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18 Feb 2022

Sustainable furniture: the shops with the most certified wood

We've looked at retailers timber policies to find the brands that are trying to source responsibly - and those that lack transparency

When looking for sustainable wooden furniture, it's fair to say it can be hard to see the wood for the trees. We've looked at some leading furniture retailers' timber policies and analysed key information to work out which of them is taking their timber sourcing seriously.

Deforestation threatens ecosystems, biodiversity and contributes to climate change - the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) states that 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions result from deforestation and forest degradation.

There are multiple drivers of deforestation. Timber for wood and paper products is only fourth largest. It comes after beef, soya and palm oil production.

But it's still a significant contributor - though when it is done right, it's possible to harvest wood sustainably and responsibly. If you're shopping for wooden furniture it's worth making sure you're seeking out well-sourced materials.

That starts with retailers. We've done some digging, and found a real range of behaviour. Some retailers tell their customers nothing about their policies or timber sourcing, while others publish detailed policies explaining how they risk assess their timber supply chain and use certified sustainable wood.

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How furniture shops compare on sustainable wood

We rated four brands as 'good' in our assessment: B&Q, Howdens, Ikea and Magnet.

All four had transparent and thorough timber sourcing statements and policies on their websites as well as commitments to high percentages of certified wood.

The most commonly recognised certification schemes are FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) or PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification).

For more on what these labels mean, head to our guide: how to buy sustainable furniture.

The majority of the brands we looked at received a 'fair' rating, including Dunelm, John Lewis and Very.co.uk.

This was often because they fell down on one or more of our measures. It could be that they use a lower percentage of certified wood, are less transparent about their sourcing or omit important elements from their timber policies, such as their approach to use of tropical hardwoods.

As you can see in the table below, the brands that received our 'poor' rating usually don't have timber policies on their websites or timber sourcing statements at all. Many of them didn't provide us with their percentages of certified wood.

Five brands we contacted didn't respond to us at all and we could find no information about their timber sourcing online. These were: B&M, Dreams, Sharps, The Range and Wayfair.

Check your furniture brand: the Which? verdict

RetailerCertified wood / future targets / recycled woodOur verdict
B&Q77% FSC 15% PEFC / 100% certified by 2025 / currently 6%Good
Howdens183% FSC 6% PEFC / 100% certified by 2025 / around 35% cabinet chipboard recycledGood
Ikea98% FSC or recycled / Target already reached / currently 12% - target is a third by 2030Good
Magnet84.5% FSC 15% PEFC / 99% certified by 2025 / around 37%Good
Argos34% FSC, PEFC and recycled / 100% certified by 2025 / no current targetFair
Barker and Stonehouse84.7 FSC 2.2% PEFC / 100% certified by 2025 / currently 20%Fair
Benchmarx85% FSC 15% PEFC/ Target already reached / around 50% own brand made from recycled timberFair

Notes about the table

*These retailers' targets include uncertified wood that's determined low risk according to their risk assessments. For example, John Lewis includes the potential for wood from countries that are low risk for illegal or unsustainable wood in its target. This is often termed 'responsibly sourced' wood.

1Howdens target is for its kitchen fronts only. Its chipboard and MDF is already 100% certified or recycled.

2Oak Furnitureland says it has 100% traceability of its hardwood supply chain and can guarantee responsible sourcing for every shipment.

3Wickes has recently demerged from Travis Perkins and is currently reviewing its timber policy and targets, as is Bensons for Beds, after its separation from Harveys.

4Robert Dyas is also currently reviewing its policies.

Our retailer assessment

To come up with our ratings, we assessed a number of leading furniture and DIY retailers' timber policies on a comparable set of criteria. Similar assessments have been carried out in the past by the World Wildlife Foundation and Ethical Consumer.

Our criteria included: whether a retailer's policy includes products outside the scope of the UK Timber Regulation (UKTR) or its European equivalent; how much of its timber is currently certified (either FSC or PEFC); whether it has targets to reach a high percentage of certified wood in the future; what it does to ensure adherence and monitoring of its policy; and the transparency of the information on its website(s).

The table above shows an overview of our verdict, based on this analysis.

Good retailers had detailed policies, a high percentage of certified wood and easy-to-find information on their websites. A poor retailer had little or no information available and a low percentage of certified wood (if figures were even available).

How to buy furniture more sustainably

Ask your retailer questions such as where the wood has come from, whether it's certified and what species it is. Retailers will have this information but may not provide if without being asked. Look at retailers' timber sourcing statements and policies on their websites or ask to see them.

For more advice on sustainable and responsible wood, including details of what the FSC's certification entails, head to our guide on how to buy sustainable furniture.

Of course, the most sustainable option is to turn away from new products entirely. There is a booming market for used furniture, and by buying and selling your homewares second-hand you'll be supporting a circualar economy, giving the products that already exist a new lease of life, keeping them out of landfill and reducing demand for virgin wood. Charity shops and online marketplaces are good places to start your search.

We've also rated furniture stores based on feedback from their customers, so you can find out where you'll get good quality products, good customer service and a smooth experience. Find out more in our guide to the best and worst furniture and homeware shops.

Or, find all our tips for eco-friendly shopping in our latest sustainable living advice.