Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, the most common off-gassed chemical, have been linked to birth defects, endocrine disruption, and cancer. Flame retardants and formaldehyde are common VOCs that come from furniture. Usually VOCs come from synthetic materials that make up the furniture or finishes. VOCs contribute to issues with air quality as well as environmental issues when they are sent to the landfill.
Green furniture is a good way to help maintain healthy indoor air quality. Sustainable designers consider waste as a form of design failure because it means that the design didn’t support the user as well as it should have. They make furniture from material that is responsibly harvested from renewable resources, or use recycled materials in order to decrease landfill waste and preserve the planet’s vital forests. The consumers get comfortable, modern alternatives to furniture made from materials harvested by environmentally unsound methods.
When buying VOC free furniture, there are a few ecologically safe materials to choose from. Reclaimed woods are retrieved from old furniture, houses, wood scraps from a factory. Some even use logs sunk to the bottom of rivers as they are floated downstream to the saw mill. Either way, furniture made from reclaimed wood is a great example of resource efficiency. The Rainforest Alliance http://www.rainforest-alliance.org/ has a special certification for reclaimed woods, and a label for products made out of such material.
Metal and plastic are both eco-friendly materials for furniture as they are recyclable. Recycled aluminum is being used for making furniture. Technological developments have made it possible to get better quality recycled metal and plastic. One of the important features of green furniture is they can be easily repaired, re-assembled and recycled. This ensures that they don’t end up in the landfill.
Bamboo is another option. It is not wood and doesn’t come from a tree. It is a grass and is stronger than oak. It does not shrink or swell (as hardwoods do) and has properties equal to conventional wood. It is grown without pesticide and reaches maturity in about 4 years. In comparison, commercial trees reach maturity in 25 to 70 years. Unlike hardwood trees which once cut are gone forever; bamboo doesn’t need replanting as its renewable root system sends out shoots after each harvest. Eco friendly companies avoid leather completely as animals are subjected to all types of cruelty (confinement, branding, repeated breeding etc). Instead they use microfiber and similar substitutes. Plywood takes just half a tree to make the same number of desks that 4 ½ trees would make if solid wood is used. It yields 8-10 times more usable wood from a log than can be made from solid lumber. Plywood furniture lasts longer than solid wood furniture. Look for Greenguard www.greenguard.org certification which ensures furniture is low toxicity. There are several other things to look for such as hemp and organic cotton.
The green consumer has lots of places to learn about, and eventually buy VOC free furniture. The Sierra Club http://www.sierraclub.org/ has a wonderful website with lots of information on green furniture. A safe, pollution free home is good for you and the Earth.