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Green Furniture Guide

What is Green Furniture?

Where to start with ′greening′ up you living space. There are no legal definitions or regulations to determine exactly what the term “Green Furniture” actually refers to. There are plenty of products, not only furniture, that claim to be environmentally friendly, green eco-conscious etc but simply are NOT! For example of something non furniture, Potato snacks advertising "Now reduced salt" when in fact the product still contains probably 3 times your recommended daily allownace.

Eco or Green Furniture is the latest craze. In a nutshell, Green Furniture refers to furniture that is eco-friendly and environmentally safe.

FSC Certified Wood

Whether a piece of furniture is made from wood, cloth, metal, plastic, or whatever else, there are earth-friendly options. When cave people realized that boulders weren’t the most comfortable things to sit on, wood was almost certainly where they looked. The world needs more trees, not less, so practices that lead to deforestation are no good.

Trees absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen, they keep the surface of the planet cool, they hold soil together so it can stay rich, and they provide the habitat that animals, insects etc call home, not to mention they support many people′s livelihood and are a crucial factor in the rain production of our planet. So .... don′t mess with the trees.

There are sustainable ways to harvest wood. Wood from sustainably harvested forests, sustainably harvested tree farms, and reclaimed wood are the main sources. Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and its largest forest certifier, the Rainforest Alliance, is the most widely used standard for sustainable forestry.Trees are important for so many reasons, and our impact on forests in turn has a direct impact on our environment, our health, the food chain and even the climate.

Buying furniture made from controlled sources of sustainable wood drastically minimalizes the damage we unknowingly do to our eco-system in choosing to buy wood furniture. FSC certified wood sources are forests that are controlled to ensure constant and indefinite growth. So how do we distinguish sustainable wood from wood harvested from vulnerable naturally occurring forests? To help guide us is the Forest Stewardship Council, who monitors, and actually inspects forest management units and issues certification for well controlled forests. FSC certified products are usually advertised as such.

Reclaimed materials

Wood is more durable than we realize and can last a very long time without losing structural integrity. Many designers are now actually creating quality furniture from reclaimed wood, from old houses other pieces of furniture, factory scraps and even sunken wood. Manufacturing from such sources saves trees. In the bigger picture, it saves forests. On a global level, it lessens our impact on the environment. While all reclaimed wood is not advertised as such, the Rainforest Alliance issues a “Rediscovered Wood Certification” to green furniture.

Bamboo

Bamboo isn′t a tree at all, but a grass. Bamboo represents a family of grasses that range in size from tiny to huge, and in colour from lime green to maroon stripes. It is incredibly fast-growing and versatile and has become the unofficial poster material of environmental designers and builders.

Bamboo can be flattened into flooring, molded into furniture, pressed into veneers, sliced up to make window blinds, you can build your whole house out of it, even use it as scaffold for building skyscrapers. Using bamboo in buildings earns architects and builders LEED points.

Most bamboo comes from China and is grown with few of no pesticides. Because it is so fast growing, it is much easier to maintain healthy bamboo forests. This also means it uses a lot of water, however, and harvesting too fast can deplete soil fertility. Some growers do use pesticides and other chemical inputs. But for the most part, bamboo is one of the greenest materials around.

Rattan

Like Bamboo, Rattan is another great alternative to wood. Rattan is a palm which is often woven into wicker, and as a source, it is much faster growing than wood, thus making it a protector of forests when harvested instead. It is lightweight, flexible, and durable. Most Rattan comes from Indonesia.

Recycled metal and plastic

Since both metal and plastic are recyclable, at least in theory, these can be considered eco-friendly materials for furniture. More and more furniture is being made from recycled plastics and metals as well. Recycled materials require less processing and fewer resources, and help support the market for recycled materials. Technologies are always improving, meaning that recycled plastics and metals are always going up in quality.

Recyclable and disassemblable

Good eco-friendly furniture should lend itself to easy repair, disassembly, and recycling. Products certified by Cradle 2 Cradle product regimen are a perfect example, like certified office chairs from Herman Miller and Steelcase. These product can be easily taken apart, sorted into their constituent parts, and recycled at the end of their useful lives. When buying furniture, stay away from "monstrous hybrids", pieces that are an inseparable amalgam of materials. If they can′t be taken apart it′s probably a sign that they can′t be repaired very well either.

Buy ′Low-toxicity′products.

When you buy a piece of furniture, bring it home, and set it down in a room, it doesn′t just sit there. No matter what it′s made out of, chances are, it′s releasing substances into the air (offgassing). Almost everything offgasses, which isn′t necessarily bad, but synthetic materials or those treated with synthetic substances can offgas chemicals which are toxic. Volatile organic compounds are the most common family of chemicals that are offgassed and have been linked to birth defects, endocrine disruption, and cancer.

Flame retardants and formaldehyde are common VOCs offgassed by furniture. Especially if your home or office is well-insulated (which it should be for energy purposes) toxins can′t get out easily. In fact, studies have shown that air quality inside your house (or car) is often worse than outside. Everyone should be conscious of the kinds of chemicals they bring home, but especially if you have kids, pets, or other family members who are low to the ground and prone to licking things.

Greenguard is a certification which ensures furniture is low toxicity. Also, look for furniture that is untreated or treated with natural substances, like natural wood finishes, or naturally tanned leather. Organic cotton is also less likely to be treated with toxic stuff. Another great way to dodge toxic chemicals is to buy furniture that is vintage or second-hand and has already done most of its offgassing (just make sure it doesn′t carry anything worse, like lead paint). You can tell intuitively that new things offgas more actively think of that new car smell.

Buy vintage

It is worth remembering, discarding all these adverts for ′Mod-Chic furniture,′ that pre-owned goods can be the greenest purchase of all. Vintage and second-hand furniture requires no additional resources to manufacture, is often locally sources (cutting down on transportation), is pre-offgassed and eases the load on the landfill. Quality vintage furniture can also have excellent resale value (sometimes selling for the same price it was bought) which certainly can′t be said for most new furniture, green or otherwise.

Buy local

Just like the food on the dinner plate, we might be amazed how many miles the constituent parts of a piece of furniture might have had to travel in order to reach us. If possible, source furniture close to home. This will support the local economy, small craftspeople, and decrease the environmental cost of shipping (not to mention the other kind of cost).

What to do with it when you′re over it

We are never going to like something forever or that our furnishing whims won′t change. When it′s time to bid a chair, table, bed, or dresser farewell, make sure it goes to a good home. Sell it on Internet auction sites, local newspaper, give it away via Freecycle, or include it in your next yard sale/car boot. Putting it safely on the curb with a "free" sign on it can also do the trick, or dependant on your neighbourhood, a $20 sign will ensure it goes!

If you enjoy crafts, lots of furniture can be repurposed into new functions or just freshened up with new paint or finish. Nothing sturdy should have to live out eternity in the landfill hell. If it′s your mission to get deeper into the green furniture space, put on your designer′s head and have a go. Think about refurbishing old furniture or entirely repurposing other objects. Heavy-duty cardboard can be fashioned to interlock in creative ways. If you′ve got fertile ground and some time to spare you can even grow your own furniture to suit. The Spanish group Drap-Art has a reuse festival that is ripe with ideas.