Thursday, January 20, 2011

The State of the Sustainable Furniture Industry

While the furniture industry has made great strides in recent years, there are major impediments preventing the industry from going green. This was illustrated at the recent Canadian Home Furnishing Market (TCHFM) trade show that took place in Toronto, Canada between January 14 and 18, 2011. TCHFM is the oldest and most prestigious furniture trade fair in Canada and although it is a showcase for upcoming trends, with very few exceptions, green furniture was conspicuously absent at this year's show.

The trade show revealed that while the furniture industry may be getting greener, increased costs, a slow economy, consumer ignorance, and the absence of American legislation are making it harder for furniture manufacturers to go green.

One sustainable furniture manufacturer that was present at the TCHFM trade show was Greenington LLC. They manufacture a wide range of highly aesthetic quality furniture using only Moso bamboo which is stronger and harder than Oak. From processing the raw bamboo to the final product, they are ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 certified. With more than 14 years experience, they are the leading sustainable furniture company in the industry.

With the exception of companies like Greenington, there was very little green on display at the TCHFM trade show. The sad truth is that most furniture manufacturers are not very green. At the show, some manufacturers voiced the concern that if they market green furniture, they will be accused of greenwashing due to the fact that others aspects of their furniture manufacturing are not very green.

Two primary certification boards help the furniture industry manage the issues surrounding environmental sustainability:

1. The Sustainable Furnishing Council (SFC) provides clarification and resources on furniture that is green, eco-friendly, environmentally safe and sustainable. SFC is the number one organization in green furnishings, it is a non-profit coalition of suppliers, manufacturers, retailers, and designers formed to promote sustainable practices with the best networking and education in the industry.

Their education programs include GREENleaders Certified Sustainability Training program which is offered as a live 6-hour program at various locations. This is the most comprehensive training program available in green home furnishings, it provides manufacturers, reps, retailers and designers with the knowledge and credentials to become experts in sustainability.

SFC also provides searchable resources to:
Find a green manufacturer
Find a green retailer
Find a green designer

2. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) helps to reduce the environmental impact of harvesting wood including furniture made from wood. This organization reduces habitat destruction, water pollution and the displacement of indigenous peoples due to logging. Members who have earned FSC certification improve the practice of forestry by reducing the negative impact of logging through managing and protecting forests. Products bearing the FSC logo, guarantee that the wood is from a certified well-managed forest.

FSC also provides searchable resources to
Find FSC-certified products
Find FSC retailers
Find FSC certificate holders

The efforts of the SFC and the FSC have proven insufficient on their own. Furniture manufactures indicate that they are waiting for legislation before they go green, while at the same time they decry the new green standards introduced in California.

California has adopted new regulations that restrict the use of formaldehyde in particle boards used in furniture construction. Formaldehyde is widely used in particle boards but the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified formaldehyde as carcinogenic to humans. California's Air Resources Board (ARB) found that one of the major sources of exposure to formaldehyde is from composite wood products like particle boards.

In California new emission standards were implemented on January 1, 2009, they reduce formaldehyde emissions from furniture and other composite wood products.

These new rules have significantly increased costs for manufacturers. According to one manufacturer at the TCHFM trade show, the new emissions standards have increased their costs by approximately 6%. The same manufacturer noted that consumers are oblivious to the increased cost of manufacturing as well as the new composite wood product rules.

Increased costs are causing many manufacturers to resist the trend towards more environmentally responsible furniture, however California may offer a glimpse into the future of furniture manufacturing.

The best way to move forward is to help the sustainable furniture industry grow so that it can benefit from economies of scale, (reduced cost of production due to mass production). Both manufacturers and retailers can help grow the sustainable furniture market by educating themselves as well as consumers.

Perhaps most importantly, legislation is required to mandate these standards on a national level. However, furniture manufacturers that wait for legislation risk being punished in the marketplace if they are perceived as coming to the table too late.

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