Sustainable Furniture: Will We Pay for It?

From The New York Times: Once a laggard in the green scene, the $8.3 billion furniture industry is catching up. From individual furniture makers to national retailers, green furnishing options are popping up in many stores and price ranges to appeal to eco-friendly consumers and conform to stricter environmental laws.

The Sustainable Furnishings Council, a nonprofit that promotes green practices in the furniture industry, has grown to over 300 members since it was created three years ago. And green trends were highlighted at the two largest furniture shows in High Point, N.C., and Las Vegas this year.

There’s good reason: Half of U.S. consumers said they would pay 5 percent or more for green products, according to a recent survey from The Boston Consulting Group. And almost three-fourths of those surveyed said it’s important for companies to have good environmental track records.

On top of that, Congress last year banned the import, export and sale of illegally harvested timber and wood, holding the furniture business accountable for its wood sourcing.

The U.S. is the world’s largest importer of furniture products, said Linda Kramme, manager of the Global Forest & Trade Network, but there are no estimates showing how much furniture specifically is made from illegal wood. A recent Environmental Investigation Agency report estimated 10 percent of furniture, pulp and paper used in the U.S. are at high risk of coming from illegal sources — an officially protected rain forest, for example.

”We, in the home furnishings industry, are shockingly responsible for illegal logging,” said Susan Inglis, the executive director of the Sustainable Furnishings Council.

PROS: The No. 1 reason to buy green furniture is its healthier for the planet. But it may also be healthier for you. Many green furniture pieces are treated with natural, nontoxic finishes, sealants, stains and paints that won’t emit harmful chemicals into the air you breathe.

Some eco-conscious companies are also socially conscious, including Harden Furniture and Lee Industries. So the furniture you buy might be made in a developing country, but the employees work for fair wages and in safe conditions.

CONS: The selection of green furniture isn’t as wide as standard pieces, especially at lower prices, but that’s changing. Also, buying green furniture and getting rid of your old stuff creates more waste.

COSTS: If you’re used to decorating with ready-to-assemble furniture, expect to pay more for green designs, in general. However, national retailers like Williams-Sonoma Home, Pottery Barn, West Elm or Crate & Barrel offer eco-friendly furniture for the same price as their standard lines.

Higher-end green lines, like those found in ABC Carpet & Home, will also run about the same as standard upscale options.

”There is a little bit of a premium if you want to do everything to the highest level,” says Annette Stelmack, an interior designer in Denver.

Price tags on the unique, artisan pieces can easily run from the thousands to the tens of thousands of dollars.

TIPS: Buy furniture made of wood that comes from forests that are harvested to reduce the negative impacts of logging and to encourage forest growth. Consider furniture made of wood from salvaged sources such as old barns, factories or warehouses.

Look for certifications from the Forest Stewardship Council, Tropical Trust Fund, American Tree Farm System, Canadian Standards Association-Sustainable Forest Management, Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. These organizations monitor how wood is grown, logged and transported.

Consumers should also consider buying furniture made from recycled or organic materials. Look for sofas made from recycled polyester or coffee tables created out of recycled metal. Or, choose a chair with wool or soy-based upholstery fillings.

Buy local. Pieces that are transported over long distances add to energy consumption and air pollution.

Take care of the furniture you have. Cheap and easy-to-assemble furniture is easily thrown away, creating more waste. Buying second-hand and antique furniture or accepting hand-me-downs are ways to save the planet and keep furniture from ending up in landfills.

You can find a green manufacturer, retailer or interior designer near you on the Sustainable Furnishings Council’s Web site at www.sustainablefurnishings.org.

Kim’s note:

In New England you can go to Circle Furniture, who carries great brands like Lee and Maine Cottage (personal favorite) among many others in their eco line of furniture products.  I am working on the interior design of the house with them right now and am really impressed by their knowledge and their commitment to living clean on the inside of your home. I am working on a series on hidden VOCs in furniture and the impact on indoor air quality and your family’s health in a LEED home, so check back for that and of course furniture pictures!

posted by KDL | follow me on Twitter :  newscaster

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4 Responses

  1. […] is the original post:  Sustainable Furniture: Will We Pay for It? By admin | category: consulting companies | tags: argentina, channel-solutions, […]

  2. Hi there -can you direct me to the original NYT article? When was it published?

    • Hi Sue — Sorry your the second person to ask me for that. I thought it was linked. I will find it and post tomorrow. Best, Kim

      • Hi Sue – I can’t find the Times story but here’s the full AP story they got it from:
        ——————————————————————————–

        Once a laggard in the green scene, the $8.3 billion furniture industry is catching up.

