The Benefits of Eco-Friendly Furniture

Eco-friendly sofa with accent pillows

Pel Sofa by Stem

One of my goals for furnishing my house is to buy as few brand-new items as possible. I enjoy giving old items new life and the treasure hunt aspect of finding just the right thing in an unexpected place. However, secondhand furniture isn’t practical for every situation, which is why it’s important for manufacturers to start producing furniture in a more environmentally-friendly way. Travis Nagle is the co-founder of Stem, a furniture company that does just that. Stem specializes in high-quality furniture made from natural materials and no toxic glues or varnishes. Travis wrote the following post describing why the materials that go into our furniture matter for our health and the planet. — Julia


The idea of eco-friendly furniture has been around for a long time, though it hasn’t always been identified as such—think back to the days before particleboard and synthetic fillers. Big industry and economic pressures advanced society in many positive ways, but also created an atmosphere where a lot of home products are designed and built solely to maximize efficiency and profits. So where does that leave consumers today? For the most part, there has been a trend over the past 25 years towards building overseas, using lower quality materials, and prioritizing volume. On the other had, there are a handful of companies like the brand I founded called Stem that take the opposite approach: furniture built in the US using eco-friendly materials. While this can mean a higher price point, the pieces last a lifetime and help create a healthier home. Let’s take a look at some key benefits of eco-friendly materials.

No Unnecessary Toxins Added to Materials

For many years it was required by law to add fire retardants to upholstered goods like sofas and sectionals. After some hard fought battles, California finally revised their state law so that they are no longer required, which has led more manufacturers to produce furniture without them. This is great news because fire retardants, while actually not doing that much to add a level of safety, have been linked to a variety of health issues. Many companies have removed fire retardants, but you can confirm with each product you shop for by asking the manufacturer or referring to the label.

In addition, many companies layer stain repellants on top of fabrics. While these can help in the short term, they may also lead to serious health issues with consistent exposure. In short, it’s best to get your furniture free of the standard stain repellent products in the market. If you do, choose a fabric that is more forgiving or even a slipcover for the cushions to protect them from stains.

Modern eco-friendly chair next to window

Rondi Chair by Stem

Building Without Harsh Chemicals

A lot of furniture looks great in terms of style, but it’s hard to know what they are finished with. Eco brands typically will use 100% natural wood versus plywood. In addition to solid wood being better quality and more durable, plywood can contain harmful chemicals like formaldehyde. In terms of the outside of the pieces, eco-friendly sofas use clear coats, paints and glues that are all low- or zero-VOC. These final layers of material can potentially impact the air in your home and some may even be carcinogenic.

Natural Materials

A big part of furniture building that has gone out of fashion is focusing on natural materials like cotton, wool, and solid wood. These materials will not only offer a product with less toxins but also are biodegradable. It can be difficult to find materials that are certified organic, but there definitely are some fabrics out there that comply. In addition, some brands like Stem offer eco-friendly furniture that is made of 100% natural materials from the inside out including natural latex and jute instead of poly-based options.

Sustainable Resources

In addition to being better for your home, non-toxic furniture is also better for the environment. To be sustainable, solid wood should be from either FSC or SFI certified sources. The main focus here is on how the wood is harvested and replenished with use, and treating the forests for long term viability. There are also some great products out there that utilize reclaimed wood, many times taken from torn down buildings or old discarded lumber. Extending the lifespan of the natural resources does a lot for the environment. In addition, some synthetic materials are also repurposed like fabrics that are made from recycled materials. The longer the lifespan of a material for any type of product, the better off we all are.

Since the market is still relatively young for these type of products, the prices are sometimes higher than conventional furniture. As the demand grows the materials and practices should be more readily available, and hopefully all companies will do their best to incorporate sustainable and healthy practices. Until then, it might be worth taking a little extra time to ask brands about their products so you can make sure you get a quality item and know what you’re bringing into your home.


Thanks again to Travis Nagle of Stem! Want to check out some other eco-friendly furniture options? Our friends at The Good Trade have an additional list of 14 sustainable furniture brands.

The Three Blessings of the Swap Gods

Woman browsing dresses at clothing swap

In case you missed the very brief plug at the end of my last post, we’re having another clothing swap soon! If you’re on the fence about joining us, let Bethany convince you with her tales of three blessings from the clothing swap gods. – Julia

The Match Made In Heaven

“I’m wearing your pants!”

