are helping by setting thermostats lower in the winter and higher in the summer, and more than half of the respondents are environmentally friendly drivers, with 46% cutting back on driving and 15% opting for a hybrid or high MPG vehicle.

When asked about the term that best fits the description of environmentally friendly products, ‘Environmentally Safe’ was most often ranked #1 (30%) and fell into the top three for 73% of respondents. ‘Sustainable’ (25% ranked #1 and 60% top three) and ‘Eco Friendly’ (23% ranked #1 and 73% top three) round out the top mentions. When respondents hear a product described as their most-preferred term, more than three quarters (77%) have a positive reaction.

Information gathering for furniture purchases is conducted primarily online (98%) at physical stores (78%) and through search engines (67%). 

Respondents were interested/very interested in: purchasing environmentally safe home furnishings if style and cost considerations were comparable (92%); buying wooden furniture certified as legal wood coming from responsibly managed forests (92%); purchasing textiles for their home that are certified by a third party to be made from safe (95%), quality materials (97%), and produced at a verified environmentally friendly facility that is safe and socially responsible (87%); and working with an environmentally safe interior designer (69%) if style and cost were comparable.

The chemicals and materials used in the furnishings manufacturing process are important/very important in the purchase decision process for at least nine in 10 respondents, while other important/very important eco-attributes include labour practices (eight in 10), traceability of the manufacturing process (three quarters), and the company’s eco-story (seven in 10).

The survey was conducted by Research Solutions between 7-12th November, 2018, and interviewed a sample of 300 female and 200 male homeowners aged 30-60 with household incomes of more than $50,000, and who have spent $500 or more on home furnishings in the past 12 months.

Susan Inglis is the executive director of the Sustainable Furnishings Council (SFC), a US association dedicated to promoting healthy environments inside and out by providing comprehensive information on environmental, safety and health issues in the home furnishings industry and championing initiatives that improve products and processes. The SFC is one of Furniture News’ media partners.

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