Environmentally-Responsible Wood Furniture

Virginia Ginsburg
September 25, 2008 — 1,678 views  

With green products swiftly making their way into mainstream consumer products, icons of trees and leaves can be seen everywhere as symbols of environmentally-conscious products.

But you may be surprised at how you can directly impact trees when you make green purchases. Scientists estimate that we are losing more than 137 species of plants and animals every day due to rainforest deforestation. This deforestation is happening partly to support the furniture market. Tropical hardwoods like teak, mahogany, rosewood and many other timbers used for furniture and other wood products are in high demand even as their supply dwindles.

In addition to deforestation, the furniture industry is a heavy user of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC's), which are found in almost all finishes and paints. Conventional lacquer is one of the most hazardous in terms of VOC emissions. Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF) and particle board, which are typically used in less-expensive furniture construction, commonly contain the carcinogens urea-formaldehyde and phenol-formaldehyde.

In response to the dangers posed on a global and local scale, a non-profit industry association called the Sustainable Furnishings Council was formed in 2006 to promote sustainable practices among manufacturers, retailers and consumers. The organization is leading the charge to raise awareness of the sustainability issue in furniture and construction by assisting companies in adopting good practices and helping consumers become more educated about the issues at hand.

Members of the association take steps to accomplish the following:

1. Minimize carbon emissions 2. Minimize waste stream pollutants 3. Avoid using un-recyclable content 4. Avoid using primary materials from unsustainable sources

Next time you are in the market for wood products, consider the following guidelines:

1. Where does the wood come from? You want to look for wood that has been legally harvested from responsibly-managed forests. Look for reclaimed or recycled woods whenever possible. Also available are a number of fast-growing woods, including bamboo, which are neither threatened nor threaten other species in production.

2. Is the wood certified by a third party? In addition to the Sustainable Furnishings Council, you can look for certification from other third-parties including the Forest Stewardship Council and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative.

3. Is the manufacturer working to reduce energy use? In addition to the actual manufacturing energy cost, consider the distance that your wood has traveled. Cargo ships have become one of the nation's leading sources of air pollution, threatening the health of millions of people.

4. Where was the furniture made? Look for products that were made close to your home and sourced from raw materials from within 500 miles. This will reduce the distance traveled and also support grassroots initiatives that are working to improve the sustainable furniture industry as a whole.

5. Were any high Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) finishes used to create the product? Varnishes and lacquers are the most common offenders, but many paints also contain high levels of VOCs. Look for water-based finishes that have low or no VOCs.

Supporting sustainable furnishings will make a big impact on the interior of your home's health as well as the world as a whole. Another benefit is that many of the sustainable furniture products are beautifully crafted. You can find an extensive list of options at http://www.greenpeople.org/Furnishing.html.

Sustainable furniture may also have some interesting stories associated with it. For example, one company is currently advertising products made of Douglas Fir that was deconstructed from warehouses at the Alameda Naval Air Station and Redwood from decommissioned water tanks at Camp Pendleton. Thus, in addition to getting beautiful sustainable furniture, you are getting a little bit of history, too.

About the Author

Virginia Ginsburg specializes in research related to ecologically-sound life and business practices. She writes about green living and socially-conscious investing. Her company, Green Baby Gifts http://www.greenbabygiftsonline.com , specializes in gifts that are both beautiful and ecologically-sound.

Virginia Ginsburg