Today’s consumers are becoming more conscious about the impact of the choices they make on people and the environment. That’s because there is a growing understanding of how the things we buy are made, what materials are used to create them and what the health impacts are when they enter our homes.
A focus on green furniture
While many have made the switch to green or eco-friendly household cleaning products and are building new homes to be as sustainable as possible, there has not been enough focus on ensuring that the furnishings we put into our homes are equally kind to people and the planet. While green furniture can take many forms, we want to focus specifically on the health and environmental impacts of buying conventionally manufactured upholstered furniture including sofas, chairs, ottomans and headboards. These products have their own set of impacts because of the materials used to create them.
No to greenwashing
Many furniture manufacturers claim to offer “green” or “eco-friendly” products. Because there is no official certification for green upholstered products, it is easy for manufacturers to claim that their products are “green” without having to comply with any objective standard.
At EcoBalanza, we believe there are five excellent reasons for you to invest in buying green furniture for your home:
1. Green sofas don’t harm your health
Whether someone in your family has multiple chemical sensitivities or you simply want to fill your space with green furniture that is healthy for your family, it is important to understand the health impacts of conventional furniture.
First, consider the frame inside the sofa. Most conventional manufacturers use plywood to create the frame that provides the structure for a sofa or chair. Composite wood products like plywood contain formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. According to the EPA, formaldehyde exposure can have a negative effect on health, both in the short and long term. Formaldehyde can cause irritation of the skin, eyes, nose, and throat. High levels of exposure may cause some types of cancers.
Everyone wants to keep their new sofa stain-free for as long as possible. What is not common knowledge, however, is that the waterproof, stain-proof, wrinkle-proof and anti-microbe fabric finishes used by furniture manufacturers present long-term health concerns through the addition of toxic Perfluorocarbons (PFC’s). Perfluorocarbons are a group of human-made chemicals composed of carbon and fluorine only. PFCs have been found to contribute to reduced female fertility and sperm quality, reduced birth weight, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), increased total and non-HDL (bad) cholesterol levels, and changes in thyroid hormone levels.
Volatile organic compounds (VOC) used in furniture paints, varnishes and wax are a source of indoor air pollution that can lead to health impacts. Once these chemicals are in our homes, they are released or “off-gas” into the indoor air we breathe. They may or may not be able to be smelled, and smell is not a good indicator of health risk. VOCs enter the body through breathing and skin contact. irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, nausea, fatigue, loss of coordination, dizziness, damage to the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system and cancer according to the US National Library of Medicine.
Because of the prevalence of greenwashing, it is important to ask manufacturers whether they use any of these chemicals in their upholstered furniture. Instead, look for green furniture that has been crafted using kiln-dried FSC-certified hardwoods. By drying wood in a kiln, most of the moisture in the wood is removed, which prevents warping and bowing. Hardwood, with a higher density than softwood, has better fire resistance, and is harder, stronger, and more durable than softwood.
2. Green sofas don’t contain any petrochemicals
In the 1950’s, furniture manufacturers started using polyurethane foam as a cushioning material because of its amazingly low cost: synthetic plastics like polyurethane could be produced at a fraction of the cost of naturally-derived latex.
Today, most furniture manufacturers continue to use petroleum-based polyfoam which is highly flammable and continues to show toxic effects, even post-production, on household air quality. Polyurethane foam is so flammable that it’s often referred to by fire marshals as “solid gasoline.” When the untreated foam is ignited, it burns extremely fast. Ignited polyurethane foam sofas can reach temperatures over 1400 degrees Fahrenheit within minutes.
Worse yet, the process of producing plastics like polyurethane is much more toxic to workers than latex production and has been criticized by the EPA and OSHA for exposing workers to carcinogenic substances. A 2013 article by the New York Times found that workers manufacturing polyurethane pillows in the US were suffering from severe nerve damage thanks to glues that had been used-- nerve damage that led workers to lose feeling in their limbs, leaving them unable to walk.
Many manufacturers claim to use soy-based foam in their “green sofas”. However, polyurethane still makes up more than 50% of this product. In some soy foams, soy actually makes up less than 5% of the cushion. Buying soy foam doesn’t address the concerns of flammability, because all that polyfoam will still light up.
Authentically green sofas are manufactured using GOLS certified organic Dunlop latex, with no fillers or fire-retardant treatments, to make seat cushions, armrests, and backs cushions. Organic latex is non-toxic, recyclable, biodegradable, incredibly comfortable and safe for any space.
3. Green sofas are naturally flame retardant
To offset the risks associated with highly flammable petrochemical foam, furniture manufacturers may coat seat cushions with chemical flame retardants, According to Green Science Policy, flame retardant chemicals are associated with a variety of serious health concerns, including disruption of hormones, developmental and reproductive problems. These chemicals do not stay in products- they are found in the blood, fat and breast milk of nearly all people tested, as well being ubiquitous in wildlife and the environment worldwide.
Green sofas that are wrapped in wool like Oeko-Tex® certified French biowool, are naturally flame resistant. Wool offers a natural alternative to chemical flame retardants. According to the International Wool Textile Association, because of the way the wool fiber is structured, wool requires more oxygen than is available in the air to become flammable. Of the commonly used textile fibers (cotton, rayon, polyester, acrylic and nylon), wool is widely recognized as the most flame resistant.
4. Green sofas are covered in certified non-toxic fabrics that don’t harm people or the planet
Clearly, the fabric is the most visible part of a green sofa. It also can be a source of unintended impacts to the people who produce it as well as those who experience it on a piece of furniture. That’s why it is critical to ensure that your green sofa is encased in fabric that carries one of two certifications: GOTS (Global Organic Textiles Standard) or Oeko-tex Standard 100. Both guarantee that the fabric in your home is entirely non-toxic and completely safe. The difference between the two is simple: GOTS certifies every step of the production process, and an Oeko-tex certification guarantees the safety of the post-production material.
If you care about the environmental impacts of your sofa during its production, you should insist on fabric that is GOTs-certified. During the production process, the process of soaking fabric in chemicals and then rinsing in water is repeated over and over. Most of the water used during fabric production is not cleaned or treated before it leaves a factory, entering directly into local water systems like groundwater. GOTS ensures that local communities aren’t devastated by water pollution. It also ensures that workers are not being exposed to dangerous working conditions and unlivable wages.
5. Your green sofa can last a lifetime
Because green furniture is made using only natural materials rather than composites, they outlast most commercially manufactured sofas. This is becoming increasingly important for many furniture buyers who are rejecting the idea of using up the things they buy and then simply throwing them away. By investing in products that are built to last from both a materials and manufacturing perspective, today’s green furniture buyers are further protecting the environment by keeping large products out of landfills.
And when it is time to retire a sofa made from natural materials, owners are reassured to know that their piece is biodegradable.
Invest in quality
It should come as no surprise that it costs more to produce green furniture. Organic, natural and 3rd party-certified materials tend to be more expensive than man-made, chemically treated materials. However, this is an investment worth making, for your home, for the environment and for the people who are impacted throughout the production process.