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If you read the paper, watch tv or subscribe to any number of magazines (Dwell for instance), you’ll notice that a number of furniture makers are coming out with a “green” or “organic” line of furniture. These guys of course are on the footsteps of eco-furniture specialists such as Vivavi (founded by the Lazy Environmentalist, aka Josh Dorfman), Greener Lifestyles and If Green to name a few. These are companies that work uniquely with various kinds of “eco” production ranging from SFI certified wood and non-toxic glues, to bamboo and recycled material furniture. In addition, there are generalists, like upscale New York home store ABC Carpet & Home which carry a wide variety of designers’ sustainable products.
Now, for organic. Organic furniture means the raw materials the products are made from have been grown without pesticides and harmful chemicals. Generally organically grown products use less resources to produce and are therefore often more sustainable then their non-organic counter parts.
So, what does all this mean? Well, in the perfect piece of furniture, you would be using locally harvested or recycled materials, assembled using minimal and non-toxic glues and dies, which you would purchase from a locally based store or retailer. This assures you minimize the environmental impact from: 1) the transportation associated with raw materials, 2) shipping distances of the finished product, 3) harmful toxins form dyes and glues entering the soil or groundwater, and 4) energy used to produced to grown and assemble the raw materials. Furthermore, by purchasing from local designers and retailers you stimulate the local economy, encouraging employment and a higher rate of reinvestment in the community (i.e. if you purchase a locally harvested and produced chair, 100% of that will be returning to community in the form of wages and materials purchased, which is then spent locally. If you purchase a chair from a big chain, 50-70% of the chairs value goes to costs outside of the local community).
Of course, we don’t live in a perfect world and have to make some sacrifices. For instance, much of the bamboo used in furniture is produced in China, which means energy consumed to ship it to the U.S. Or you may have a piece of furniture that is made from recycled products but assembled abroad and shipped locally. The important lesson is to know what exactly you are buying when you purchase a “green” sofa or a “sustainable” chair. Sometimes sacrifices have to be made, and you should be aware of what they are. There is still no “green” certification for products, so each piece marketed as such, will vary in terms of their sustainability factors.
Finally, I feel used furniture remains king. The energy and raw materials are already spent, the piece is in production, and the hope is that by re-using it you will reduce the demand for new furniture. While some sites, such as ebay and Furniture Trader provide online used furniture, unless you know exactly what you need, it is still best to find a local store for used goods. Oh, craigslist is a fantastic place to find furniture, but as my girlfriend will tell you, it’s not for everyone.
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