Are Antiques Green? Not a Simple Answer


Image credit: Jenni Grover
What's the Carbon Footprint of the Antique Industry?
I've been told I think too much. (Though I've also been told the opposite is true!) From musing over whether carrots are vegan to wondering about the true cost of my rural green living, it could be fair to say that I take this sustainability stuff a bit too seriously sometimes. My latest predicament is this - my wife and I love to buy antique furniture - especially as we prepare ourselves for our first child. It's green, right? I mean what could be more sustainable than buying furniture built to last, and reused over-and-over again? The trouble is, I'm not so sure...You see, the more I get to know about the antique trade, the more I find out how far dealers will travel to find salable pieces. And as we all know - travel has a high carbon footprint - especially if that travel is done in a private car or van, as opposed to a shipping container or a truck that is packed for maximum capacity. So is a truck-load of flat-pack Ikea furniture really any more polluting than 12 vans full of ancient artifacts? How do we weigh efficiency of transportation against durability and longevity, or emissions in manufacture?

In the spirit of what counts for research in this cyber-age, I've done a few google searches for the carbon footprint of antiques, and have pretty much drawn a blank. I did find this campaign in the Antiques Trade Gazette that claims that antiques are indeed green. While the general premise of the article - that antiques are a form of recycling, makes total sense - I would question the advice that this dealer gives to customers that "no additional greenhouse gases [are] being produced as a result of their purchase, no rain forests will be depleted or additional raw materials used." The item had to come from somewhere, and often that somewhere is a long way away. I am pleased to note, however, that the campaign also includes an element to "offer help, advice and incentive for the trade to reduce its carbon footprint." Now you're talking!

Having talked this over with my fellow TreeHuggers, I suspect that antiques are still a net positive - but it might make sense to look for antiques that are native to your region, and look to hold on to them for a long time (estate sales are obviously a good place to start!). As my colleague Mike pointed out, it's hard to imagine that furniture that lasts for 100 years, and may be sold maybe three or four times, has a higher carbon footprint than flatpack mass manufactured stuff that may be trashed in ten years.

But you've got to question everything. If anyone has any resources on the transport related emissions of antiques, I'd love to know. There's a beautiful farmhouse table that I have my eye on...

Tags: Life Cycle Analysis | Recycled Consumer Goods | Upcycling