The forest in your front room
The UK furniture market has been one of the worst hit by the recession, contracting
by 5% in 2009 to be worth just under £11.1 billion.(1) This has led to
the collapse of some big high street names, including MFI, Land of Leather and
The Pier. With only 18 shops in the UK, IKEA still has the biggest market share,
and three in ten people have purchased from the company in the last three years.
Furniture can be made out of a range of different materials: wood, steel, plastic,
aluminium and glass to name but five. But the bulk of furniture sold
today is still made with wood and, where that wood is sustainably sourced, it
will still be the choice with the lowest environmental impact.
Deforestation though remains an important global challenge, and with its intimate
links to furniture markets, we have focussed much of our research on this issue.
Illegal timber in our tables?
China provided the biggest source of wooden furniture imports into the UK in
2009, valued at £137 million. This was a whopping 224% increase in value
since 2004. During the same period Vietnamese wooden furniture imports increased
by 230%, Malaysian by 204% and Indonesian by 95%.
This is a worrying sign for the worlds forests. Much of the worlds
illegally logged wood passes through China, which accounts for about a quarter
of illegally traded timber internationally.(4) Chinese companies are heavily
implicated in deforestation across the world, from Burma to Madagascar to the
Democratic Republic of Congo.
More illegal timber is imported into the UK than any other European country
thanks to the quantities of wood bought from China. Vietnam has also become
a key processing area of illegally logged timber. Approximately half of the
wood imports into Vietnam from neighbouring countries between 1987 and 2006
The demand for cheap furniture in the West has also driven rapid deforestation
in Laos, Thailand and Cambodia, according to a 2008 report by the Environmental
Investigation Agency and Telapak.(5)
For more info, see 'Tales of the timber trade' below.
Uranium traders and furniture shops
The research for this Buyers Guide has also uncovered a murky world where
furniture retail meets the finance sector.
Six of the store chains featured are owned by private equity companies, resulting
in some surprising corporate links: DFS is owned by Advent International, which
also owns the worlds biggest independent uranium trader named, without
a trace of irony, Nukem. The company has apparently done the world a great favour
by marketing uranium derived from Russian warhead highly enriched uranium, as
part of an historic non-proliferation effort between the US and former
Soviet states.(2) People in Japan may question such benevolence.
Dreams owner Exponent Private Equity has another subsidiary, V.Ships,
which provides services to the offshore energy industry. It has offices strategically
placed in Key Energy Areas, including the Middle East and the Gulf
of Mexico.(3) Sun Capital Partners, owners of Sharps and SCS Sofas, also owns
Manoir Industries, which operates in both the petrochemical and nuclear sectors,
and is a supplier to the ever-euphemistically-named defence industry.
For more company details see 'Company Profiles' below.
Poor paying over the odds
Unusually in the British Parliament, a recent House of Commons debate centred
around the activities of one particular company, which crops up as a hot topic
of debate on many consumer discussion forums: BrightHouse.
The company opens stores in poor areas and offers unrestrained credit to customers
that can ill afford it (no credit checks required) at eye-watering rates of
interest usually 29.9%. Pushing customers to accept payment insurance
further increases the cost of products, with the consequence that, according
to Tory MP Jackie Doyle-Price, BrightHouse customers would end up paying £2,127.84
for a 46-inch LED television being sold for £849 in Currys for payment
upfront. Labour MP William Bain rallied the members of the House: I urge
Members to seize the opportunity and to stop my constituents and those of Members
on both sides of the House having to experience that sort of abuse from the
short-term credit industry.(8) He would have been unlikely to get support
from Conservative MP Henry Bellingham, who opened a new BrightHouse store in
Kings Lynn in 2008.
As households around the country felt the recession hitting, BrightHouse profits
boomed. The company announced its turnover had increased by 16% to £9.6m
in the six months prior to September 2008.(9) The Financial Times reported that
at least 40% of its customers were wholly or largely dependent on benefits,(10)
and chief Executive Leo McKee was keen to point out the bright side of this:
BrightHouse customers are largely unaffected by the current economic downturn
as most dont own cars or houses and are already on benefits. Their income
and spending habits remain largely unchanged and so they are ideally placed
to weather the current storm.(9)
In France in 1996 a Crazy Georges (which later became BrightHouse) shop
lasted all of two days before closing in the face of fierce criticism from across
the political spectrum. The company was accused of marginalising the poor, making
their poverty permanent and passing the bounds of decency. Leader of the Socialist
Party, Lionel Jospin described the scandal of shops for the poor where
they have to pay twice what the rich pay.(11)
Furniture companies can also be pretty sly when it comes to their price marketing
campaigns. Seven of the companies in this report had complaints against them
upheld by the Advertising Standards Authority for being misleading about price.
Of a total of 28 adjudications, Argos has had 13 complaints upheld. DFS had
a cheeky trick up its sleeve in 2008: manipulating the size of the furniture
relative to the size of the people in the photos, to make the furniture appear
Cotton is a product with endemic human rights abuses in its supply chain, with
child labour being used in Egypt, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and India,
and forced child labour occurring on a mass scale in Uzbekistan. Uzbek cotton
is recognised as a product of slavery by Anti-Slavery International. According
to the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), it is estimated that hundreds
of thousands of children are forced out of school and made to work in the cotton
fields for up to three months a year. Adults are also forced to work in the
cotton fields by the Uzbek regime. This process not only involves human and
workers rights abuses, it also helps to entrench the wealth and power
of the ruling regime, and thus perpetuate it.
