From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, most adults are at the office, striving to meet their deadlines and come up with innovative solutions that will boost business for their company. Employees are embracing the push toward sustainability and more are citing their employers’ environmental initiatives as important. In a cross-culture study by the Kenexa Research Institute, Wayne, Pa., 54 percent of employees indicated that a company’s environmental initiatives significantly influence worker motivation and affect their opinion of senior management.
Greening your workspace isn’t necessarily about installing solar panels and green roofs or replacing old windows with low-E glass. Taking smaller steps, like purchasing environmentally responsible office furniture when existing furniture has reached the end of its life, can score big.
The Sustainable Furniture Council, High Point, N.C., lists a number of guidelines for sustainable furniture. Wood furniture should use material that has been certified by an organization such as the Forest Stewardship Council, Reston, Va., or an equivalent. Low-VOC or water-based foams, glues and finishes should be used, and all materials used within sustainable furniture should be formaldehyde free. Metal should include recycled content and be recyclable. Organic fabrics, such as natural latex rubber or soybeans mixed with polyurethane, are best. Wrapping and batting should be bio-based instead of oil-based; examples of bio-based materials are down, feathers, organic cotton and wool. Longevity and durability also contribute toward furniture’s sustainability; the longer a product is used the less often it needs to be replaced and fewer resources are consumed.
Many manufacturers maintain responsible manufacturing operations by certifying under ISO 14001, the international specification for environmental management from the International Organization of Standardization, Geneva. The standard focuses on energy use, global-warming potential, hazardous materials and waste, material- and natural-resource consumption, reclamation and recycling. In addition, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D.C., provides information on its Web site, www.epa.gov/greensuppliers, about the Green Supplier Network, a collaboration among industry and government that offers small- and medium-sized manufacturers technical assistance about lean and clean manufacturing techniques.
Life-cycle assessment also is important when considering sustainable furniture. LCA takes into account from where materials are sourced, how the item is manufactured and whether it is recyclable or biodegradable at the end of its useful life. Furniture manufactured close to its final destination reduces environmental impact from shipping. EPA administers a SmartWay certification for transportation initiatives that increase energy efficiency while reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and air pollution.
Green furniture provides the contemporary look many offices are going for while maintaining sustainable manufacturing processes and attributes.
THE SUSTAINABLE FURNITURE COUNCIL
The Sustainable Furniture Council is a nonprofit industry association founded in October 2006 in High Point, N.C., to promote sustainable furniture practices among manufacturers, retailers and consumers. Members are committed to minimizing carbon-dioxide emissions, waste-stream pollutants, non-recyclable content and materials from unsustainable sources. SFC members recognize life-cycle assessment as the best method for analyzing the environmental impact of their products and a verifiable chain of custody as the only acceptable method for tracking wood flow. The organization’s goals are to raise awareness about sustainability, assist companies in adopting good practices, serve as an information clearing house, and create a symbol of quality and assurance for customers. Learn more at www.sustainablefurniturecouncil.org.