5 REASONS TO BUY GREEN FURNITURE FOR YOUR HOME

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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.

 Choose a green sofa made from FSC-certified hardwoods

Choose a green sofa made from FSC-certified hardwoods

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.

 Choose organic GOTS-certified Dunlop Latex

Choose organic GOTS-certified Dunlop Latex

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.

 Organic wool is naturally flame resistent

Organic wool is naturally flame resistent

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.

 

 Ensure your sofa is green by choosing third-party certified fabrics

Ensure your sofa is green by choosing third-party certified fabrics

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.

OTHER RESOURCES

Learn about non-toxic materials for your green sofa

What's inside a sofa?

How to select safe fabrics for your new sofa

The pitfalls of fillings for your new sofa

Consider the frame when buying a new sofa

 

 

SECTIONAL SOFAS

In the cold, dark days of December in Seattle, we dream about curling up on a sumptuous sectional in front of a roaring fire with our loved ones. While we are known for creating the world's most luxurious organic sofas, sectionals make up a big part of our portfolio every month. Typically, no two sectionals are the same. That's because we work with each person to create the sectional of their dreams using only organic, non-toxic materials.

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There are a number of ways you can work with us to create a sectional for your space.

  1. Start with one of our existing models and then customize it to meet your specific needs
  2. Create a unique sectional based on a design of your own

 

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You can select from a range of non-toxic fabrics and leathers to bring your piece to life.

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Contact us today to start the design process. We'd love to see an EcoBalanza sectional in your space in the new year.

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WE’RE GETTING THE WORD OUT: RECENT MEDIA COVERAGE

It’s been a busy summer at EcoBalanza and we have been hard at work creating the world’s most luxurious non-toxic upholstered furniture one sofa, chair, loveseat, sectional, ottoman and headboard at a time!

While we were working, we also caught the attention of the media which we really appreciate. Here are a few stories about us:

Women Who Lead: EcoBalanza CEO Aimee Robinson built a toxin-free business

We loved meeting Puget Sound Business Journal staff writer Nuoya Zhou and photographer Anthony Bolante when they visited the studio to interview our founder and CEO, Aimee Robinson for their Women who Lead series. 

Anthony’s photographs capture Aimee’s passion and humility and showcase the materials and techniques that go into each piece we create. And, Aimee’s dog, Peanut was excited to make her photographic debut in the Journal too.

We were so honored that Nuoya reached out to James Connelly, International Living Future Institute’s Vice President of Products and Strategic Growth. ILFI is a global network dedicated to creating a healthy future for all.

ILFI created an international sustainable building certification program called the Living Building Challenge in 2006, which requires all materials used to be free of toxins.

“I think (EcoBalanza) as a company really reflects a lot of the values of our organization,” Connelly said, “specifically through the Living Building Challenge.”

 

Ten companies making healthy interior products

Speaking of the Living Future Institute, we were proud to be included in an article they wrote for their TrimTab blog listing ten companies who are creating interior products made with innovative materials that are pushing the limit on healthy products.

Other products featured include Metroflor Corporation’s Aspecta Luxury Vinyl Tile, Mohawk Group’s Lichen Collection, a modular carpet tile product backed by the company’s EcoFlex NXT backing and Armstrong Ceilings’ SUSTAIN™ portfolio of ceiling systems.

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The Ultimate Guide to Eco-Friendly and Ethical Furniture

EcoCult loves anything local, sustainable, eco-friendly, handmade—when it’s done well. That’s why it was no surprise when the site published their ultimate guide the eco-friendly and ethical furniture. What was a surprise and a delight was that they included EcoBalanza in their round-up of sustainable new furniture.

We couldn’t agree more with writer L. Christina Cobb when she says: “There are not many bigger furniture brands that are really sustainable, but a lot of them that have a diluted or partial commitment to sustainability.”

It was extremely gratifying that EcoCult listed EcoBalanza first as the company most committed to sustainable materials and production methods.

“Eco Balanza: crème de la crème in terms of meeting sustainability criteria and having certifications to prove it. They’re about to become the only furniture company to receive the most stringent certification available.”