The EJF is asking for people to urge their MP to sign Early Day Motion 1284,
calling on the UK government to avoid Uzbek cotton. If the government did adjust
its procurement policies accordingly, it would be a good few years behind some
of the UKs biggest retailers, which began boycotting Uzbek cotton in response
to campaigns in 2007. Of the companies covered in this report, John Lewis, Tesco
and Marks & Spencers no longer source cotton from Uzbekistan. However, some
commentators have claimed that the lack of transparency in cotton supply chains
makes it very difficult for companies to guarantee this. Much of the cotton
bought in Europe passes through India, where the raw material is processed,
to Bangladesh, where it is fashioned into garments or furnishings. By the time
it reaches consumers its origins are difficult to trace.
Uzbekistan is the third largest exporter of cotton in the world, and Europe
is its major buyer. We have therefore marked companies down in the Workers
Rights category if they do not have a current boycott of Uzbek cotton in place.
According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech
Applications (ISAAA), a pro biotech organisation, genetically modified cotton
accounted for almost half of the 33 million hectares of global cotton planted
in 2009.(16) Due to the prevalence of GM cotton in cotton supply chains, and
in the absence of any evidence that a company avoids it, we have also marked
down companies that sell cotton products in the Genetic Engineering category.
The widespread use of pesticides in cotton production worldwide has had serious
environmental consequences as well as impacts on workers. Companies that sell
non-organic cotton products therefore also get marked down in the Pollution
and Toxics category.
Most of the companies in this report sell some leather furniture. The skin
of cattle contributes up to 55% of the value of animals, so leather is more
than just a by-product of the meat industry. According to animal welfare campaigners
PETA, the leather industry is implicated in the cruel treatment of animals including:
severe overcrowding, malnutrition, disease, anaesthetized castration, branding,
tail-docking, and de-horning.(13) Leather is often sourced from countries where
animal welfare laws are non-existent, weak or not enforced, such as China and
India. As it is rarely labelled with its country of origin, it is difficult
to gauge what conditions it may have been produced in.
Although leather is often regarded as a natural product, animal hides require
treating with large amounts of toxic chemicals (tanning) to remove hair and
prevent them from decomposing. These chemicals are a huge problem both for the
environment and for tannery workers, many of whom, in countries like India,
are children.(14) An investigation into tanneries in Bangladesh this year found
that for the first couple of months workers were so sick that they couldnt
eat. Chemical burns are common due to the lack of safety equipment used.(15)
In Dhakas Hazaribag district, 22,000 cubic litres of toxic waste, including
cancer-causing chromium, is dumped every day from the tanneries into Dhakas
main river and a key water supply. As one employee said, The tanneries
pollute the water, and we all use the water we drink it, wash in it...
It smells bad, and it makes your skin itch, but what can we do? In this
way, the chemicals cause health problems for people living near tanneries, as
well as those who work in them.
In what is thought to be the biggest ever consumer group lawsuit in UK legal
history, 1,650 people won compensation for burns and other health problems caused
by a now-banned substance used to treat leather sofas imported from China. The
highly toxic chemical, Dimethyl fumarate (DMF), has even been linked to a number
of deaths. Argos, Land of Leather and Walmsleys all admitted liability,
but hundreds of claims were put in jeopardy by the collapse of Land of Leather
in January 2009. Eventually in December 2010, following a lengthy court battle,
insurers Zurich were instructed to cough up.
Other chemicals of particular concern are Brominated Flame Retardants (BFRs),
which are found in the foam fillings of products such as mattresses and upholstery.
These substances have been linked to hormone disruption and negative effects
on nervous and immune systems. Natural products require less fire protection
than synthetic ones. We asked companies in this Guide for their policies on
these toxic chemicals and gave a lower ranking to those with none or which did
Links and further reading
Debt on your Doorstep
End Legal Loan
Advertising Standards Authority
References (online sources accessed 27th March 2011):
1 Mintel Reports: Furniture Retailing - UK - August 2010 2 www.nukem.de/index.php?id=1&L=1
6 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2752536/ 7 www.tescoplc.com 8
9 http://brighthousegroup.co.uk/Press_Releases.aspx?archive=112008 10 http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/c727bc70-b4c8-11dd-b780-0000779fd18c.html#axzz1GcRNuJPj
14 The United States Department of Labors 2007 Findings on the Worst Forms
of Child Labor in India included the leather industry. See http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/48caa4763d.html
15 Workers pay high price at Bangladesh tanneries, Cat Barton, AFP,
Feb 17, 2011 16 http://www.isaaa.org/resources/publications/briefs/41/highlights/default.asp.
Tales of the Timber Trade
Jago Wadley of the Environmental Investigation Agency brings us up to date
on their work in the often murky world of the global timber trade.
For decades many timber traders in the UK and other major consumer markets
were complicit, unwittingly or not, in what has been one of the biggest environmental
crimes of the modern era: the wholesale illegal logging of the worlds
remaining tropical forests.
