The Environmental Impact of Office Furniture

By: Rob Buehl

When most of us think “eco-friendly,” we think of those things that affect the environment in a plainly visible way like cars, airplanes, light bulbs, oil burners, etc. Not too many of us focus on furniture. After all, how much environmental harm can be done by desks, chairs, and cabinets?

Interestingly enough, there are many ways furniture makers can factor eco-friendliness into their manufacturing processes. One way is to control the emission of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) by limiting the use of solvents such as paints, stains, and glues. Environmentally favorable alternatives include things such as VOC-free, water-based, or powder-based finishes.Another way to be more environmentally conscience with your furniture is by purchasing the right wood. Certain lumber companies are very careful about using well documented, sustainable forestry practices. Manufacturers who purchase their wood only from

producers like these are assuring that their furniture products are as green as they can possibly be. Some products go as far as to bear the FSC logo, which guarantees that the wood came from a forest certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Another consideration is how far the wood has to travel. In general, it is always better from an environmental perspective to use domestic wood, as the transport process alone will entail a carbon footprint.

Some specific factors that business owners may look out for when choosing furniture with the environment in mind:

  • All lumber is domestic.
  • Finishing materials are water-based (low-VOC).
  • They use green packaging materials.
  • Units are manufactured and stored locally until shipped to consumer.
  • They are made by US workers, using wood from sustainable species and forests.

Companies making the environment a priority think ahead when it comes time to disassemble the product and consider “will it be recyclable?” Recycled furniture materials are becoming increasingly common and an entire industry has sprung up around refurbishing and “re-manufacturing.” Making sure that an original
product is “green” will help sustain the eco-friendliness of all future permutations of that product.

Rob is the owner of Import Advantage, which sells TV Lift Cabinets. They currently are manufacturing four green models: Coastal Creations, Axiom, Nottingham, and Restoration, which have features such as those described above: domestic lumber, green packaging, and water based finishing.

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2 responses

  1. The biggest concern when it comes to furniture like chairs and couches are the flame retardants in the cushions. Cushions off-gas for their entire lives, and the flame retardant chemicals breakdown into household dust that gets inhaled. Flame retardants are thought to potentially contribute to cancer.

    It’s difficult to find alternatives. California law mandates that flame retardants be included and to what degree, despite the fact that the national smoking rate has drastically dropped since the law was enacted in the 70’s.

    There are alternatives, but they can be costly, and many companies simply choose not to offer them. Interestingly, options are as simple as cotton with a wool outer layer because wool is naturally flame retardant. There are also options made from recycled PET bottles.

    If furniture makers really want to make an impact, they should look here and work together with their vendors to find other options. Until furniture makers start demanding other solutions, few producers will strive to find alternatives.

  2. a lot of ways that we can do to save the environment, and I’m totally agree with this eco-friendly furniture. when I discovered those environment furniture, it’s inspiring me to get one of them. I like the recycled things that can develop my creativity to re-use them. and this is a good idea!

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