Amanda never fails to text me this statement and it never fails to make me smile. She picked up a pair of gray pants that I had brought to the first clothing swap. These pants were nice gray jeans, something that I really liked, but they just fit me strangely and I could never quite make them look right on me. I reluctantly brought them to the swap thinking that I would take them home after if no one took them.

Sisterhood of the traveling pants

Amanda modeling the sisterhood of the traveling pants

Fortunately, the swap gods had different plans in mind. Amanda snagged them quickly and went to try them on. She came out of the bathroom wearing this pair of pants that looked like they were made for her. These pants that I struggled to make work because I loved them so much looked exactly how I wanted them to when Amanda put them on, and it was wonderful! The only thing better than getting a match made in heaven is being able to provide one for someone else, so don’t hesitate to sacrifice those items on the cusp to the swap gods – they have a match in mind!

The Impulsive Grab

Towards the end of the swap, the items left on the table are often plain t-shirts or basic clothing that doesn’t have a lot of obvious pizzazz to it. A few times, I’ve impulsively picked up a plain shirt at the end thinking “well, it can’t hurt anything, if it doesn’t work I’ll just bring it to the next swap.” Somehow, those impulse grabs from the discards always end up being the items that I wear the most. One of them was a plain black t-shirt that is thin and long, and I wear it constantly. Another last minute grab was a tank top with a bold fern and red flower pattern on it – not something that I usually gravitate towards. However, it turned out to fit me perfectly and is an item that I’m really looking forward to wearing this summer. Trust the impulses that the swap gods send!

The Gift Of The Story

“Where did you get that shirt? I really like it!”
“Oh, I bought it at such and such a store”
– conversation ends –

“Where did you get that shirt? I really like it!”
“Oh, I got it at the Fair for All Clothing Swap!”
“What’s a clothing swap?”
– conversation flows, friendship is made, everything is lovely and wonderful –

Okay, maybe a bit exaggerated – but one of the biggest blessings bestowed by the swap gods is the story that your new favorite shirt has. There’s something special about having a one-of-a-kind shopping experience, and it’s really fun to tell people where you got your eco-friendly new duds.

I hope you enjoyed hearing about the three blessings of the swap gods, and that you’ll come experience them in person on Wednesday, March 15th, from 6 pm – 8 pm at New Day Craft. Click here for more info and to RSVP!

~ Bethany

Aaaand We’re Back!

Prairie dog peeking out of hole

As this prairie dog emerges from its hole, so do we emerge from our fortress of solitude.

Whoa, so that was a bit of an unexpected hiatus. But here we are! There were a handful of factors contributing to our recent break from posting, so before we dive back into our regularly scheduled programming I wanted to share a little bit about what’s been happening since our last post.

First of all, the world changed in a big way with Trump’s election to the presidency. I’ve personally been struggling with how to wrap my mind around the overall significance of his win as well as the specifics of particular actions he has taken. I try to be cautious against rhetoric that paints any groups or perspectives with a broad brush—X is the only moral option, Y is inexplicable and evil!—and since that seems to be the popular tone of our time, I’m feeling overwhelmed by the task of finding levelheaded analysis of current events. I’m also trying to be cognizant of the difference between “things any Republican president would do” and “unusual things Trump is doing”—and trying to determine whether that should make a difference in how I respond if I don’t think the thing being done is good for the country.

Many of the topics of current national discussion (such as American manufacturing, environmental deregulation, and the treatment of refugees) are related to the responsible and connected lifestyle we want to promote here at Fair for All, but so far I haven’t felt sure about how to make our content contribute to those conversations in a valuable way. We’re not a political blog, and I don’t want us to become one, but I do think we’re in a time now when average citizens are becoming more socially and politically active, and I want us to continue providing resources to help people channel their convictions into meaningful lifestyle choices.

Second, on a personal note, I bought one of these:

Julia in front of her house

I’m a homeowner! (Or a person indebted to a homeowning bank, but same diff.) The timing of my home purchase aligned eerily with the political cycle: My offer was accepted on election night and I moved in the weekend of the Inauguration. I’ve personally been spending a lot of time on move- and house-related stuff over the last three months, but I’m finally settled in and ready to get back to a routine that includes writing. I’ve been brainstorming green home topics to add to our mix, since I’ll now have all new realms of energy efficiency and sustainable furnishing to explore. I’m already on a mission to furnish the house with as few brand-new items as possible, and I’m excited to share my progress.

