Choosing Earth Conscious Furnishings For Your Home
Making good choices about our furniture will help the future of our planet and also will make us feel better. There are many ways to go eco-friendly when it comes to furniture.
Certified sustainable wood
When cave people realized that boulders weren’t the most comfortable things to sit on, wood was almost certainly where they looked. Not only do 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, birds, and other plants call home, not to mention they support many people’s livelihood. There are sustainable ways to harvest wood, however. Wood from sustainably harvested forests, sustainably harvested tree farms, and reclaimed wood are the main sources. Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is a great standard of certification that controls clear-cutting and promotes good working conditions.
Furniture made from reclaimed wood
Reclaimed wood usually comes from old furniture, houses, or other built things that are ready for some friendly reincarnation. Some reclaimed wood even comes from logs that sunk to the bottom of rivers as they were being floated downstream to the sawmill, or from the bottom of man-made reservoirs. Many companies are using this wood to recycle and manufacture to make new furniture.
Bamboo represents a family of grasses that range in size from tiny to huge, and in color 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, or sliced up to make window blinds. Most bamboo comes from China and is grown with few or 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, however, so keep that in mind. Another thing to be wary of is that bamboo products are pieced together with glue – which can contain formaldehyde, depending on the supplier.
Durable and Fixable
A good way to help the environment is to invest in durable and also fixable furniture. Even investing in recycled material when it breaks could involve a lot of money, and eventually could end up in the landfill. Investing in good, durable, furniture, even if it is more expensive, could prove better in the long run, financially and also environmentally.
No matter what furniture is made out of, chances are, it’s offgassing (or releasing substances into the air). 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, or VOCs, 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. 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. There are some good ways to help maintain good indoor air quality when it comes to furniture choices. Greenguard is a certification which ensures furniture is low toxicity. Herman Miller, Haworth, Knoll, and Izzydesign all offer Greenguard certified furniture options. 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 chemicals.
Avoid flame retardants
Flame retardants are powders, so they don’t offgass like other chemicals. Instead, they fall out of upholstery and mix in with the dust around the house, flame retardants aren’t actually that effective at slowing down fires – once the upholstery is lit, it burns just as fast and releases a host of toxic chemicals. When looking into new furniture, check with the manufacturer that there aren’t any flame retardants. You could also avoid products with foam in favor of wool cotton or down, which generally don’t have flame retardants added to them and which are less toxic when they burn.