How furniture affects us & the planet

According to Zion Market Research, the global furniture market, which was valued at around USD 331.21 billion in 2017, is expected to reach approximately USD 472.30 billion by 2024, growing at a compound annual growth rate of around 5.2% between 2018 and 2024.

OMNI, Global Furniture Market Graph

Now, if you are a furniture company, this may sound very promising, since more demand could likely mean more profits for you, and who doesn’t want to be in a fast-growing market? However, when scratching the surface, it quickly becomes evident that the consequences of this growth will accelerate the enormous environmental issues we are already facing.

For example, despite the major scare we have about plastics, it probably doesn’t come as a surprise to see that production is only growing — and highly accelerated at that.

OMNI, Global Plastic Production

We console ourselves with the fact that, at least, we have become so much more aware of the problems accompanying an exponentially growing population and the towering consumption that follows. However, no matter how much we tell ourselves that we do our part in the name of sustainability ( we buy organic foods or products made from recycled materials, and we even often refrain from using that extra piece of paper towel ),  the fact of the matter is that we simply cannot beat the numbers.
OMNI, Human Population Graph
With the population continuing to grow faster than ever before, who can really blame someone for thinking that there is not really much they can do to make a difference? And why should you compromise so much yourself, if it doesn’t really save the world anyway? It would require something far more comprehensive to even make a dent. So what can a person really do?

The good news is that over the last years, something else very interesting has been happening. With the economy improving overall, we have much higher expectations for quality of life. As the sharing economy has infiltrated almost all markets, the newer generations no longer have to save up money throughout a lifetime of labor in order to enjoy a convenient and varied lifestyle, even as young adults.

We have also grown accustomed to a higher standard of living than our parents and grandparents, and we sometimes hope or expect to live many lives in one. Our preferences change, as we grow and learn more about ourselves and what we think will make us happy. The work we do cannot “just” be work — we want and need to be fulfilled by it. This influences our behavior and especially our consumption patterns. Curiosity and eagerness makes us prone to buy more stuff, change out the stuff we just bought, and throw out the stuff we don’t need or want anymore.
OMNI, Waste Generation Graph
One of the biggest sinners, in terms of getting bought and thrown out, is furniture. Consciously or subconsciously, we know that our surroundings help to define our sense of accomplishment and state of being, so we cannot help but to express ourselves through material things. This particularly applies in times of economic growth, since the more affluent we become, the more we climb Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.


Thus far, the only way we have been able to keep up with growing demand for products is to manufacture and mass-produce more stuff to satisfy more desires of the new, more affluent generations, but when looking at it more closely, these trends also indicate that the change in priorities, such as the preference for gaining more experiences rather than material things, could lead to a much different way of consumption.

In other words, self actualization ultimately focuses on gaining experiences, in which material things become more of a means to an end rather than the end itself. The modern workforce has become far more dispersed around the world, and people increasingly prefer to be their own boss by working as contractors, freelancers, and free agents, and they are constantly in flux, between jobs, cities, and countries. Shouldn’t this exciting new way of life spur an exciting change to the design around how we consume things?

Many companies have already started to work on new approaches, such as subscription models for all types of products, including furniture. Modern businesses are also starting to embrace subscription models for both digital and physical products to save time and gain flexibility and access to better quality products. Even IKEA has announced a pilot program around renting out certain types of office furniture, and various art dealers and galleries have also started to rent out art that is just sitting in storage and waiting to be bought.

The idea that we are entering a new age — an age of “access economy” provides a lot of interesting potential. Gaining access to (better) goods and services for the time you need, with the ability to give it back for someone else to enjoy after you, could really help re-encourage the production of higher-quality products. This would be beneficial for many product categories, though it really makes a ton of sense with furniture, which can then stay in circulation much longer, rather than end up in a landfill.


OMNI, Waste Management Graph


In Scandinavia, young people love to collect mid-century vintage furniture, which was handcrafted by specialty carpenters over 70 years ago. These pieces have been in use and repurposed so many times, yet they have lasted all these years, because they were made with astuteness, great consideration, and high-quality materials and subsequently cared for out of respect for the craftsmanship that went into them. We don’t produce enough furniture like those anymore, because it is expensive, and it is often considered a luxury for collectors or feinschmeckers.

If we were to apply “access economy” to furniture consumption, we might be able to encourage the production of unique, high-quality furniture, free of cheap plastics or mass production elements. These items would be quite expensive to purchase, but they could be easily accessible on a subscription basis due to them having a much longer lifetime. What if we could consume more “cleanly” by automatically signing up for furniture  -  or even material  -  freedom by subscribing to a whole different consumption model?

We would choose to live around things that exude an entirely different kind of quality, and this in turn might also encourage us to take extra care and consideration when using them. By not owning, we would also throw less out and help facilitate the continuous use of truly lovable products.

At OMNI, we believe that material freedom makes us freer to live a life imbued with choosing products of a very different caliber, and it does not only ease the conscience, but facilitates a better sense of responsibility and dignity. Freedom from owning a bunch of stuff makes us more flexible to experience and learn, to change and to grow, and isn’t that what we ultimately strive for?

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