In 2007, UK buyers were estimated to have imported around 3.2 million cubic
metres of stolen timber, worth around £700 million. This is a large part
of an estimated £2 billion EU-wide market for illicit wood, and global
illegal trade worth between US$ 20.4 and 25.5 billion a year.
Crime Scene Supply Chains
Illegal timber includes timber harvested in national parks, outside of logging
concessions, or from illegal plantation expansion. It is then laundered into
the global timber market where it is packaged up into consumer goods that find
their way to a store or the pages of catalogues near you in the UK, or in Europe
EIAs timber trade investigations have demonstrated how numerous powerful
and well-connected international criminal syndicates conspire with corrupt officials
and international market actors to steal huge volumes of high value timber from
the worlds last remaining tropical forests, usually in developing countries.
Many of these networks, operating in countries including Indonesia, Malaysia,
Vietnam and China, have also directly supplied western furniture markets.
Money flows for illegal timber goes to the wrong people, effectively financing
the type of commercial and political crime and corruption that challenges the
growth of numerous emerging, and often struggling, states.
At its peak, illegal logging is estimated to have cost its developing country
victims up to £7.5 billion a year through the theft of public assets and
non payment of taxes. From 2000-2005 Indonesia suffered losses of US$20 billion
from the illegal timber trade, and has at times experienced US$4 billion of
losses in a year - five times the countrys health budget. The costs for
forests, local livelihoods and ecosystem services are incalculable.
No laws were being broken by companies or consumers in the UK, or other EU
or North American countries. This was even where it could be shown that timber
on sale was from an illegal source in another country, and where it was common
knowledge in the trade as a whole that this was how business was done.
In such no-questions-asked markets, governed by laws that could
not discriminate between legal and illegal timber, legal timber finds it hard
to compete with illegal supplies. In this way, unrestrained markets have provided
the financial and policy incentives for massive illegal exploitation of the
worlds last tropical forests, particularly in Southeast Asia, Africa,
and South America.
As this pattern began to be systematically exposed by environmental NGOs, including
EIA, and in the media, it was debated at high levels internationally in the
trade and by governments. A clear call for legal action on market reform emerged.
Companies, and some NGOs, initially responded by developing voluntary measures
and labels, including timber procurement policies incorporating timber certification
schemes such as FCS and PEFC. This spawned a rapid growth in the uptake of certification
and chain of custody systems, which were designed to ensure claims of timber
legality or sustainability are indeed true on a given
However, despite these positive developments, the legal base remained unreformed
and, with big profits for traders of illegal timber remaining, some UK firms
persistently failed to implement their policies, or just carried on as normal.
Consumers were left to navigate a world of claims and counter-claims about the
sources of timber products without having a legal certainty, even in theory,
that timber on sale in the UK had to be legally harvested and traded. This was
not a level playing field for responsible companies.
New EU Timber Regulations
In 2010, following years of campaigning, and with support from progressive
timber companies and retailers, the European Commission and European Parliament
passed The EU Timber Regulation, which explicitly prohibits the placement of
illegal timber on the market in the EU, a legal measure strongly advocated by
EIA as central to the incentives mechanisms being developed.
The regulation, part of a major EU 2005 Action Plan on Forest Law Enforcement
Governance & Trade (FLEGT), also obliges companies that place timber on
the EU market for the first time to do so through the operation of a due diligence
system that assesses and then minimizes the risk of placing illegal wood on
the market to negligible levels. This so-called due diligence
element builds on many of the procurement policies developed by responsible
timber traders over recent years, and is also very welcome.
Under the law importing companies will be obliged to go far further to ensure
timber is legal, and will be liable to potential criminal penalties if they
fail to do so adequately. EIA believes this measure is a fundamental baseline
for addressing one of the major contributors to global deforestation and poor
Until March 2013 however the law is not in force, and some traders may seek
to take advantage of this by importing cheap illegal timber to stock up for
the future. As such consumers still need to be vigilant to ensure they are not
buying illegal timber.
Company policies and timber certification
Company Timber Policies
Many companies have developed timber procurement policies that seek to eliminate
illegal timber from their supply chains and to make sustainable timber available.
These have often been developed in line with the UK governments own timber
buying policy, which demanded only demonstrably legal timber be used in government
projects, and has since upgraded this to demonstrably sustainable timber.
However, companies with extensive product lines from different manufacturers
using timber from multiple sources often struggle to find reliably legal or
sustainable sources, particularly in some tropical species only available in
countries suffering illegal logging. In some cases the policy of the company
selling the product is perhaps not so closely implemented.
For this reason company policy surveys such as the Wood Sourcing Policy Table
by Ethical Consumer are valuable measures and monitors of the reform process
required for UK and EU timber trade to comply with the coming EU Timber Regulation.
Many certification schemes have arisen to provide auditing services to the forestry
industry and timber trade, in what has become an increasingly complex and established
commercial sector of its own. Such certification schemes are central tools in
the timber policies of many responsible countries.
Most certification schemes embody standards of forest management
and traceability against which forest management and the supply chain can be
assessed and certified, if found to be compliant.
