Thursday, February 9, 2012

Sustainable Furniture

By Laura Birns, ASID, LEED AP ID+C
LauraBirnsDesign Eco-Furnishings, LLC

Have you noticed that as you read and learn about sustainable, eco-friendly, green, etc furnishings that you begin to swim in alphabet soup. FSC, SFI, VOC, IAQ, - these are just a few that pertain to sustainable/eco-friendly furnishings. Now, I, myself, have lots of alphabet letters after my name: ASID, LEED AP ID+C, NCIDQ, CCIDC, to name just a few. These letters are important because they define standards and accomplishments just as the various certification letters do for materials.

So, what are the most important things to consider regarding sustainable furnishings? I like lists so here you go:

1. FSC wood – Forestry Stewardship Council – this standard for wood production is a safe bet. The wood is from a certified well - managed forest adhering to strict guidelines to protect the life of the forest and the environment. It is a chemically free environment. The fight between FSC vs SFI is for another blog. If you are looking for good casement furniture, i.e. night stands, coffee tables, dressers, etc., or chair/sofa construction, this is a standard you can bet on.

2. If veneers are used, have them FSC certified as well. These veneers are from certified forests and generally made from recomposed woods. Cabinet manufacturers and furniture manufacturers like using veneers because the grain consistency is better.

3. When purchasing sustainable furniture made with veneers, make sure that the core that it is adhered to is formaldehyde free. If in California, you are lucky! All MDF (medium density fiberboard) is required to be formaldehyde free. Formaldehyde is a bonding agent that has been preferred up until recently. Because we care about our IAQ (Interior Air Quality) our voices in California have been heard and formaldehyde is no longer present. And guess what – the board still holds together just fine.

4. Glues and adhesives are another sticking point. This is another IAQ issue. VOC – or Volatile Organic Compound – is REALLY bad for the environment. Make sure the manufacturer is using Low/No VOC glues and adhesives in their manufacturing process. We only get one air to breathe. Let’s keep it clean.

5. Sealers and stains are another big issue to consider whether the furniture is sustainable and eco-friendly. Only water borne sealers and stains with NO VOC should be used. Make sure that this is part of your criteria when selecting furnishings.

6. Cushioning for soft goods, i.e., sofas, upholstered chairs, etc., is another consideration. Renewable Soy based foam, wool felt, down, latex (watch out for allergies), are viable criteria. There is some contention regarding soy based foam, again, another time. The good news for soy based foam is that it uses less petroleum and meets fire code regulation. However, just using soy based foam is not enough. Make sure that the soy based foam is fiber wrapped and in a 100% organic cotton down ticking. A new product, Ingeo ™ is the world’s first man-made fiber derived from 100% annually renewed resources. This is used to wrap the soy based foam. It is not perfect but it is better to use than not.

Support our world – live eco-friendly!

LAURA BIRNS, ASID, LEED AP ID+C, named one of the Top Ten Green Gurus by Innovative Home Magazine, has created an award winning furniture line, LauraBirnsDesign Eco-Furnishings, LLC. Her awards, include: Best Product Design from ASID, Best Product from High Point Market. Her USA made sustainable furniture line is available nationally.