“Buying green” – a complicated task for most consumers – can be particularly hairy for antique lovers. The considerations necessary in the green purchasing of antiques (i.e. what a product is constructed of, how it was transported during and after manufacturing, whether it is re-usable or recyclable, and whether [and how] it will be disposed of) is complicated by the fact that antiques were, by definition, manufactured before formal “sustainability” efforts existed, and by the fact that many collectors will travel to Timbuktu and back to obtain hard-to-find items, thus creating quite the carbon footprint. On the other hand, antiques are reused almost endlessly, crafted for durability, and do not require new manufacturing. What is the eco-minded antique enthusiast to make of his dilemma?
From an environmental standpoint, the plusses and minuses of antiquing abound. In terms of plusses, antiques are a viable option for people seeking to make use of already-existing products, purchase items designed to last, and reduce destruction of trees and other resources. However, the minuses stack up formidably: nothing short of time travel can change how a product was constructed, and the transport of an antique from dealer to collector can create emissions, fuel usage, and other damages. Moreover, collectors who like to restore antiques may be limited in their sustainable options, since eco-friendly alternatives to toxic furniture finishers may be few and far between.
This may just be one of those issues we have to accept as having many loose ends. It seems, though, that there may be a happy medium. For example, a collector who chooses to purchase locally (versus purchasing internationally or from a supplier across the country) could reduce his carbon footprint, at least partially. Or, should he choose to purchase from afar, he could utilize relatively eco-friendly transport techniques (think mass shipping versus single-passenger vehicle transport). And the antique restoration enthusiast could opt for environmentally friendlier options (e.g. allowing a piece’s natural finish to give it that hip “shabby chic” look).
A final thought: if “sustainable development” is the balance of one’s immediate interests with those of future generations, and if “sustainable living” is the adherence to a lifestyle of environmental accountability, it seems antiquing with an eye for eco-friendly options may fit the bill.