However, not all forest management certificates are for sustainable
forestry. Some relate only to verified legal compliance (VLC), or
merely to verified legal origin (VLO) which does not verify full
legal compliance. Most different certification schemes, including brands such
as FSC, PEFC, and others, provide certificates for sustainable forestry
but also for merely legal forestry. Some certificates are issued
following paper based audits which may include no field auditing in the forest
or in mills. Consumers need to know what type of certificate a product may have,
and what standard they think is best, and then seek it out.
An excellent guide of such schemes is the Central Point of Expertise on Timber
If relying on certification claims for peace of mind when choosing timber products,
consumers must ensure the product itself is made with certified wood from a
certified forest. The combination of both Forest Management and Chain of Custody
(CoC) certification is important.
Unfortunately, some unscrupulous traders, and it is now a minority, have used
good-faith loopholes in certification systems to potentially mislead consumers
into believing the products they are buying are made with timber harvested from
certified forests, when they are not.
A supplier having CoC certification does not mean all of its products are certified.
It merely means they have been audited to be able to keep certified and non-certified
products separate and traceable throughout their role in the supply chain. Whether
they do so is up to them and their customers. Many certified companies offer
both certified and uncertified wood. Many have supplied certified and illegal
wood products simultaneously.
Investigation Agency (EIA) was established in 1984 to investigate, expose
and campaign against the illegal trade in wildlife and the destruction of our
Wood labels - Navigating the Greenwash
Timber certification has been developed with the aim of avoiding environmental
destruction and human rights abuses in timber supply chains. It is a complex
world of different certifying bodies, standards, levels and types of certification.
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standards are regarded as the strongest
available, and the scheme is endorsed by Greenpeace Australia. However, it has
its fair share of critics, perhaps most notably the organisation set up to monitor
it, FSC Watch. Friends of the Earth have changed their stance on FSC since their
2002 Good Wood Guide, and whilst it considers most FSC certifications to be
highly reliable, spokesperson Stuart Croft told us that: We are concerned
at reports that some FSC certificates are failing to guarantee rigorous environmental
and social standards. As a result the marks credibility is being undermined.
In this report we have accepted FSC as the only credible certification scheme
in awarding companies a best or middle rating for their sourcing policies (see
table below). A more detailed critique of FSC certification was published in
Ethical Consumer Issue 110.
The Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), US-based
Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) Inc and the Canadian Standards Association
(CSA) are industry-driven certification schemes. Greenpeace produced a damning
report on PEFC certification in Finland in 2004, claiming, habitats of
threatened species are being destroyed as part of normal PEFC practice(1)
and highlighting inadequate representation of stakeholders such as environmental
and indigenous groups, a concern echoed by the Rainforest Action Network.(2)
Certification bodies have different standards and offer these for legal,
sustainable and the less well defined non-controversially
managed sources. PEFC endorses different national certification schemes
which may also have varying standards.
The Rainforest Alliance awards its seal to products with FSC certification
(Forest Management and Chain of Custody) or to businesses that meet its standards
for Rediscovered Wood Certification.
Types of Certificates
Forest Management (FM) certificates are awarded to forestry operations
and companies that are deemed by an independent auditor to meet the certification
bodys standard that is being measured against (i.e. legal
Chain of Custody (CoC) certificates are awarded to companies along the
supply chain from forest to store. They are given on the basis that these companies
have the management systems in place to keep certified timber separate from
uncertified timber during the manufacturing and distribution processes they
are involved in.
A product is not certified unless the timber has been harvested in a certified
forest management unit, and if this timber has only passed through the hands
of companies with CoC certification. If either of these is not the case, no
claim can be made that the product is certified.
Given these issues, it is evident that companies can make sweeping claims to
sustainability which sound good but are effectively meaningless when it comes
to the products on shop floors. For example, All our furniture is purchased
from manufacturers that are certified by the FSC (or other body), could
just mean that its suppliers have audit systems in place which allow it to separate
timber certified as being from legal sources to that which is not. Watch out
for companies that make claims about their suppliers or manufacturers rather
than the timber or products themselves.
This refers to whether the company is involved with any other organisations
to help clean up its timber supply chain, or making attempts to improve timber
sourcing more generally. The World Wildlife Fund-Global Forest Trade Network
(WWF-GFTN) and Tropical Forest Trust (TFT) are bridging schemes whereby
a company will source timber from a particular supplier on the basis that it
is working towards full certification.
Ethical Consumer sees such initiatives as useful tools for companies to make
the transition from non-certified unsustainable timber to certified, less environmentally
damaging products. However it would not recommend consumers buy these products
if they are looking for a guarantee of a sustainable product.
The Forest Footprint Disclosure Project has been developed with the support
of the British government to improve understanding of companies forest
footprint in relation to a number of identified forest risk commodities
soy, palm oil, timber, cattle products and biofuel. Its focus is enabling
investors to identify sustainable businesses and potential risks.
Company engagement with these schemes is shown in the Wood Sourcing Policy
References (accessed 27 March 2011) 1 www.greenpeace.org.uk/forests/pefc
Wood Sourcing Policy Table
the pdf to see how the companies compare.
Wood Species Buying Guide
the pdf to see how various woods compare on sustainability.