The article provides a host of invaluable information whether you are shopping for sustainable and ethical living room, dining room or bedroom furniture.

PRESS RELEASE: EcoBalanza launches new affordable Essential Collection

EcoBalanza, a manufacturer of ethical, sustainable handcrafted upholstered furniture today launched their new Essential Collection. Billed as “affordable luxury for your home or business”, the Essential Collection is made with non-toxic components, a constant concern for sustainability, and a deep commitment to quality craftsmanship.

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The EcoBalanza story: The journey to building the world's most luxurious ethical sofas

The EcoBalanza story: The journey to building the world's most luxurious ethical sofas

 “It started out as an experiment, a question,” says Robinson, “Once I decided I wanted to make clean, sustainable furniture, I wanted to prove that women could succeed in manufacturing, and that when they did, work places were healthier, and more supportive. And I wanted to create a company and a process that brought back dignity to a group of forgotten craftsmen-- it’s always been a goal to preserve these techniques, which risk being lost.” 

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EcoBalanza, chosen for ILFI Seattle Headquarters

EcoBalanza, chosen for ILFI Seattle Headquarters

We are happy to report that the International Living Future Institute has chosen one of our pieces to grace the lobby of their downtown offices.

ILFI, headquartered in Seattle, “offers green building and infrastructure solutions that move across scales (from single room renovations to neighborhoods or whole cities),” supported by programs like their living product and living building challenges, which encourage manufacturers and builders to build with sustainable and non-toxic materials.

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How to select safe fabrics for your new sofa

How to select safe fabrics for your new sofa

When enjoying your new sofa, the thing you'll notice most is the fabric. You’ve chosen the color and the texture and now that this piece is in your home, you sit on it every day, whether it’s watching movies, reading books, eating a meal, or entertaining guests. You know exactly how soft it is and how scratchy, but do you know how safe it is? Because it could be that your skin and lungs have been bathing in chemicals every day.

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The pitfalls of fillings when buying a toxic-free sofa

The pitfalls of fillings when buying a toxic-free sofa

The upholstery techniques used in furniture have not changed much since upholstery started to become quite popular and available over 400 years ago. Frames, springs, and fabric covering techniques look mostly identical now to antique pieces. Filling materials, on the other hand, have changed a lot.

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BUYING A SOFA? CONSIDER THE FRAME

BUYING A SOFA? CONSIDER THE FRAME

You’ve probably never seen the frame on the inside of your sofa, but do you know what it’s made of? There are many considerations that go into deciding what to fabricate upholstered furniture out of, and just as many considerations for you when buying a new piece. Consult the following guide when shopping for upholstered furniture for your home to make sure you bring home a piece of furniture that is both safe for your family, and a durable investment of your money.

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A visit to EcoBalanza’s workshop in Seattle

By Estelle Pin

It’s not a factory—that’s the first thing you need to understand about EcoBalanza. There are no machines, none of those loud repetitive industrial noises, there’s no chemical or metallic smell. When you walk into the space at EcoBalanza, there are five craftsmen and women, working together, laughing and smiling together, and creating beautiful works of art, quietly, by hand.

Some pieces are quite large: a bedframe for a king sized bed, fully upholstered, is one of the recently completed works, waiting for some finishing touches. It takes up a large corner of its own, and when it finally passes all of Aimee’s meticulous inspections, it will go to its new home, for some glamorous person in Europe, who likes their headboards 8 feet tall. The piece I fall for during my visit is also a headboard, more curved and romantic, also upholstered, but drastically different in style, and probably half the size. I imagine this client and I have a lot more in common.

Nearby, layers of wool are being stitched together with one long big needle, to make the cushion of a chaise. The fabric for this one is a rich cherry red. I run my hands over seams of finished pieces, awestruck knowing the hours of labor that go into each stage of construction—more so, when I feel the tension inside each frame. These pieces feel sturdy, solid, but soft, welcoming. I sit down in a completed loveseat that waits by the door for packaging, and Aimee raises an eyebrow at me, giving me a moment to soak it all in before asking for my opinion. My positive review leaves her glowing.