        From individual furniture makers to national retailers, green furnishing options are popping up in many stores and price ranges to appeal to eco-friendly consumers and conform to stricter environmental laws.

        The Sustainable Furnishings Council, a nonprofit that promotes green practices in the furniture industry, has grown to over 300 members since it was created three years ago. And green trends were highlighted at the two largest furniture shows in High Point, N.C., and Las Vegas this year.

        There’s good reason: Half of U.S. consumers said they would pay 5 percent or more for green products, according to a recent survey from The Boston Consulting Group. And almost three-fourths of those surveyed said it’s important for companies to have good environmental track records.

        On top of that, Congress last year banned the import, export and sale of illegally harvested timber and wood, holding the furniture business accountable for its wood sourcing.

        The U.S. is the world’s largest importer of furniture products, said Linda Kramme, manager of the Global Forest & Trade Network, but there are no estimates showing how much furniture specifically is made from illegal wood. A recent Environmental Investigation Agency report estimated 10 percent of furniture, pulp and paper used in the U.S. are at high risk of coming from illegal sources — an officially protected rain forest, for example.

        “We, in the home furnishings industry, are shockingly responsible for illegal logging,” said Susan Inglis, the executive director of the Sustainable Furnishings Council.

        PROS: The No. 1 reason to buy green furniture is its healthier for the planet. But it may also be healthier for you. Many green furniture pieces are treated with natural, nontoxic finishes, sealants, stains and paints that won’t emit harmful chemicals into the air you breathe.

        Some eco-conscious companies are also socially conscious, including Harden Furniture and Lee Industries. So the furniture you buy might be made in a developing country, but the employees work for fair wages and in safe conditions.

        CONS: The selection of green furniture isn’t as wide as standard pieces, especially at lower prices, but that’s changing. Also, buying green furniture and getting rid of your old stuff creates more waste.

        COSTS: If you’re used to decorating with ready-to-assemble furniture, expect to pay more for green designs, in general. However, national retailers like Williams-Sonoma Home, Pottery Barn, West Elm or Crate & Barrel offer eco-friendly furniture for the same price as their standard lines.

        Higher-end green lines, like those found in ABC Carpet & Home, will also run about the same as standard upscale options.

        “There is a little bit of a premium if you want to do everything to the highest level,” says Annette Stelmack, an interior designer in Denver.

        Price tags on the unique, artisan pieces can easily run from the thousands to the tens of thousands of dollars.

        TIPS: Buy furniture made of wood that comes from forests that are harvested to reduce the negative impacts of logging and to encourage forest growth. Consider furniture made of wood from salvaged sources such as old barns, factories or warehouses.

        Look for certifications from the Forest Stewardship Council, Tropical Trust Fund, American Tree Farm System, Canadian Standards Association-Sustainable Forest Management, Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. These organizations monitor how wood is grown, logged and transported.

        Furniture maker Cliff Spencer in Marina del Ray, Calif., designs pieces using White Oak staves from Nap a Valley wineries. The staves are dipped into the wine while it’s fermenting to imbue with flavor. The wood is stained by the grapes, creating rich colors.

        Kerrie Kelly, an interior designer out of Gold River, Calif., just launched a green line featuring furniture made from teak wood reclaimed from old bridges in India.

        Consumers should also consider buying furniture made from recycled or organic materials. Look for sofas made from recycled polyester or coffee tables created out of recycled metal. Or, choose a chair with wool or soy-based upholstery fillings.

        Buy local. Pieces that are transported over long distances add to energy consumption and air pollution.

        Take care of the furniture you have. Cheap and easy-to-assemble furniture is easily thrown away, creating more waste. Buying second-hand and antique furniture or accepting hand-me-downs are ways to save the planet and keep furniture from ending up in landfills.

        You can find a green manufacturer, retailer or interior designer near you on the Sustainable Furnishings Council’s Web site at http://www.sustainablefurnishings.org.

        Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.

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