The International Year of Forests
2011 was declared the International Year of Forests in a Resolution adopted
by the UN General Assembly back in December 2006. Approximately 52 million hectares
of forests have been lost in the intervening years according to UN Food and
Agriculture Organisation statistics. Thats an area more than double the
size of the United Kingdom.
Deforestation and unsustainable forest management currently contribute to about
one-sixth of global carbon emissions. 300 million people around the world live
in forests and 1.6 billion people depend on them for their livelihoods. Trade
in forest products was estimated at $327 billion in 2004; in 2007 the timber,
pulp and paper commodity markets alone were worth $87 billion, nearly double
that of soya, the next biggest commodity market associated with deforestation
and forest degradation.
In 2010 the European Union finally legislated to ban the import and sale of
illegally logged timber in the EU, a law that will come into force in 2013.
The practice of illegal logging not only causes environmental destruction, but
funds armed conflict, promotes corruption, undermines the rule of law and costs
countries in the Global South billions of dollars in lost revenue. Whilst the
long-awaited legislation is a welcome move, some commentators argue that it
does not go far enough to protect the worlds forests. Only companies directly
importing the timber and placing it on commercial markets will fall under the
regulation, so manufacturers and retailers will still not face legal repercussions
for handling and selling illegal wood.
Jago Wadley of the Environmental Investigation Agency however argues that the
effect is the same: In essence, any wood product offered to an EU consumer
has been placed on the market, and is covered by the regulation.
In some cases, the importing company will be the retailers themselves. But brokers
and agents unknown to the public do not face the same potential problems as
high street chains if there is a consumer backlash for illegal activities. As
with any law, the crucial issue will be that of enforcement. The EIA are committed
to monitoring the enforcement of these regulations; let us hope that such corporate
crimes are also pursued systematically by governments and police forces across
The ongoing problems of illegal logging and deforestation
pose a great threat to the livelihoods of indigenous people, and contribute
significantly to climate change and environmental degradation. The timber industry
has shown support for efforts to tackle the issue, so now the UK government
must step up with strong policy commitments to support it.
Green Party MP Caroline Lucas
So far, however, the Coalition governments commitment to the Year of
Forests looks pretty weak. Only a month into 2011 the UK government attempted
to sell off the UKs publicly owned forests. Fortunately this move was
defeated by public pressure, and was regarded as being a great success for citizen
action. But the Woodland Trust warns that we must not let this allow ourselves
to become complacent the fight to protect and restore the UKs ancient
woodlands goes on.
At least it seems that there is public support for protecting forests. And as
this report shows, many companies are taking strong action to clean up their
timber supply chains, despite weak regulation until now. It seems the government
is falling behind both the public it is supposed to represent, and the corporations
it is supposed to control, on the issues where it is supposed to take the lead.
Green Furniture Directory
According to Friends of the Earth, the best environmental choice is to repair,
restore or adapt an existing item or to buy second hand.
Low cost furniture recycling for low income families
The Furniture Re-use Network is a national co-ordinating body for 400
furniture and appliance re-use and recycling organisations in the UK.
It collects redundant furniture for redistribution to people in need. Two million
items per year are re-used and passed onto low income families. 85,000 tonnes
of waste is diverted from landfill and 3,000 people are working in the UK to
collect and deliver furniture and appliances.
It has a searchable database. Find a centre near you at www.frn.org.uk
FRN Office, 48-54 West Street, St Philips, Bristol, BS2 0BL t: 0117 954 3571.
Freecycle unbeatable for FREE furniture. www.freecycle.org.
Websites The ubiquitous www.ebay.co.uk
we saw a sofa going on ebay for £2.
And dont forget car boot sales, garage sales and furniture swaps.
There are now online directories of car boot sales near you such as www.carbootjunction.co.uk.
More expensive designer recycled and eco furniture websites
Dont forget to use our guides to wood and other materials, as each seller
has its own definition of the term eco...
has an excellent directory of more than 40 UK specialist eco-furniture manufacturers
(including some covered here).
- Website with a range of sellers
- Some quirky items including cardboard shelving.
Other up-market designer eco furniture manufacturers
- Design consultancy in Plymouth also doing bespoke eco furniture commissions.
- London-based design consultancy doing eco- furniture, interiors and kitchens.
- Gloucester-based high end furniture company working exclusively in reclaimed
- Northampton-based furniture design and making from reclaimed and sustainable
FSC-certified furniture suppliers
The FSC website has a products and services database which you can search by
region and furniture type.
Reclaimed timber furniture suppliers
The Global Trees Project no longer keeps a directory of reclaimed timber
furniture suppliers. However it is possible to generate a similar list by typing
reclaimed wood into an online business directory such as www.cylex-uk.co.uk.
Tel: 01980 820 111 - Directory of dealers in reclaimed building materials and
architectural salvage and antiques including furniture.
In most areas we come across at Ethical Consumer, buying second hand is always
a good environmental option but rarely popular with mainstream consumers who
are often concerned with status. Antique furniture is that rare area where owning
a second-hand product can bring higher social status than owning a new one.
