Marketing Sustainability in Furniture & Design: Beyond Greenwashing

April 10, 2024
2 min
Laura Fernandez

In a market inundated with claims of eco-friendliness and green initiatives, how does one truly discern the authentic from the facade? How can companies tell if obtaining sustainable accreditations is a net positive on their business? Let's delve into the intricacies of sustainable practices within the furniture industry and uncover what moves the needle and what is mere greenwashing.

The truth is, as more companies get green certified, these certifications become less of a distinguishing feature. What we have witnessed in the past five years is a greenwashing wave, in which most companies have included some sort of sustainable statement on their About page and made a gesture like putting a “recyclable” (not to be confused with recycled) stamp on their packaging. 

The effect is similar to the first wave of DTC internet brands, whose whole unique value proposition was to cut the intermediaries and offer lower prices directly to the consumer (think early Warby Parker days). Today, there are so many companies selling direct to consumer that that is hardly a differentiator. It has become commonplace.

So how can companies effectively communicate their commitment to sustainability and leverage it to grow their business? Well, it is unlikely that a customer (trade or end consumer) will choose a company to buy from exclusively because of their sustainability approach. In furniture and design, brands still need to lead with a unique, well-designed product. But, as clients narrow down their options in the selection process, it might just be that your commitment to sustainability is exactly what gets them to choose your product over a competitor.

Let’s take a specific example: an interior designer working on a project has a look and feel in mind, agreed upon with the client. The first step in choosing, let’s say, upholstery, will be to select a few that match the parameters of their design, in terms of color, pattern, price, etc. Then, and only then, is when sustainability certifications come into play. When samples have been ordered and we are down to the final two or three, designers and customers might prefer the more eco-friendly option, all else being fairly equal. 

Okay, but how does this translate to practice? The main takeaway is you can’t forget to lead with the product, even if your sustainable practices & CSR are what help seal the deal. Think about how you communicate your sustainability certifications and where and when in the sales cycle a client might encounter them. Front and center on a prospecting ad? Not likely to be impactful. On product tearsheets and swatches as clients are getting ready to make a decision? Definitely yes! The key is to communicate your commitment to sustainability strategically, highlighting these certifications during the decision-making stages rather than only leading with it.

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