The popularity of eco products in general is growing by leaps-and-bounds these days, not only the demand for eco friendly furniture. It seems less and less people want to tread heavily on the earth as many of us become aware or our population rise and the interconnectedness between ourselves and the water, air and earth, especially with natural resources threatening to run low.
While it's important to choose eco friendly products for the small, everyday household items you use, it may be even more important to go green and eco friendly on the big ticket items, like furniture as well. Usually, the bigger the item, the more impact it's production has on the earth.
Low toxicity should be a priority item on your list of qualifications when shopping for eco friendly furniture, because you most likely want to minimize the direct negative impacts on your health, as well.
No matter what material your furniture is made from, chances are it is releasing small amounts of chemicals into the air. This is a process that is sometimes incorrectly referred to as off-gassing, but it is actually known as outgassing. Nearly everything you bring into your home outgases. It is not necessarily a bad thing, unless the item contains volatile organic compounds or VOC's, which are a class of chemicals that have been linked to birth defects, cancer, and endocrine disruption.
Side note: You know that "new car smell" that everyone talks about and most everyone seems to love? Those are actually the fumes of the toxic VOC's outgassing into the small confined interior space of the vehice. That smell doesn't seem as appealing to me anymore...How about yourself?
Common VOCs that outgas from furniture include flame retardants and formaldehyde. The concentration of VOCs in a non-eco friendly home can be as high as 100 times greater than it is outdoors! To avoid outgassing issues, look for natural substances such as naturally tanned leather, natural wood finishes, or organic cotton.
You can also look for Greenguard, which is a new certification that ensures furniture is of low toxicity. Other air quality certifications for indoors include BIFMA and SCS's Indoor Advantage.
There are a couple basic qualifications that you will want to consider when selecting eco friendly furniture:
Certified Eco Friendly Wood: We need trees to absorb carbon dioxide, produce oxygen, keep soil stable, and provide habitat for insects, birds, animals, and other plants.
Deforestation is one of the biggest challenges we face it trying to build an eco friendly future for the planet! Thanks to the FSC, however, and its largest forest certifier, the Rainforest Alliance, sustainable wood harvesting can actually increase the number of trees on the earth while providing people with the wood they need to create eco friendly furniture at the same time.
FSC certifies lumber (through independent, third-party agents) beginning with the forests it comes from. Certifiers evaluate forest management (forest certification) and the processing and transportation of trees from those forests (chain-of-custody certification). Certification is dependent upon the commitment of the landowner to continue sustainable forestry.
Recertification takes place every five years. FSC's vision statement says that "the word's forests are managed to meet the social, ecological, and economic rights and needs of the present generation without compromising those of future generations". Their mission is to "promote environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable management of the world's forests". Roughly ten percent of the world's production forests are certified by FSC. That adds up to 247 million acres of FSC certified forests in the world today and the number is growing so it's not difficult to find.
Reclaimed Materials: Furniture made from reclaimed materials is another excellent choice for eco friendliness. Using reclaimed lumber is a popular option for eco friendly furniture projects.
Reclaimed lumber is wood that has been formerly used-usually in a building, but reclaimed lumber can also come from sources such as wine barrels, coal mines, or train boxcars. Popular woods for reclaimed lumber include American chestnut, oak, and longleaf pine. The reclaimed lumber is an inherently reusable material and a very popular popular eco friendly furniture material for many reasons.
Older wood is often sawn into wider planks than contemporary wood. It is possible to find reclaimed lumber in unusual and/or beautiful varieties of wood that can no longer be sustainably harvested. Reclaimed wood is well-seasoned and stable.
A word of caution: - Because reclaimed wood is so popular and labor-intensive to reclaim, eco friendly wood furniture can be both hard to find and more expensive than new wood. Some sellers may even attempt to pass off new wood as reclaimed wood. Look for the Rediscovered Wood Certification label from the Rainforest Alliance if you have any questions.
Bamboo: Bamboo is another eco friendly furniture material that has been exploding in popularity. It is technically a grass, rather than a tree, so it simply regrows after being cut. Bamboo grows incredibly quickly and is very versatile. Rather than taking 35 - 50 years to mature, bamboo reaches height maturity in about 3 years and hardness maturity in 5 - 7 years and absorb massive amount of CO2 during this rapid growth process.
The bamboo can be flattened, molded, or pressed into veneer. Most bamboo used for furniture today is grown in China with little or no pesticides-because it grows so quickly, it's easy to maintain in good health.
Recyclable Materials: Because both plastic and metal are recyclable, they can be, but aren't necessarily, eco friendly materials for furniture. Recycled materials require fewer resources and less processing and they also help support the recycling industry.
If you don't want or can't afford to buy new furniture, buying vintage is usually an affordable eco friendly furniture solution. Second-hand furniture requires no additional resource to produce, it can be found locally and an added benefit is that it has been "pre-outgassed" already.
It often has excellent resale value, allowing you to pass on some cheap eco friendly furniture when you're finished with it. Buying local, whether it is simply second hand or locally crafted, eco friendly furniture, is another great way to shrink the environmental costs of shipping these items around the country.
Some of the most interesting eco friendly furniture on the market today is both recyclable and can be disassembled. These are pieces designed to be easily taken apart and recycled. Some can be reassembled into different piece of furniture for maximal flexibility and use. When purchasing your eco friendly furniture, be wary of large pieces that can't be disassembled if something can't be taken apart it's probably going to be difficult to repair or to recycle.
No matter what materials you select, remember that durability and flexibility should be high on your list of priorities for eco friendly funiture. A piece that's durable and easy to repair is much less likely to end up in a landfill-and will probably save you money in the long run.
Okay, are you ready to shop for some eco furniture?
Here's a list of the top eco friendly furniture manufacturers and designers selling in the United States.
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