In 2009 a new website and campaign called Antiques are Green was set up as a
not-for-profit campaign to promote the green credentials of antiques as sustainable,
re-usable and re-saleable. It has a website
where both consumers and antique sellers can sign up to support the campaign.
Low carbon antiques?
Antiques are Green recently published a survey comparing the carbon impacts
of an antique chest or drawers with a new one.
Antique kg CO2e
New kg CO2e
Source: Product Footprint for the Antiques Trade, Carbon Clear Limited 2010
When the full lifecycle of the antique chest (195 years)
is taken into account, a new chest of drawers (15 years lifecycle) shows a carbon
impact sixteen times higher.
Sustainable Local Furniture
The 2010, a BBC2 TV series Mastercrafts, presented by Monty Don,
included an episode filmed in a woodland workshop. It showed three
trainees being taught how to manufacture a greenwood chair using traditional
craft techniques. The appearance of this kind of programme on primetime TV is
perhaps an indicator of a re-awakening of interest in this approach to hands-on
sustainable local manufacture. Below, we look at local furniture making from
three perspectives: environment, history and current practice.
Harriet Wood is a project officer for the Small Woods Association. She explains
the environmental benefits of this approach to making furniture.
Coppice woodland has a unique place in the British landscape and provides valuable
wildlife habitat. Coppicing involves cutting young tree stems at ground level
in a way which allows them to grow back and to be harvested on a regular cycle
every eight years or so. However much of our coppice has become overstood,
as consumers have increasingly favoured plastic and cheap timber imports over
traditional coppice products.
When coppiced woodland grows beyond its economic rotation, the amount of viable
product in the woodland and its wildlife value decreases, this is referred to
as overstood coppice. However, even when restoring an area of coppice it is
possible to extract some products, from hazel rods to boards sawn from larger
trees which can be used by rustic furniture makers such as Neill Mapes (see
When you buy rustic furniture made from sustainably cut coppice woodland, you
are supporting a valuable traditional woodland management practice and local
woodland workers. There is currently no national organisation for coppice workers
and rustic furniture makers, and most of the industry is on a scale that is
too small for timber certification to be a viable option. However, Small Woods
runs the Coppice Products website with more that 300 local suppliers
to help you find suppliers in your area.
This form of small scale woodland management has been carried out for many
centuries and is arguably more sustainable than large scale timber operations.
Ensuring that the product is sustainably sourced is very much a matter of contacting
your local rustic furniture maker and asking them about where they source their
timber. Most rustic furniture makers work on a commission basis and many exhibit
at Craft Fairs up and down the country during the summer months. The Small Woods
Coppice Products website provides a national searchable database of coppice
workers and rustic furniture makers.
Find your local coppice worker on the Coppice
Making ethical furniture locally
Neill Mapes is a
furniture maker and woodland artist based in Shropshire. He explains his passion
for an approach to furniture making which is the antithesis of the IKEA model.
From a young person brought up in a sparse rural area in South Shropshire,
coppice woodlands have had a great influence on my life. Being allowed to playin
woodlands has a very positive effect and is something I advocate for all young
My early influences include vernacular furniture from Welsh, Irish and Scottish
traditions. Many of these pieces are simply branch-wood joined into a roughly
hewn plank. I was also influenced by chair making guru, Philip Clissett, who
lived in Herefordshire, and who influenced the Arts and Craft movement. He used
a post and rung style of chair making.
Further influence came from an English chair-making tradition, known as bodging.
The polelathes they used produced thousands of chair parts. This method was
practised all over Britain and an industry grew out of the cottage craft. The
Beech woodlands in the Chilterns Hills and the area surrounding High Wycombe
became the centre of English chair making. Sadly the import of cheaper chairs
had a great impact on the industry during the 1950s.
During the 1970s and 80s, individual craftsmen and artisans started to rediscover
this ethical and sustainable way of making chairs, in the Bodging
tradition. For me, at this time, contemporary chair maker influences included
Tim Wade, Stewart Whitehead and Mike Abbott. Oh, and one particular painting
of a chair by Vincent Van Gogh Van Goghs chair and pipe, which
hangs in the National Gallery in London.
Looking at the experience of America and Ireland also made me realise that
woodlands in Britain could provide an ethical, sustainable and locally sourced
product. Daniel Mack and Alison Ospina used rustic sticks and poles to create
contemporary rustic furniture. Peeling the bark from freshly cut sticks, allowing
them to dry, and then jointing with simple mortise and tenons creates furniture
that not only becomes functional pieces but, some would say, sculptural art.
I also drew inspiration from time spent as a volunteer for the British Trust
for Conservation Volunteers, the Shropshire Wildlife Trust and the then Greenwood
Trust (now known as the Small Woods Association). I realised that many of the
traditional coppice crafts, such as hurdle making, hedge laying and charcoal
burning were dying out. This was in part due to coppiced woodlands becoming
redundant as a resource. Many of these small woods have become derelict because
of a lack of management, and for a vast majority of small woods this is still
I also tutor making rustic furniture and social forestry with young people.
I am a member of the Association of Polelathe Turners and Greenwood Workers
and I fully support the efforts of the Heritage Craft Association, who are also
lobbying Government to support British woodland crafts.