While the future is distinctly uncertain, one thing we can be sure of is that there will be a lot to discuss, and we’re glad to be back with you to do just that. (We’re also glad to get back to our fun events, like our next clothing swap on March 15!) Let us know what would be helpful content for us to cover over the coming months, and we’ll do our best to bring the goods.

Changes Are Coming

Sky turning from blue to gold during sunset

Things certainly have changed since I wrote my last post (the federal government doesn’t look like it will be taking notes from European sustainability programs anytime soon). I remain hopeful about the positive steps that individuals, cities, states, and organizations can continue to take for the benefit of the planet, but the election results do represent a significant setback for climate and environmental progress. Here Bethany considers what the new presidential administration may mean for our environment. — Julia


Changes are coming.

To quote a recent Vox article:

If Donald Trump and the GOP actually follow through on what they’ve promised, … Federal climate policy will all but disappear; participation in international environmental or climate treaties will end; pollution regulations will be reversed, frozen in place, or not enforced; clean energy research, development, and deployment assistance will decline; protections for sensitive areas and ecosystems will be lifted; federal leasing of fossil fuels will expand and accelerate; new Supreme Court appointees will crack down on EPA discretion.

I’m struck by the difference between Julia’s last post and this one. While this blog is primarily focused on personal responsibility, we do touch on public policy and politics. Julia said that people want the U.S. to take “clear and decisive action on waste and the environment.” Well, that’s exactly what is happening. Our new president is taking a clear and decisive action on the environment: he doesn’t care. The people he is considering for his cabinet and as part of his team are people who are climate change deniers, people who are high up in corporations with long track records of environmental issues. Just look at this list compiled by the New York Times.

Several proposed members of Trump’s administration are people who believe we don’t have to care for our planet or think about the consequences our actions have on it. They don’t see a need to pursue policies that ensure our environment will be here for the next generation, and the next, and the next after that.

Changes are coming.

I have spent the past week in a constant state of emotional upheaval. I have been upset, terrified, angry, depressed, violently ill, cried for hours, laughed out of sheer disbelief… but most of all, I have been afraid. I have been afraid of the changes that I see coming.

I am still afraid. But I have decided to hold on to the acronym that a friend shared with me:

Fear = Face Everything And Rise

Changes are coming.

Should the U.S. Try to Keep Up with Europe?

Empty plastic smoothie cup sitting on pavement in park

By 2020, all disposable dishware sold in France must be compostable.

This week I learned about two exciting sustainability updates from Europe:

  1. France passed legislation banning disposable dishware and cutlery. By 2020, all disposable dishes sold in France must be made of biologically-sourced materials and be compostable.
  2. Sweden introduced legislation dramatically cutting taxes on repair work to encourage people to fix rather than replace broken items.

When we see another nation pass groundbreaking legislation, our initial reaction is often to say, “The U.S. should do the same thing!” I don’t think most people who express this sentiment are saying the system that works in XYZ country should be applied to the U.S. exactly as-is with no adjustments. So when we say we want the U.S. to follow another country’s suit, what are we really asking for?

I think the main thing people yearn for the U.S. to emulate about these laws is a willingness to take clear and decisive action on waste and the environment. Requiring disposable dishware to be compostable is bold, concrete, and clear in its goal. It’s ambitious yet attainable. The only comparable legislation in the U.S. has been regional bans on plastic bags and styrofoam, but nothing as clear and concrete as France’s law has been gone into effect at a state or federal level.*

(The more I think about France’s new law, the more I love it. It doesn’t eliminate a product or industry, but rather modifies them, which could head off concerns about potential job loss. It also supports the creation of a more robust composting infrastructure, which should make composting of other materials more accessible as well, and it increases production of an agriculturally useful product. Is it possible to have a crush on a piece of legislation?)

