For many, it's second nature to tote reusable bags to the supermarket, to buy organic food when possible, and to sort their trash into recycling bins. so it makes sense that a growing number of consumers are seeking to set their table and outfit their kitchens with products that support their interest in sustainability.
Create Lasting Value Many tabletop companies are responding to this need with options that are made from sustainable, recycled or renewable materials, or even upgrading their corporate practices and manufacturing processes to reduce waste and minimize their impact on the environment.
The materials to make china and stoneware aren't necessarily damaging to the environment, says Andrew Corrie of Canvas Home. "More or less, clay is just another word for mud, which in itself is intrinsically sustainable," he says. "The less sustainable aspect of ceramics is the energy required to fire them, and from that perspective, making pottery and glass sustainable is definitely challenging. His company is working to make sure its kilns are better insulated and work at maximum capacity so they're more efficient, and to avoid the use of direct fossil fuels to power them.
But along with this, Corrie believes that a key component of sustainability is to create products that will stand the test of time. "There is a clear shift in consumer preferences to buying higher quality with the expectation of keeping items for much longer," says Corrie. "It has always been our mantra that good design is in itself sustainable if it means people treasure things and keep them for longer."
Devise the Last Straw For Arix Zalace, founder of metal straw company Lastra Life, the need for reusable and sustainable products hits close to home. "Living on the Florida Panhandle, we see the effects of plastic straws and other single-use plastic," he says. "The Gulf of Mexico is quickly becoming one of the biggest plastic garbage patches in the world."
His wife and business partner Jenifer Kuntz owns a juice bar steps from the beach, which quickly became a testing lab for straw prototypes, and customer feedback helped influence the design of today's product line: beautiful stainless steel straws that come in several finishes. Rubbery cuffs can be bought separately and used at the top of the bottom to soften the tip or to connect two straws for a longer length.
Incorporate Organic Materials Meanwhile, Bamboo Table launched with a goal to provide beauty into what they saw as an otherwise somewhat plain and unadorned segment of the marketplace. Owner Sally Eckman Roberts is a well-known artist whose work is licensed to numerous companies throughout the gift and home goods industry. Her company, which debuted in January 2019, markets a line of dinnerware made of bamboo, a biodegradable, sustainable material. It's meant to be an alternative to plastic. Roberts has used similar patterns and designs on her dinnerware so they coordinate with other product lines that license her designs. For example, a blue and white pineapple design also is used on hooked rugs and decorative pillows. Say Roberts, "You don't have to sacrifice design to be good to the environment."
The bamboo fibers used to make the dinnerware are a by-product of the manufacturing industry; in other words, the scraps discarded from manufacturing other bamboo products, which otherwise would be discarded or incinerated. It's dishwasher safe and has a nonporous glaze coating the surface, which protects the design. While the dinnerware is designed to last for years to come, when it does get thrown away, it's biodegradable, unlike its plastic counterparts.
"With everyone aiming to be green and eco-friendly, people don't want to buy a product that's going to be on the earth for the next 400 years," says Angela Biggs, director of marketing and public relations for Bamboo Table. "More people are accepting the fact that ignoring the environment has a detrimental effect. When we don't put as much plastic in our landfills, we're making our carbon footprint a little smaller."
Q Squared by Q Home also incorporates bamboo into dinnerware. Its line is a material known as "Melaboo"- a combination of melamine and bamboo fibers, which cuts down on the amount of plastic used to produce dinnerware in a traditional melamine product. The Melaboo Potter collection, for instance, has the look and feel of stoneware, and even mimics the slightly rough texture.
Recycle and Reuse Components Glass is infinitely recyclable, and it's the building block for many of the products in the Sobremesa line by GreenHeart. Made in Guatemala, the recycled glass is hand-blown into wine decanters, glasses, domes, cake plates, and more. "They're giving this old glass new life," explains Jen Williams, national sales manager. The company also carries a sustainable line made of wood from the Amazon: artisans hike in and carve wooden bowls on-site, using only one tree per acre, and leaving the wood scraps behind to decompose and return to the soil. They don't return to that acre to take more wood for several decades, allowing the forest to regenerate at its own pace.
