When Values add Value: Consumer Preferences for Sustainable Furniture

Consumers are increasingly voting with their wallets, and showing a preference for wooden furniture that is certified sustainable. By following their lead, manufacturers and retailers can both protect forests, and their own bottom lines.

When Values add Value: Consumer Preferences for Sustainable Furniture

12 January 2022 Blog

The demand for sustainably sourced wooden furniture is booming. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers' Global consumer insights pulse survey published in December 2021, 51% of global respondents say that when considering a purchase, they factor in whether the product was produced with a traceable and transparent origin. Another consumer preference survey conducted by the Sustainable Furnishings Council in 2021 found that 67% of respondents felt that making products sustainably was the right thing to do. This is a trend years in the making, driven by rising disposable income and heightened environmental awareness among consumers—particularly in developed economies. Understanding this trend, and taking the appropriate steps to adapt, will be important for anyone hoping to have success in an increasingly sustainable furniture industry.

What drives the shift in consumer preferences

The expanding awareness of climate change and the key role that forests play in storing carbon has long been well understood among conservationists, foresters and policymakers. More recently, the importance of forests has also become commonly understood by the general public. Extensive coverage of the COP 26, and public interaction with news content about the conference, is just one indicator of this. Consumers are re-examining the relationship between the wood in their homes and its environmental impact. In a similar fashion to the paper and packaging industries, the furnishings industry is undergoing a shift in consumer behaviour.

The onset of COVID-19 has only amplified these considerations. In 2020, the public spent much more time at home, and many purchased furniture in order to convert their living spaces into home offices. This is likely to continue in a post-covid world. As businesses realize the benefits of allowing more employees to work from home, many consumers expect to increase their purchase of furniture after the pandemic ends.

In addition, millennials and younger homebuyers, normally assumed to be especially sensitive to issues surrounding sustainability, are entering the housing market and influencing furniture manufacturers and retailers to consider the responsible sourcing of timber. This is a buyer-driven value chain, and the buyers have spoken.

The value in a sustainable approach

Producers, manufacturers and retailers recognize that getting a certification—such as the PEFC Chain of custody certification—is more than just a value-driven decision, but also a competitive advantage.

Sustainable practices promote responsible forest management and regeneration, and can help to maintain the productivity of forest lands for generations. Many firms have a direct interest in sustainable forest management, as the forests remain economically viable. Producers and manufacturers who get certified are well-placed to operate within present and future legal frameworks, such as the European Union Timber Regulation.

 These are just some benefits of certification. A business case study from Preferred by Nature found that Malaysian timber companies reported a range of benefits to certification, including;

  • Getting certified increases your market access. 77% of the companies interviewed said that they increased market access, particularly to countries that had legislation prohibiting illegal timber. 
  • Getting certified can increase your price premiums. 61% of the companies interviewed said that they could sell their certified products at a premium.
  • Getting certified can improve your brand image. Half of the companies interviewed said that getting certified helped strengthen their brand and boosted the confidence of buyers.
  • Producers, suppliers and manufacturers are catching on that sustainability is no longer a niche marketing strategy. Rather, it can form the focal point of a brand’s identity and approach. 

Learning from those who have come before

Bunnings Warehouse, the largest home improvement retailer in Australia, is a notable example of how retailers can successfully respond to the shifting demands of consumers. In 2001, the company set out to eliminate the risk of illegally harvested timber from entering its supply chain. It highlighted timber from tropical hardwoods in South East Asia, which were used in its wood furniture products. 

Realizing that failing to act could be a long-term threat to continuity of supply, Bunnings introduced its commitment to sustainable timber procurement in 2003. The company adjusted its strategy to focus on building established, long-term relationships of trust with suppliers.

Rather than to ‘pull the chain’, Bunning’s worked with suppliers to educate them about complex chains of custody, to help them understand that unsustainable practices would not benefit either supplier or retailer. The company believed that building resilience and integrity in its supply chain was more valuable in the longer term. The company shifted from the previous policy of relying on ad hoc shipments of timber, which suppliers often offered at massive discounts. 

This coincided with a growing public awareness amongst consumers in Australia regarding the sustainability and sourcing of wood. The Australian government passed the Illegal Logging Prohibition Bill, which banned all illegally sourced timber imports into Australia in 2012. In 2018 Bunnings revised their responsible timber sourcing policy to include a commitment that all natural forest products be certified. 

In Australia, the consumer has spoken, and Bunnings have noticed and responded to these concerns.

The bottom line

Becoming certified is the first step in the right direction. Savvy consumers are sensitive to the life cycle of wood products in their homes and are looking for a sign that they are making environmentally sound choices. The PEFC label is therefore a powerful symbol that inspires confidence in buyers that the purchases they make are socially responsible and committed to sustainability. 

Your partner in meeting consumer demands for sustainability

PEFC, the largest forest certification system in the world, has worked with furniture manufacturers and retailers of all sizes to certify their supply chains and finished products. That makes the PEFC logo on a piece of furniture meaningful proof that it was harvested in a way that both keeps forests standing, and uplifts the livelihoods of independent foresters, giving them a financial incentive to protect these ecologically important habitats.

PEFC is committed to empowering supply chain actors to achieve sustainability, and help increase supply to meet consumer demand.We have extensive resources to help you, including a suite of video trainings and other information on our sustainable furniture website. Watch the videos to learn more about chain of custody certification, and when you are ready to take the first step please reach out to us directly to get started.

The market has spoken, and it is increasingly demanding sustainability. When furniture companies listen, they will protect their bottom lines and forests at the same time.

PEFC's Forests are Home awareness campaign

In the spirit of helping fight climate change and supporting the UN Sustainable Development Goals, PEFC has launched “Forests are Home”, an awareness campaign to promote the manufacture and sale of sustainably sourced furniture. 

As part of the campaign, we highlight sustainable furniture brands that prioritize environmental conservation by offering PEFC-certified furniture, across social media and on our website, through case stories and graphics.

When furniture manufacturers choose certified wood, when retailers choose certified sources, when customers choose certified furniture, we all help safeguard the world's forests, its ecosystem and contribute to healthy local communities, local workers, and the local economy. 

No matter where you are in the furniture supply chain, PEFC certification can help you make this choice. If you source and sell PEFC certified furniture products, join us today!

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