Shades of Green: What Makes Furniture Sustainable?

Shades of Green:  What Makes Furniture Sustainable?

It seems everywhere you go these days people are talking about going green, reducing our carbon footprint or building sustainably.  We scratch our heads in confusion as anything with recycled content is labeled “green.”  But what really makes a product sustainable?

As an example, we’ll imagine a living room sofa somewhere in the United States.

Let’s start with the materials –

If the wood used to construct the frame was harvested by sustainably managed forests in the United States we’re on the right track, but if that wood was transported overseas to China or Vietnam for assembly we are damaging our environment.  Transportation, a huge factor in sustainability, contributes to the piece’s embodied energy, or the invested energy it takes to both manufacture and transport a product.  Did I mention the added disservice to our fellow Americans and our economy by giving U.S. jobs to other countries?

What about the fabric and seat cushions?  Polyester and other man-made petroleum based fabrics off gas harmful chemicals, called VOC’s (volatile organic compounds), that have short- and long-term adverse health effects.  The foam used in many seat cushions is also petroleum based and releases VOC’s in to the indoor air we breathe on a daily basis.

Now on to the manufacturing process –

Some manufacturers use clever means to divert waste from our landfills.  Berkline (http://www.berkline.com/berkline-green.php) uses waste scraps from leather tanneries or workshops to make bonded leather, an economical substitute for leather.  Century Furniture (http://www.centuryfurniture.com/Green/Green.aspx) generates power for its manufacturing facilities by burning scrap wood and sawdust.  West Brothers Furniture (http://www.furniturelandsouth.com/eco_west-bros.php) grinds defective wood into shavings and sells the chips to farmers for use in animal pens to absorb moisture.

So next time you are shopping for new furniture take the time to ask yourself – how is my furniture affecting my interior environment.

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