"People are starting to ask where things are from, and taking an active interest in their origins, and the story that goes along with them," says Williams. "They want to know the story that goes along with the artisan."
Cultivate Existing Resources Wood is the focal point of the cutting boards, chopping blocks and charcuterie boards from Europe 2 You. But in addition to using sustainably grown wood the company also reclaims 19th century timber from buildings in Hungary. "When these buildings are getting demolished, we go in and and buy the beams, window grids and other wood," says Stacy Borocz, president/ founder. The wood is fumigated and nails are removed before being fashioned into a beautiful tabletop accessory.
"It's a feel-good purchase, because no new trees are cut down," says Borocz. "Our products don't negatively impact the environment at all. Also, it's cool because it's almost impossible to recreate the look and fee of old wood."
Borocz also notes that wood and glass (the company also offers recycled- glass products) and safer from a health standpoint than plastic. "People are learning that not only should they care about what they serve their family, but also what they serve their food on and what they store it in." And as cutting boards, wood is a better choice because plastic can harbor bacteria.
Embrace Responsible Practices For many companies, the efforts to be sustainable go well beyond the products they make. At Lastra Life, Salace says he's trying to move his company to becoming 100 percent plastic-free, from the manufacturing process to the end package. The company only uses paper tape, and the craft tube packaging is made of 100 percent recycled paper. It's also the type of sturdy, attractive packaging that encourages consumers to find ways to reuse it.
And social responsibility often goes hand in hand with environmental responsibility for these companies. For Greenheart, just as important as environmentally responsible products is being a free trade organization- in other words, the suppliers the company works with are paid fairly for their work, given safe working conditions, and provided with benefits.
Similarly, Europe 2 You practices fair trade philosophy with its Hungarian supplies. "We give back to the community where our factory is based, and our workers are paid a fair living wage, and we make sure they have health care and get proper vacation."
And some of the dinnerware companies represented by Kitchen 2 Table have sustainability or fair trade messages on a corporate level that can make retailers customers feel good about supporting them.
"We're seeing a change in certain products with manufacturing trying to be more aware, such as in finding other natural resources to make their products, says Julie Dunn, marketing spokesperson for Kitchen 2 Table. "We also work with companies that send a portion of their proceeds back to the region where their products are made."
At Canvas Home, a partnership with Aid to Artisans helps fund grants to communities in developing countries. The grants might go to buying a communal loom or a kiln that locals can use to create handcrafts.
Notes Zalace, "It's important for consumers to not only look at the products they're buying, but also the companies they're buying from and what they're doing for the environment.
Sustainability Selling Tips Let customers know. If the product is made of a renewable materials, make sure that it's readily apparent. Provide stickers that say "made of bamboo" that retailers can put on display pieces. With something like bamboo dinnerware, it's also helpful to display it in a way that customers can pick it up, turn it over, and see and feel what it is.
Pass on the stories. Ask your supplies for the stories and origins of different products, especially those products by fair-trade suppliers or with reclaimed or recycled materials. Sharing this information with your customers will make their purchase that much more meaningful.
Use silent salesmen. Offer table signs to convey selling points about its environmentally responsible products. Write blogs about different environmental and health topics that retailers can use to educate themselves, their staff, and ultimately the customer.
Create a statement. Let customers know you're serious about sustainability by grouping all of your environmentally responsible products together in one display. Someone might come in for a set of reusable straws but end up leaving with reclaimed wooden cutting boards or recycled glass goblets.
Green Terms to Know Fair Trade: A partnership between companies, factories, suppliers or artisans that seeks equity in terms of pay, working conditions, and benefits.
Post- Consumer Recycled Materials: Products that have served their intended use and then are recycled into materials that can be used to produce another item.
Pre-Consumer Recycled Materials: Waste generated in the manufacturing process, which is then collected and recycled to be used to produce other products.
Sustainably Sourced: Products or materials that are sourced with minimal impact to the environment.
Biodegradable: A material that is capable of being decomposed by bacteria or other organisms.
Reclaimed: Materials that are taken from an existing structure or usage, and are used to make other items rather than thrown away.
Sustainably Grown: Wood or other crops that are grown in a way where nutrients removed from the soil are replenished, or trees replanted to avoid deforestation and erosion.