An independent report has confirmed that antiques are environmentally friendly with a piece of antique furniture likely to have a carbon footprint 16 times lower than that of a newly manufactured item. This is the finding of a study that compared the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the manufacture and use of an antique chest of drawers with its modern equivalent.
The exhaustive analysis was carried out by Carbon Clear, an independent consultancy specialising in carbon management and carbon accounting, which investigated every aspect of the manufacture and life of two specific pieces – a mahogany-veneered chest of c.1830 and a modern piece of roughly equivalent value available from a reputable high street retailer.
It had been assumed that it was more environmentally friendly to buy furniture that was already in circulation, but the independent study now confirms this. "Buying antiques reduces landfill, reduces carbon emissions and reduces the consumption of new goods from abroad. The antiques trade is the oldest recycling business in the world and the ultimate in terms of preserving our heritage for future generations. This report provides further proof that antiques should be recognised for their genuine green hallmark – sustainable, reusable and re-saleable."
While details of the cutting and processing involved in the manufacture of the modern chest of drawers in China were readily available, certain assumptions had to be made about the origins of the antique piece based on expert opinion.
The carbon emissions associated with the actual manufacture of the antique piece were very low. Cabinetmakers' workshops in the 1830s were not generally powered and all work was done by hand and in daylight. Timber cutting was also done by hand but the report factored in 70 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions coefficient, already calculated at Bath University for current wood cutting and processing.
A similarly conservative approach was taken to the life of the antique chest, where it was assumed to have been sold and restored twice, even though many pieces would have required little or no restoration. Even with this conservative approach, it was found that the absolute emissions associated with the old chest, including restoration, storage and transport, were significantly lower.
The lifespan of the antique piece was assumed to be 195 years, though it could be much longer. Once this was taken into account, its average emissions per year were shown to be 16 times less than those for the modern chest. The lifespan of the new chest was estimated at 15 years based on expert opinion.