It’s clear that for her, it’s a labor of love. Aimee moves through the workshop with an excited hop in her step that keeps her more airborne than grounded, pulling me towards this piece of wool, or that piece of leather, or this fully finished couch. She has me touch everything, feeling the materials that never see the light of day once sandwiched into layers inside fabric. Her eyes catch every detail, and when I reach for a round of wool, she quickly redirects me to another, of higher quality—the one I originally saw has to be returned, it doesn’t meet her standards.

She explains every step of the process to me, showing various stages of construction, and answers every question I can think to ask. The whole time, she’s also switching back and forth to Spanish, as she watches over her crew, and makes minute adjustments to their work.

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I excuse myself to explore a bit, though the space isn’t so huge that exploring takes me very far. There are shelves piled high with materials all the way to the ceiling, some 20 feet above us, and every inch of usable space is being put to work in some way or another. I find a pile of vegetable-treated leather in every color you can imagine. It’s softer than I can describe, like passing your hand through ethereal space, and the green is especially brilliant. I notice some frames for pullout couches, Aimee explains later that those come to her pre-made—metalwork is probably the only thing they don’t do here.

Before I leave, Aimee shows me one last thing. She brings it over cradled in two hands; the foot of a couch. It’s only about 4 inches long, hand tooled on a lathe and stained. She hands it to me, like a sacred artifact, and she’s beaming with pride. “Look at this, look at these colors, look how this stain has come out”. And she’s right, it’s beautiful. There are warm tones, cold tones, streaks of lights and darks, more complexities in this one tiny detail than in half of my apartment.

And it’s all like that. Every piece, every component, more varied and beautiful than you can ever really appreciate. What Aimee Robinson does, every day. In a small workshop in the heart of south Seattle, is create art in the form of furniture. At EcoBalanza, every choice is intentional, every detail attended to, and every need is considered.

Estelle Pin is a Bellingham-based writer who recently toured the EcoBalanza workshop with owner, Aimee Robinson.

Our obsession with sourcing wool locally

The wool we use in our furniture exemplifies our commitment to taking our core values as far as humanly possible. From the beginning, we have worked hard to find independent craftspeople, artisans and farmers in the Pacific Northwest who raise animals and produce superior wool batting and fabrics using sustainable and fair trade practices. Our goal is to make them part of a ‘living mission’ framework of production.

At Ecobalanza, living these also values requires that the origin, ethics of production and quality of these products is as important as the feel and aesthetic. That is why we offer our customers the ability to follow all aspects and components of the manufacturing and material to their very tangible origins.

The following farms and cooperatives and artisans with their own unique stories, methods and missions illustrate perfectly this Ecobalanza commitment:

  • A community of Decater Island in the Puget Sound’s San Juan Islands is a unique living example of a new evolving industry community.    A number of concerned local farmers organized to re-domesticate a herd of hearty feral Scottish Blackface sheep that were the surviving livestock of a farm abandoned in the 1950s.  Out of this venture formed a unique grassroots cooperative concerned for the welfare of the animals who are in turn producing a marketable product from their wool to sustain the animals and the cost of their care.
  • High-quality raw wool used for felting is sourced from a business in Chehalis run by Meg and Brad.
  • We source fine Cheviots Lamb’s wool, known for its resilience and memory for use in batting from Caroline in Snohomish. 
  • Maggie and Jim are skilled needlepoint specialists in Monroe who craft wool felt for Ecobalanza.

Contact us if you would like to learn more about our suppliers or visit our workshop in Seattle to touch and smell our 100% chemical free materials.

 

 

 

 

Customer story: A special sofa for a very special boy

I have a special needs child with a medical condition that keeps him on the sofa much of the day. The family sofa is more than just a place to sit, it's his security blanket. 

As a mom, my paramount concern is his comfort and safety. When the time came to buy a new sofa, I wanted to make a change and get an organic one to prevent exposing him to toxins or chemicals found in regular sofas. 

