Furniture options are about as diverse as it comes, but there is an evident spectrum of green to not-so-green types of furniture available. To make environmentally friendly choices, you will need to understand how different products are made and what components have a high environmental impact.
1. Give old pieces a new life. The greenest piece of furniture is an existing one. There are many great, high-quality pieces that need freshening up to give them a second life. You can reupholster, refinish, or rebuild furniture to keep your environmental impact and costs low. Example: A Victoria-based accounting firm had some old oak desks and had the tops remade and the frames painted white to give them a new look and a new life.
2. Wood and alternatives: Wood is a natural and renewable furniture option, but deforestation is happening at a rapid pace, causing further global warming, and loss of habitat and soil erosion. Globally, 13 million hectares are deforested each year. When buying new furniture, look for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) stamp to assure the new piece you are buying is made from sustainably harvested wood. Bamboo and cork are both renewable options for furniture components. Bamboo is fast growing and cork can be harvested annually from the bark of the cork tree, without killing the tree.
3. Steer clear of VOCs: Avoid furniture made from pressed sawdust and glue to avoid the toxic emissions they release. Often cheap products like this have high VOC content with chemicals such as formaldehyde that become airborne, reducing air quality. Greenguard is a certification that assures the furniture has low toxicity.
4. Recycled components: Mining raw earth and oil to make furniture components puts great pressures on finite resources. Furniture made of recycled content, such as plastic and metal, will have a reduced environmental impact. Look for information on the product specs that state how much of the product is made from recycled materials.
5. Buy furniture that is built to last: When a chair is built with flimsy plastic, low-quality metal screws, and fabric that wears thin, it is not going to last long. Higher quality components usually mean a higher price tag, but think of them as investments. It can be worth it to buy great, longlasting pieces that can endure years and years of use. Go for durable. Furniture that is built to last is designed to be disassembled for repair when needed. Items that are an inseparable mash of wood, plastic, metal, and glue are often destined for the landfill. Look for the Cradle2Cradle logo, which verifies the product was designed with its entire life cycle in mind.
6. Keep it modular: Modular systems offer flexibility for new office arrangements. Your business may expand or contract and need to make changes to how your space is oriented. Modular systems include workstations that can have sections added or removed and even walls that can be moved to shift divided areas. These systems can last longer because they can change as your business does, rather than needing to replace old furniture with new pieces.
7. Make furniture of reclaimed materials: Furniture that was made from reclaimed wood is a green choice. You may be able to find local woodworkers who will use these materials to custom build your environmentally friendly furniture. While this may not be practical for all of your furniture, a few feature pieces will add style and uniqueness to your office.
There are many benefits of greening your office: from saving money to improving your brand image to better employee retention. Buying furniture in an environmentally friendly way is just one step of achieving it. For more tips, read Greening Your Office by Jill Doucette and Lee Johnson.