In the past, furniture shopping focused usually on colors, styles and price. Today’s consumers are actively looking for environmentally correct furniture and before they buy, they’re kicking the tires and checking the materials for both carbon footprint, eco-friendly and sustainability.
What is eco-friendly “green” material and design for home and office furniture today? There are generally four materials of which furniture is predominantly made today: wood, metal, real leather and plastic. Not to mention the filler. We need to think in terms of health, carbon footprint, and durability.
A top concern should be health and safety, not just to keep kids from falling of a chair but the invisible off-gases and pollution. Our average time indoors can be 90% of any day, especially during this Pandemic. Good air quality is essential. Poor indoor air quality is often contributed to toxins hidden in furniture. These off-gasses can cause health problems like emphysema, asthma, headaches and fatigue.
While the devil in the details, the two biggest hidden devils found in furniture that could foul up our home and office air are VOC’s from glues, paints, varnishes and adhesives and PVC from finished materials. A good general rule of thumb here is that the cheaper the product, the more toxic it most likely is. Check out Green Guard for more information.
Invest in solid wood or metal with no VOC finishes is the best option here. Avoid paints, finishes, and fabrics with VOCs and wood composite materials such as plywood, particleboard, and MDF which is not explicitly labeled as ‘non-toxic’ or ‘low-VOC’. They likely contain toxic adhesives. Don’t be afraid to ask.
Where we find our raw materials is crucial when we consider that some of these sources may be disappearing as we overuse them.
Sourcing wood responsibly is especially critical for the state of our biosphere, and the most trusted certification system in the U.S. for responsible wood sourcing is the Forest Stewardship Council.
The FSC certifies responsible management of forests and has a proven track record for keeping our thirst for wood from endangering the land it is harvested from.
If you see an FSC label on a product, this is a great sign of eco-consciousness in your material supplier, but since less than 12% of global forestry is part of any certification scheme, it is not yet a definitive standard. There are plenty of sources of responsibly managed wood that are not certified by the FSC or any other forest management organization. Investing in renewable materials such as bamboo, cork or Agri-boards are another great option.
Invest in wood as the low-impact renewable leader when wisely harvested and recycled, not burned as refuse at the end of life. Avoid plastics, which are made from petroleum, and definitely not an environmentally correct source. Besides, who has ever seen or sat in a plastic chair? Do look for furniture pieces made from recycled plastic or ground glass.
Quality construction is the most sustainable choice in the end. It’s about your acknowledgment that “less is more and more is less,” as Mies Van der Rohe would say. Celebrate quality materials and design as a way of keeping yourself connected with your immediate and larger environments, as my mentor once told me.
Shoddy cheaply constructed furniture may be a quick solution but spending a little more upfront will get you more joy and satisfaction. It will also save you the annoyance of having to dispose of junk pieces when they break, only to buy new junk later.
Invest in good classic design and craftsmanship — that is an eco-friendly solution. The more you love a piece of furniture, the more likely you are to keep it forever and pass it on to future generations.
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Chris d Craiker AIA/NCARB loves his mid-century Eiler’s interior chairs and is looking for a good used Eames Chair. Chris@craiker.com