American Furniture vs Imported Furniture
What can you buy today that costs half as much as it did in 1970?
Wooden furniture. Hard to believe, isn't it? But 40 years ago when you bought wooden furniture, it was probably hand made in America by fine furniture makers in North Carolina using solid wood that was harvested locally in the Blue Ridge Mountains. And it was probably priced to reflect that high quality.
Not today. Americans have unwittingly become addicted to cheap imported furniture over the past few decades. You've seen it at Ashley Furniture and Bob's Discount. A ten piece dining set for $399.00, right? But the earth is paying a high price for our short-term furniture discounts.
Why is Imported Furniture So Cheap?
The unwashed truth is that cheap imported furniture is often made out of illegally harvested lumber that has been clear-cut from the world's rapidly disappearing rainforests. Once cut, the stolen logs are transported through the rainforest and loaded onto ships headed for the sweatshops of China and Southeast Asia where they will be milled and fashioned into cheap, low quality items often referred to as "curbside furniture". The pieces will in turn be shipped to the US, Europe and China to satisfy consumers' insatiable demand for cheap furniture.
As the US furniture industry has disintegrated, Vietnam, for example has seen a ten-fold increase in their furniture industry since 2000. China's furniture production statistics are even more impressive. But what is the environmental and social cost of these cheap furniture imports we are clambering to buy?
Environmental and Social Costs of Cheap Furniture Imports
In Laos, a country that has been plundered for its timber with the aid of corrupt government officials, the cost of our cheap furniture is borne by poor rural communities who are dependent on the forests for their traditional livelihoods. Illegal logging leaves the indigenous people and animals of these communities homeless and without a sustainable plan for the future-- an altogether too common outcome of the illegal timber trade worldwide.
The loss of rain forests also threatens some of our most iconic species such as the tiger, Malaysian Sun Bear, the Asian Elephant, and the Clouded Leopard not to mention the thousands of amphibians, reptiles, birds, insects, and plants that are endemic to the same forests. Deforestation also leads to erosion and flooding, and results in the addition of huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, worsening climate change. It is currently estimated that 20 percent of the world's annual carbon emissions comes from illegal tropical rain forest destruction.
You Can Help Stop Illegal Logging and Rainforest Destruction
Shopping for furniture? Stay away from the cheap imported furniture you'll find in stores like with Pottery Barn, Target, Sears - K Mart and WalMart. The ultimate responsibility for rainforest destruction rests primarily with us, the consumers in the US, Japan, Germany, France and China. The US is by far the worst offender: in 2007 the US imported 930 million dollars worth of Vietnamese furniture, well over a third of Vietnamese total furniture exports. Our countries need to clean up their act and shut our markets to illegal wood products or the loss of precious tropical forests will continue unabated.
Help stop rainforest destruction. Petition your elected officials to adopt national laws to prohibit illegally harvested wood from entering our markets. Buy quality American made furniture that is handcrafted in the USA from local, sustainably harvested wood. You may pay a little more for it at the cash register, but chances are you'll be able to enjoy it in your family for generations. And you'll never have to replace it or put it out on the curbside.
By purchasing sustainable American made furniture, you'll be doing your part for the natural world, while beautifying the environment of your own living room!