I did a lot of research on the internet, but there wasn't clear information to help me understand what the options were. I still had a lot of questions.  Are all the components truly organic? How do you read between the lines when a company promotes itself as using “all natural” materials? Are they in control of the sourcing of all their materials?

When I found EcoBalanza, it was different. They explained all the filling options - like latex, wool and kapok as well as the different fabrics, and dyes. I was also reassured that they were in complete control of their supply chain, from start to finish. Scott spent a lot of time with me on the phone. He understood our long list of requirements, including my hesitation to make an expensive purchase, sight unseen. He asked many questions, sent pictures and facilitated the process of translating our specific needs into a custom built, beautiful and lasting piece. 

Turn around time was shorter than I expected. It was shipped from Seattle to a local white glove delivery service.  They brought it to my house, unwrapped the frame and cushions and carted away the packaging. 

So today, the couch stands in my home,  and it's clearly not a piece that was rolled off a factory floor. The design was specifically tailored for my son. They made the couch deeper, with a higher back and longer zippers to make the cushions easier to clean. The extra filling makes it softer and very comfortable. It's modern, stylish, well built and best of all, has no chemical smell.  

I made an investment, it’s for my son, it’s for my peace of mind. It’s totally worth it.

- Vicky

Avoiding toxins in your home

Did you know?

Tumor-causing flame retardant treatments: Polyurethane foam burns fast and hot,[iv] which is why it’s treated with flame retardants like polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), Melamine,[v] chlorinated tris (TDCPP) and chlorinated organophosphate flame retardants (OPFRs).[vi] TDCPP negatively impacts fertility and tumor growth rates kidneys[vii] of which 8,000 tons are used every year.[viii] High-level exposure to melamine causes acute renal failure, urinary stone formation, and crystalluria.[ix]

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The ABCs of VOCs

In her blog, Christie's Non-Toxic Lifestyle, Christy Begien share some great insights into the impact of living with Volatile Organic Compounds. Visit her blog regularly to see how you can learn from her experiences.

VOC? What does that mean? The Minnesota Department of Health states that Volatile Organic Compounds are “a large group of carbon-based chemicals that easily evaporate at room temperature. While most people can smell high levels of some VOCs, other VOCs have no odor. Odor does NOT indicate the level of risk from inhalation of this group of chemicals.”

I’ll bet most of you have heard of formaldehyde.  It’s a VOC and considered volatile because it emits a gas at room temperature. As it warms up, more of the chemical off-gasses into a room.  (Off-gassing is the natural evaporation of chemicals.) The top three VOC offenders in our home? Carpeting, paint, and furniture and upholstery; all can carry VOCs, such as formaldehyde, toluene, and benzene, just to name a few.

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Choosing Safer Furniture

The Washington Toxics Coalition is a great resource for understanding the importance of paying attention to what is inside your furniture. Here are a few healthy tips to guide you:

  • If you’re not sure whether a piece of furniture contains toxic flame retardants, ask the manufacturer. If they are not able to tell you, consider an alternative.

  • If you already own furniture that may contain toxic flame retardants, cover and seal any rips in upholstery and replace old items where foam is exposed, loose, and crumbling.

  • Consider replacing furniture made of manufactured wood that contains formaldehyde-based glues. You can also apply a sealant, to contain the formaldehyde.

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Toxic Chemicals in our Couches

The use of flame retardant chemicals in furniture is a classic example of a stupid use of a chemical: they are ineffective in preventing furniture fires and are linked to serious health effects. In fact, the chemicals can make fires more toxic by forming deadly gases and soot -- real killers in most fires. Unfortunately, flame retardants surround us; they are in everything, from our curtains and carpet to our couches and other upholstered furniture.

For decades, an ineffective flammability standard, California's TB 117, has resulted in the foam inside our sofas, recliners, and love seats being saturated with pounds of toxic flame retardants. Though California has been the only state that required furniture to meet the standard, TB 117 became a default standard for furniture sold across the country. A recent study found that most couches in the United States contain at least one flame retardant chemical, whether or not they carry a TB 117 label.

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