Philip Clissett and the Arts and Crafts Movement
Philip Clissett lived and worked in Bosbury, Herefordshire, from about 1842
until his death in 1913. He was a chair-maker who made his chairs in the traditional
way, splitting green wood, and shaping it with a draw-knife, on a pole lathe
or by steaming and bending. He produced ladder-back and spindle-back chairs
in many designs, with both wooden and rush seats. He became synonymous with
country chair making in the late nineteenth century because of his connection
with the Arts and Crafts Movement.
Clissett was discovered by the Arts and Crafts architect James
MacLaren who was working nearby in Ledbury in the 1880s. Their collaboration
has been described as, a seminal point in the subsequent development of
the Arts and Crafts Movement. The Movement promoted traditional craftsmanship
using simple forms and an anti-industrial approach to economic and social reform.
Clissetts chairs were sold at Heals in Tottenham Court Road, London
in the early years of the twentieth century, and about fifty Clissett chairs
still furnish the Great Hall of the Art Workers Guild in London.
Small Woods Association
is a UK wide charity that promotes and teaches sustainable woodland management.
The Association has over 1900 members, many of whom own woodland or run small
woodland businesses. Small Woods also supports the 100 or so active woodland
initiatives across the UK, including community groups, through the Woodland
Wood Centre runs Coppice Products courses
Argos and Homebase are both owned by the Home Retail Group,
a company with a turnover of over £6 billion. It has reasonably well-developed
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policies, but its CSR website has perhaps
more style than substance. Argos was the focus of a CAFOD campaign in 2007 for
refusing to sign up to the 12 Golden Rules, an initiative to improve human rights
and ensure environmental protection in gold supply chains. Argos didnt
sign up but did join the Responsible Jewellery Council, an industry-led initiative.
CAFODs Advocacy Media Officer Pascale Palmer described this as, based
on standards which are not as demanding as the Golden Rules.(1)
B&Q is owned by Kingfisher plc, a company with a turnover
of £10 billion.(4) It can therefore afford to have relatively well-developed
policies. It does not source cotton from Uzbekistan, achieves Ethical Consumers
best rating for Environmental Reporting and wood sourcing, and does not lose
marks for problem chemicals and peat sourcing.
B&Q stocks a number of products made by the company Keter Plastic which
manufactures in the Israeli industrial settlement of Barkan in the occupied
West Bank.(2) Barkan factories are notorious for extensive industrial pollution
of the surrounding area and causing associated health problems for the Palestinian
population and their livestock that live in the vicinity.(3) Many of the factories
employ Palestinians with scant regard for their rights. According to the Israeli
workers rights organisation Kav Loved, only 27% of factories in Barkan
observe a minimum wage, provide pay slips and pay on time, whilst just 15% meet
basic health and safety regulations.(4)
Bensons for Beds and Harveys are owned by Steinhoff International,
a group of companies that includes logging operations in South Africa and a
factory in Zimbabwe. It also sources from China, Thailand and Vietnam, all considered
by Ethical Consumer to be oppressive regimes.
The holding company for BrightHouse is registered in the tax haven of
For a company that claims to be passionate about the environment,
it seems that Country Gardens could be doing a great deal more. Whilst
it claims to ensure its stock is ethically sourced, using sustainable
forest-grown materials this is not backed up by any evidence. The company
did not respond to our questionnaire and has no publicly available policies
on any of our key issues.
DFS Furniture is owned by private equity firm Advent International which,
as of March 2011, also owns The Priory, famous for providing drug and alcohol
rehabilitation to celebrities. Advent buys and sells businesses ranging from
finance to industrial chemicals.
Although its ownership by Tesco brings Dobbies rating down
to zero, the company itself has some fairly progressive environmental policies
on carbon emissions, chemicals, peat local sourcing, and as is clear from the
wood sourcing policy table its policy in this area is much more advanced than
that of its parent company.
Dreams Plc is owned by Exponent Private Equity, which bought Quorn Foods
in 2011 for $328 million. Quorn has usurped tofu and soya based products
to become the worlds biggest meat free brand.
The score of Focus, which itself has fairly sound environmental and
social policies, is brought crashing down to one by the investments of its parent
company Cerberus Capital Management whose most controversial investment
appears to be in DynCorp, which have been described as corporate mercenaries.
The company has been criticised for its military involvement in the implementation
of Plan Colombia, US intervention to halt the Colombian drugs trade, partly
through aerial spraying of coca plantations.(16) Campaigners have claimed that
the targets of Plan Colombia far from being wealthy and powerful international
narco-traffickers, have been peasants and the urban poor with legal crops often
being targeted. In Bosnia contractors of DynCorp were allegedly involved in
illegal, under-age prostitution and human trafficking.(17) DynCorp has also
been criticised for its behaviour in Afghanistan, where in 2008 it was said
to be one of five firms that had swallowed almost half of the USAIDs Afghanistan
Garden & Leisure Group Ltd is owned by the Louis Delhaize Group,
a company based in Belgium which operates supermarkets in Belgium, France, Luxembourg,
Romania and Hungary. Garden & Leisure list pets for sale in their stores.
Whist in the past the Garden Centre Groups subsidiary Wyevale
has received positive publicity for progressive sustainability policies, we
could find no current information available and the company did not respond
to our questionnaire. The groups website advertised pets for sale.
