Household Sustainability

Household Sustainability

Challenges and Dilemmas in Everyday Life

Chris Gibson, Carol Farbotko, Nicholas Gill, Lesley Head and Gordon Waitt

The authors engage critically, and constructively, with the proposition that households are a key scale of action on climate change. They confront dilemmas of practice and circumstance, and cultural norms of lifestyle and consumerism that are linked to troublesome environmental problems – and question whether they can be easily unsettled. The work also illuminates the informal and often unheralded work by households – frequently the poorest – in reducing their environmental burden. This important book is critical to understanding both the barriers to household sustainability and the ‘unsung’ sustainability work carried out by householders.

Chapter 8: Furniture

Chris Gibson, Carol Farbotko, Nicholas Gill, Lesley Head and Gordon Waitt

Subjects: economics and finance, environmental economics, environment, climate change, environmental economics, environmental sociology


Of all the things we cram in our homes, among the bulkiest and most expensive are items of furniture. Using the home contents of the co-authors of this book as a guide, the average middle-class home today contains three or four beds, two bedside tables, a wardrobe and chests of drawers for each person, one or two couches and armchairs, a coffee table, two desks and desk chairs, between three and eight bookshelves, a dining table and six to ten dining chairs, an outdoor table with four to six outdoor chairs, a TV cabinet, hi-fi and/or LP cabinet, CD/DVD storage units, and a host of ‘miscellaneous’ extras (entrance hall tables, stacking tables, trolleys, side tables, pianos). This chap- ter considers the sustainability dilemmas of such furniture, and considers one example in more depth – mattresses – where a range of complexities transpire. SUSTAINABILITY ISSUES For all the space it takes up in our homes, furniture is, curiously, not so much at the forefront of sustainability debates or policy making. A major UN report on sustainable household consumption for instance contained detailed infor- mation and best-practice examples on a range of goods and activities (heating, hot water, food, energy, transportation, labelling) but said nothing about furni- ture (UN DESA 2007). Similarly Wright et al.’s (2009) otherwise comprehen- sive book on the sustainability impacts of the stuff in our home had no index entries for furniture, beds, mattresses, tables or chairs. One reason for this absence may be that where data is available, it suggests that the contribution of furniture to sustainability problems is slight: according to the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF 2007) furniture accounted for less than 5 per cent of average household greenhouse gas pollution, barely 1 per cent of water use, and a similarly tiny fraction of overall ecological footprint.

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