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Indoor Living Collects Furniture...Why does that matter?

Green furniture, sustainable furniture and eco friendly furniture are indicators of high performance and healthy indoor air quality.

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by Carolyn Allen

Indoor air quality matters.

We are spending up to 95% of our time indoors in urban environments, and indoor air quality has a major impact on our personal health, our mood, and even our beauty! :-)

Your Health Matters

The walls, ceiling and floors of the building contribute chemicals to the air through offgassing.  That's the emissions of minute chemical and dust particles over time. Some chemicals emit more, and more dangerous particles than others.

But furnishings... carpet, mattresses, overstuffed couches, varnished wood furniture... they also emit chemicals. 

Furniture is a major emitter of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), those chemicals that are largely responsible for indoor air being more polluted, on average, than what's outside. VOCs released from furniture include formaldehyde, benzene, acetone, toluene, xylene, 1,3-butadiene and many more.

They can take years to dissipate, and result in common symptoms like fatigue, headaches, skin and eye irritation, tingling or numbness in the extremities, drowsiness and dizziness.

Your Planet Matters

If that's not enough to make you think twice about which furnishings, finishes and stuffings you select... there are additional impacts that you can affect with your choices.  Impacts to your health, your extended family's health, and your community's health.

These are the "sustainability" factors.  Climate change.  Transportation costs.  Sustainable natural resources.  Social justice.  And the general regenerative capacity of the earth's natural systems.

Deforestation is rampant around the world and this leads to loss of healthy soil .. which causes desertification, damage to water supplies, loss of habitat and loss of carbon sequestration.  All because you love wood...and can afford to buy it on this side of the globe.

Gorgeous hardwoods like teak and mahogany are removed illegally from protected preserves, then quietly mixed into the mainstream market. 

But metal furniture isn't much better... furniture is also made using metal, plastics and various chemicals, all of which must be sourced from somewhere...and often transported great distances as raw materials, parts and then again as finished products.

Mining of metals remains a heavily toxic industry sector, while plastics and many other materials, from paint to glue, are typically made out of petroleum--with it's impactful environmental and social footprint.

Better Solutions for Furniture... Green(er)

Less is better.  Reuse is better.  Long term use is really green.

There is an increasing selection of "green furniture" that is both good for you and gentler on the earth.  And a quality piece of furniture can last a lifetime...and become an heirloom that serves future generations, as well. 

"Green furniture" features that make a difference include:

Local sourcing of the raw materials -- such as local or regional non-endangered woods such as pine, oak or in some areas maple or cedar.  Redwood, on the other hand is not so eco-friendly even though it has wonderful long lasting features.

New materials and recycled content materials are coming onto the market rapidly.

Rough-hewn pioneer furniture made from logs hand sawed from broken or dead trees are being handcrafted in many regions.

Cork is harvested sustainably from tree bark and can be part of a well managed sustainable forest program.

Bamboo is fast growing and requires little water and no pesticides in its agricultural homes.  It can be a sustainable alternative for social justice reasons, as well, in parts of the developing world.

Non-toxic composites made from agricultural wastes such as wheat straw or recycled newspapers or rice hulls are being developed and used in both furniture and wall boards.

Reworking old wood that is salvaged from old buildings, fences and driftwood or fallen trees is turning into a sizable craft market.

Recycled metal and other refuse is being incorporated into sculpted furnishings.  Many products end up in landfills that have high structural integrity and can be innovatively designed furnishings -- waste streams can turn into urban mines -- with seatbelts, tools, reclaimed glass, car parts, skate and surf boards ... and even bins and containers can be repurposed.

VOC-free glues, paints, stains can be water-based or even plant-based for lower impact on your health with less -- or no -- off-gassing.

Fasteners can replace glue, which creates less offgassing -- but also makes manufacturing, assembly and disassembly faster and easier.  And flat packing reduces shipping volume and costs.  And turns materials into another generation of recycled content for reuse.

New green mattresses are being made with plant materials instead of petroleum based chemicals that emit VOCs and use limited supplies of oil ... and end up in landfills.

One good way to ensure a company's claims have merit is to look for a third party certification, such as the Forest Stewardship Council. The industry-backed Sustainable Forestry Initiative is generally less rigorous.

Edited by Carolyn Allen, Managing Editor of Solutions For Green

Publication Date: 1/1/2010

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