Habitat has been owned by private equity company Hilco Merchant Resources
since December 2009. Hilco specialises in restructuring stressed and distressed
Heals is owned by Wittington Investments, and is a sister company
to Associated British Foods, which owns Primark. Wittington is 79% owned by
the Garfield Weston Foundation, one of the largest charitable foundations in
the world, which has been particularly charitable to the Conservative Party
and the Centre for Policy Studies - a right wing think tank.
Speculation on the future of the House of Fraser was running high when
the Icelands Baugur Group collapsed in March 2009, as it owned 34% of
the company. House of Fraser has come under fire for not having a policy in
place to ensure it does not sell conflict diamonds. Its corporate social responsibility
information is generally pretty sparse, but it does receive our best rating
for its timber sourcing policy.
IKEA hit the press as this magazine was going to print for failing abysmally
to meet its targets for the proportion of its wood certified as being from sustainable
sources. The company admitted to The Times that its targets had been sacrificed
partly to maintain its rapid growth. Times journalists were lied to by store
staff, who stated that all its wood was certified as sustainable. The figure
was in fact 23.6% in 2010, dropping to a disgraceful 16% when chipboard and
fibreboard materials were included.(6) As one of the worlds biggest timber
purchasers, it is hard to overstate the impact of this one companys sourcing
practices. However, IKEA manages to achieve our best rating in wood sourcing
IKEA Israel has been criticised for policies that discriminate against Palestinians.
It delivers its products to illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank whilst
refusing to deliver to Palestinian towns and cities. An article on the Electronic
Intifiada website noted that in 2004 the International Court of Justice emphasized
the illegality of activity that normalizes Israels illegal settlements
in the occupied West Bank.(7) IKEA has also been reported to source from
a plastics factory in the occupied Golan Heights.(8)
Laura Ashley has franchise operations across the world, including the
Far East, Australia, Scandinavia and South America. It is majority owned by
Malaysian-based MUI Asia Limited, whose other investments include food, hotel,
travel and finance companies.
Like most other clothing retailers, Next Plc has repeatedly come under
fire for workers rights abuses at supplier factories. Executive Director
Simon Wolfson received £1.7 million in 2010.(9)
Notcutts, which performed poorly last time we covered garden centres
in terms of policy, has really turned things around in the past three years.
The company sent Ethical Consumer one of the most comprehensive responses to
our information request that we have ever seen, with detailed information on
its peat policy, examples of factory audits and evidence of its FSC certification
definitely the best company in terms of improved performance since we
last looked at them.
SCS Sofas is a brand owned by Sun Capital Partners which, through the
Home Form Group, also own Sharps. Sun Capitals many subsidiaries
include Manoir Industries, supplier to the petrochemical, nuclear and defence
Selfridges was one of the first companies to join the National Staff
Dismissal Register (NSDR), a database of retail employees who had been dismissed,
or left employment while under investigation for various offences.(15) A guilty
verdict is not a prerequisite for someone to appear on the list, leading to
concerns that the scheme will result in victimisation and the unwarranted blacklisting
of individuals in the employment market.
Wickes was bought by builders merchant Travis Perkins for £950m
in 2005(12) and now has an annual turnover of £10.5 million.(13) Travis
Perkins Executive Director Geoff Cooper received £1.4 million in remuneration
in 2009. The corporate history section of the companys website tells of
the period from 1800 to 1850 during which its precursor began selling tropical
hardwoods, as the fashion for furniture timber moved from Oak and Elm
References (online sources accessed 27th March 2011)
1 Telephone interview, 16 March 2011 2 http://www.whoprofits.org/Company%20Info.php?id=679
3 http://www.poica.org/editor/case_studies/view.php?recordID=1161 4 http://www.kavlaoved.org.il/media-view_eng.asp?id=2326
5 http://www.cps.org.uk/cps_catalog/Feminist_Myths_and_Magic_Medicine.html 6
Ikeas claims on wood supply do not stack up, Ben Webster,
The Times, 12 March 2011 7 http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article11363.shtml
8 http://www.whoprofits.org/Company%20Info.php?id=632 9 Next Plc 2010 Annual
Report and Accounts 10 http://www.suncappart.com/index.php?page=sun_sourcing
11 Hoovers factsheet CDS (Superstores International) Ltd 12 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/4102185.stm
13 Hoovers factsheet Wickes Ltd 14 http://www.travisperkinsplc.co.uk/About-Us/Group-History
15 Labour Research, June 2008, Vol 97 No 6 16 PRIV-WAR Report Colombia
November 2009 17 Private Military and Security Companies and Gender, Sabrina
Shulz and Christina Yeung, 2008 18 Missing: The £5bn aid needed
to rebuild lives, The Scotsman, 25 March 2008.
Links and Further Reading
Forest Footprint Disclosure
Forest Stewardship Council
of the Earth Good Wood Guide
Witness Forests Campaigns
Australia Good Wood Guide
the Wood for the Trees' Ethical Consumer feature on FSC
Timber Research and Development
Tropical Forest Trust
World Wildlife Fund Global
Forest Trade Network
Central Point of Expertise