How Room & Board Marries Sustainability with Design

According to Room & Board’s Director of Sustainability, Emily McGarvey, the company has “sustainability in its DNA.” 

Room & Board was founded in 1980 by John Gabbert in Minneapolis, Minnesota, as a subsidiary of his parents’ furniture store company. The company, still headquartered in Minneapolis, now has 22 retail locations across the United States and employs more than 900 people, selling furniture, home goods, and decor, from bedroom sets to rugs and lighting. 

What sets Room & Board apart from other furniture retailers is that 90% of its products have been created by artisan craftspeople globally, supporting local communities and creators alike. Room & Board’s team of craftspeople range from Built By Newport, chair designers in Northern Vermont, to Obeetee Rugs, a company that “unites traditional artistry with modern solutions to social and environmental challenges,” located in India. 

Additionally, the company is part of the Sustainable Furnishings Council, a coalition of manufacturers, retailers, and designers, whose mission is to “help companies reduce their environmental footprint as they grow, and to connect consumers with healthy furnishings.”

Arlington tables
The Arlington Table is made from reclaimed materials from Urban Wood Project: Baltimore.

“Materials matter” when Room & Board is sourcing product 

But… how does artisan craftsmanship translate to the company’s sustainability goal? 

According to McGarvey, “supporting artisan craftspeople is integral to the company’s sustainability mission,” as “sustainable products start with design.”

The team and Room & Board places an emphasis on “trend-proof design combined with a focus on American craft, ethically sourced materials, and quality construction that creates timeless furniture that’s kinder to the planet.” 

“We combine our timeless modern look with quality craftsmanship for furniture that has an enduring place in our customers’ homes, helping combat the nearly 10,000 tons of furniture that goes to landfills annually."

“We combine our timeless modern look with quality craftsmanship for furniture that has an enduring place in our customers’ homes, helping combat the nearly 10,000 tons of furniture that goes to landfills annually,” McGarvey said. 

Orlin Table
The Orlin Table pays homage to Minnesota’s Scandinavian design history.

McGarvey also says that “materials matter” to Room & Board. “From reclaimed wood to recycled plastic, [Room & Board] works with [their] U.S. manufacturing partners to find innovative ways to responsibly source furniture and decor.” 

Other materials used by Room & Board include sustainably sourced wood, reclaimed wood, recycled steel, recycled plastic, and recycled polyester. Room & Board also seeks out recycled textiles and leather, and continues to look for “opportunities to sustainably source key raw materials.” 

In other words, the company is open to expanding its use of sustainable materials as it continues to grow. 

Room & Board’s three main pillars 

Besides Room & Board’s material transparency and the company’s willingness to have conversations about material sourcing with its vendors, Room & Board aspires to be a sustainability leader in the furniture industry through its focus on three main pillars: better products, better for people, and better planet. 

As mentioned above, “better products” means the company’s position that “materials matter.” However, when it comes to “better for people,” McGarvey says that “respect and relationships are at the heart of everything we do, because we believe we’re part of something bigger.” 

“Respect and relationships are at the heart of everything we do, because we believe we’re part of something bigger."

Additionally, Room & Board is “leaning in on staff well-being, building meaningful vendor relationships, and increasing our philanthropic efforts for people and the planet,” McGarvey says. 

Etting Bookcase
The Etting Bookshelf is made from reclaimed materials that would have otherwise been taken to a landfill.

When it comes to a better planet, Room & Board is “prioritizing its operations,” and says that “its central office, stores, and delivery centers are designed and constructed with sustainability in mind.” The company is also rehabbing buildings, installing LED lighting, and landscaping with native plants. 

In the future, the company will be “exploring new opportunities for efficiency, renewable energy, and the electrification of its fleet,” while scheduling deliveries geographically to reach customers faster and save fuel. 

Currently, however, the company does use some hybrid vehicles to make deliveries. 

The consumer role in sustainable development  

While purchasing new products, McGarvey believes that “customers are more aware than ever about sustainability,” and says that “people are asking about materials in products, who made them, and where they were made.” 

In response to these questions, Room & Board knows that “being able to transparently share the impact [of the company] to people and the planet is a privilege and responsibility.” 

“Being able to transparently share the impact [of the company] to people and the planet is a privilege and responsibility.” 

For those looking to make more conscious and sustainability-focused decisions, McGarvey recommends that “consumers look for brands that share tangible actions that are better for people and better for the planet.” 

Additionally, they can “look for high quality, durable products that will last for a long time,” as well as “products made with more sustainable materials that place an emphasis on American-made resources, as theis inherently reduces the distance that products and materials travel,” says McGarvey. 

Room & Board

Modern furniture. Artisan crafted. Designed to last.

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