Beyond the desire for the U.S. to take decisive action, I think people have a desire to know that the U.S. is even paying attention to these programs around the world, and is studying them to learn whether similar programs could work here. Our tax structure is different than Sweden’s, but how could we incentivize repairing over replacing within our system? What are the results of Sweden’s plan—does it actually yield a change in consumer behavior? In France, how will they educate consumers about the changes to familiar products? Sustainability-minded citizens in the U.S. would be heartened to know that someone here is at least taking advantage of the opportunity to learn from other nations’ programs.

The responsibility to learn from these programs and take decisive action on waste isn’t limited to the government, especially given how entwined the private sector is with policy in the U.S. Private businesses also have a responsibility to reject the status quo and pilot progressive solutions within their own operations. Arguably, a company like Apple taking a stand on a particular type of waste could have a greater impact than a small country doing the same. When corporations operate at a massive global scale, their responsibility is just as great as governments’.

And at the very minimum, we want the United States to not actively prohibit progressive action for the environment. Indiana’s recent ban on plastic bag bans comes to mind as an example of action whose spirit is the complete opposite of these two European laws. Arizona, Idaho and Missouri have similar laws. When you live in a world where your legislators take such big steps backward, a world of all compostable cups seems like an unattainable fantasy.

You may have noticed that the United States is not the most agile in terms of political or social change right now. While that’s certainly not an excuse for inaction, perhaps smaller countries are currently better positioned to be groundbreaking and take the dramatic steps forward the planet needs. If enough smaller players take those first steps, it may be easier for the U.S. to follow suit and create programs that are truly effective. We would have case studies to learn from, and systems would already be in place for us to take advantage of or emulate.

And because the U.S. is so much larger than most of the countries that implement progressive sustainability programs, individual states (or companies) within the U.S. may be better suited to learn from those programs and develop their own. The smaller the body, the more flexible and innovative it can be.

So, Indiana—now you know about the sustainable ground being broken in France and Sweden. What are you going to learn from it?

*Hawaii has a de facto plastic bag ban because all of its counties enacted bans, and California’s plastic bag ban is under a referendum on Nov. 8. The District of Columbia enacted a plastic bag ban in 2009.

Don’t Buy Stuff: The Reduction Approach to Ethical Shopping

Less is more quote on a card on a white table

Long time no see! As you can see from my recent posts, I’ve been hustling hard on the green events front. For a change of pace from sustainable party tips, here’s Bethany with the latest update on her year-long ethical shopping journey. — Julia


Well, I’m seven months into my experiment of a year of only purchasing clothing from ethical sources—certified fair trade shops, items that are made in the US, or thrift shops. The plan was to write a blog post a month about my journey, but that hasn’t happened because I’ve been stuck on what to write about. I’ve found that I’ve stopped purchasing clothing and don’t shop nearly as much as I used to (not that I was ever a big shopper, but it definitely dropped from 2-3 times a month to 1-2 times every few months).

Part of it is laziness. It’s time consuming to do the research and find certified fair trade shops that I feel good about buying from. Even when I find a company that looks good, I find myself questioning it—what if they’re just really good at looking like they’re ethical? What if this is just a way for them to charge me $60 for a top? How do I actually know if this company is what they say they are?

The other part is the expense. Most of the pricing that I’ve seen for fair trade clothing is 10-20% higher than the fast fashion items that I used to buy. I’m not saying that’s wrong—I definitely agree that one should pay more for ethically produced items—but I also just changed jobs and am watching my bank account closely.

Because of that, reduction has been my mantra. I’ve been reducing both the number of items in my closet and the number of items that I purchase. I’ve also been reducing the amount of meat that I eat. That may seem like an odd pairing to go with clothing, but I’ve found that wanting to be more responsible in one area of my life has lead me to examine other areas of my life as well. The meat industry has a lot of the same supply chain issues that the fashion industry has—pollution and environmental devastation as well as ethical issues that with factory farming and the way animals are treated. There’s also a parallel for me with how difficult it is to actually know—how do you know for sure where your clothing is coming from and that it has been produced in an ethical way? How do you know for sure that the cow that this steak came from was treated humanely or that the farmer that raised it doesn’t dump waste in such a way that it pollutes water sources?

It feels impossible to me to actually know for sure if the items I’m consuming are produced in a way that treats people and animals ethically and does as little environmental damage as possible. So I’m reducing and simply trying to consume less of items that I know usually have ethical and environmental issues in their production (like fast fashion and fast food).

