Sustainable interiors - what's the real cost?
Over the last few weeks – despite the business of antiques and upholstery being more demanding than usual – the lack of social interaction (who am I kidding… eating out!) has left me with plenty of spare time on my hands. How odd, that in normal circumstances this would be a blessing at which to rejoice… yet having it enforced just doesn’t feel as good as it should. Rather than read the news for the sixteenth time that day, I decided it was high time to get stuck into some of the journals I’ve been collecting and downloading… without ever finding the time to read them.
I was profoundly moved by the recent exhibition ‘Eco-Visionaries’ at the Royal Academy and finally picked up the series of essays that accompanied the installations. From Rimini Protokoll's win > < win to Ana Vaz and Tristan Bera’s A Film, Reclaimed the denuding of destruction was captivating. The video and essay on the lithium mines in Central America (The Breast Milk of the Volcano by Unknown Fields) eventually led me to a piece on colonialism in the environmental movement in “It’s Freezing in LA” – a fascinating series of essays on climate change activism and human response.
Let me diverge for a moment… the phrase True Cost Accounting, bandied about increasingly over the last few years, is all about identifying the real costs of production. Not to you and I, the consumers, but the aggregate of all the costs involved. It was born in the food market - working on the premise that food appears to be cheap but really isn’t if you look below the surface. When you factor in environmental damage, climate change, impacts on biodiversity, diet-related disease, misdirected subsidies etc. relating to food production, the real costs start to emerge.
So, mulling over the true cost of my consumption, (feeling guilt at even having considered pillaging lithium for a carbon-free electric car) I then happened upon an old article in ‘Dezeen’. Now, Dezeen I do read regularly as it pops into my inbox with such regularity that I can’t help myself. However, this was an article from back in 2017 about the London Design Festival, before my addiction to the magazine. Here, led by Fogo Island Shop, a number of the exhibitors had included an ‘economic nutrition’ label to the pieces on display. What a bloody great idea! Surely if Asda can make this happen for a loaf of bread, we can make this happen for our furniture. Now, how can we develop that labelling to include not just the economic benefits but the true costs of production that are associated with our consumption? Of course, its only a bloody great idea if the honesty is attractive…
A cheap sofa from the Far East may have been produced in a factory with poor human rights, using unsustainable raw materials and noxious chemicals. It is then shipped in a huge diesel-powered container ship halfway across the planet. It then ends up in landfill or polluting our oceans for the next countless years. All of a sudden, with the ‘real costs’ taken into account it doesn’t look like a very cheap or sustainable option.
I’m really chuffed that Lorfords' furniture, by comparison, is a much more sustainable proposition with few, if any, hidden costs. Our furniture is made by a small group of craftspeople in a Cotswold’s workshop using UK sourced FSC timber, certified feather and down, natural fibres, and no noxious glues or chemicals. Our furniture is also made to last (unlike the ‘throwaway’ items from the Far East) – our frames could easily sustain 100 years of regular use, so (with a couple of re-upholstery cycles) could be gracing somebody’s home well into the next century. I’m not saying we’re perfect but, I believe our furniture is more sustainable on every level and, without question, ‘cheaper’ for our planet than the Far Eastern option.
The same applies to our antiques business. The antithesis of a throwaway society, antiques are beautiful, well-made objects that are cherished by many owners over multiple lifetimes. Unlike most products, an antique even has multiple economic ‘impacts’ over the years creating value whenever it is sold.
At Lorfords we are just at the beginning of our sustainability and ethical manufacturing journey – and I look forward to sharing our challenges, experiences and successes with you as we progress. It is a never-ending journey – but one where every small win is worth enjoying and where the prize is a better life for everything on this planet.
Thanks for supporting us and keep safe.
Sofa pictured; The Brompton
Accessories used are from; Lorfords Antiques