Just how green is it to buy second hand furniture these days?

Looking at a sample of pieces of furniture sold on thesaleroom.com the consultants estimated the carbon emissions saved compared with purchasing similar items  new. Unlike some second hand items such as cars, furniture has no in-use  emissions and all of its embodied emissions from its original manufacture can be assumed to have already been ‘written off’ by the person who first bought the product. Thus, for example, the buyer of a standard dining table might save an estimated 460kg – nearly half a tonne – of CO2 emissions compared with buying a similar one new as that amount is about what it would take to manufacture the latter. The buyer might also save about £1000.

Brown Leather Club ChairsGiven the annual carbon footprint of a person in the UK (which includes all their consumption and travel) is about 13 tonnes*, saving almost half a tonne in one purchase by buying a dining table second hand is a significant contribution to reducing personal carbon emissions.

Of course, some pieces of new furniture such as cheap flatpack items will not last as long as vintage or antique furniture with its quality craftsmanship, meaning that more than one new item might have to be bought over time to last as long as the better-made older item, further extending the carbon footprint advantage of second hand interiors pieces.

* according to the book How Bad Are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything by Mike Berners-Lee, founder and director of Small World Consulting and professor at Lancaster

Source: Analysis of the carbon footprint of a basket of popular items sold through Auction Technology Group’s marketplaces, calculated by Small World Consulting on behalf of ATG. All product carbon assessment contains considerable uncertainty. Each carbon estimate was based on a series of product-based  assumptions. We allocated all the embodied emissions of new products to their original purchaser, so that second-hand goods contained no embodied carbon. We assumed that end-of-life emissions were very small compared to other life cycle stages, so end-of-life emissions were not included in our estimates.


The original version of this article appeared in Antiques Trade Gazette, issue 2531, reproduced with permission. A new study conducted by Small World Consulting on behalf of ATG parent company Auction Technology Group set out to provide the answer. Just how green is it to buy furniture second hand these days?

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