It’s hard to write interesting things about ethical shopping when your approach is “don’t buy stuff.” But sometimes it’s as simple as that.

Guide to Vegetarian & Vegan Protein Substitutes

Fancy tofu appetizer on greens with mushrooms

Part of my effort to lessen my environmental footprint includes reducing the amount of meat in my diet. Eating mostly vegetarian food has become second-nature to me, and I have several vegetarian friends, so it always surprises me a little when restaurants and caterers don’t offer satisfactory vegetarian or vegan options. This is particularly a problem at events, which generally offer a more limited menu overall.

Once I was at a conference in college with my vegetarian roommate. The conference was being hosted at a mid-range hotel in a suburb of Indianapolis, and the dinner served was a meat lasagna. When my roommate informed the server she was vegetarian, he went to the kitchen to see what he could do and returned a while later with a single tomato that appeared to have been stuffed with a little cheese and baked. While the cooks on duty likely did their best to improvise in a situation they hadn’t been prepared for, the root of the issue is that food service professionals, especially in the hospitality industry, should be prepared to encounter vegetarians and vegans and equipped to provide them with nutritious alternatives to animal ingredients.

On my sustainable events blog, I’ve published a guide to vegetarian and vegan protein substitutes that caterers can use to better prepare themselves to serve plant-based meals. (There’s even a nifty chart!) Vegetarians and vegans get hungry too, so accommodating them means more than simply removing any “offending” ingredients from their plates. By focusing on substitution rather than elimination, caterers can create more successful veggie dishes and have more satisfied guests!

Check out the guide to vegetarian and vegan substitutions >>

Sustainable Wedding Reception Tips

Elegant table setting with white linens and daffodils

Since I started my sustainable events consulting business, one of the most frequent questions I’ve gotten from friends is, “Do you do weddings?” I’ve never actively avoided weddings, but my focus so far has been on corporate and non-profit events. But recently as I’ve met more people in the wedding planning community, I’ve found myself mentally organizing various sustainable strategies that would apply to weddings, and getting excited about helping a couple create a wedding day that matches their values.

So let me take this opportunity to say it officially: Yes, I do weddings! I recently expressed my newfound ardor for matrimony in a guest post on fellow EWC member blog Leotie Lovely by sharing some of my tips for planning a sustainable wedding reception. Check out my sustainable wedding reception tips on Leotie Lovely >>

Get Ready for SpringSwap16

It’s time for the next Fair for All style swap! SpringSwap16 is your opportunity to clean out your closet and swap unwanted items for new-to-you fashion.

This will be our third clothing swap event, and I’m so excited to have built up a community of people who enjoy getting new clothes in this fun, personal and environmentally-friendly way.

SpringSwap16 promo graphic

SpringSwap16 Women’s Style Swap

Wednesday, May 4, 2016 • New Day Craft Mead & Cider

See full details & sign up >>

Some scenes from our last swap:

Women browsing tables of clothing

Woman peruses jewelry table

Rack of women's clothing

As always, the style swap is a free event. And like at our last swap, New Day’s famous Mead & Knead will be going on in the front room at the same time, where you can get a chair massage and a glass of mead or cider for just $10. (Be sure to arrive early if you want a massage; slots fill up fast.)

We hope to see you on May 4!

Sustainable Events: Throwing a Green Kids’ Party

Cupcakes in ice cream cones

Business update! My sustainable events consulting venture is rolling along, and I’m making great connections in both the event planning community and the environmental community. It’s encouraging to hear people’s positive responses to what I’m doing, and I’m excited to bring these two groups closer together.

In addition to making new connections, I’m enjoying support from my fellow Ethical Writers Coalition members. I recently shared my top tips for throwing a green kids’ party with Summer of sustainable fashion and lifestyle blog Tortoise & Lady Grey. She’s celebrating her little one’s fourth birthday this week and is doing her best to keep the party sustainable. Kids’ parties can be a major source of waste generated by disposable plates, cups, streamers, balloons, treat bags… the list goes on. However, with a bit of careful planning, your child’s party can be a magical and memorable day that doesn’t heavily burden the environment.

Read my tips for throwing a green kids’ party on Tortoise & Lady Grey >>

P.S. On April 23 I’ll be representing my business with a booth at the Earth Day Indiana festival, so come say hey!