For now, it’s up to the consumer to do their homework to know exactly what they’re buying.
“You can start asking the questions of where it was made, what it’s made of, etc.,” Inglis says. “But consumers need to look carefully at the marketing lingo and make sure they understand what is being said and why the claim is being made.”
Those who want a quick and simple guideline should keep in mind that, in general, a solid material will contain fewer toxins than composites, so that’s usually the safer route to go. But they still need to ask questions and make sure they understand what they are buying.
Among the questions Inglis says consumers need to ask are:
• Were paints or finishes with high VOCs used in making the product? Look for water-based finishes with low or no VOCs.
• Where was the furniture manufactured? Transportation is the second largest contributor to greenhouse gases, so look for furniture that was produced close to you and uses raw materials sources within 500 miles of their manufacturing plant. Buying local not only helps cut emissions, but boosts the local economy as well.
• Is the wood third-party certified? Look for recognized third-party certifications that have high standards and monitor the performance of the companies, such as Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Sustainability Forestry Initiative (SFI). If you don’t recognize the certification, ask questions — and make the seller verify that it’s a legitimate certification.
• Does the manufacturer have a Social Equity Code of Conduct for its production process? Such a code ensures that workers are treated fairly, are paid decent wages and have a safe working environment. Every legitimate manufacturer should be able to provide a written code of conduct.
Like buying healthy food, buying sustainable furniture requires a bit of self-education and research. While sustainable furniture often costs more — some say the cost is 20 to 30 percent higher — customers are getting a quality piece of furniture that’s designed for a longer life cycle instead of being destined for the landfill. And sustainable furniture manufacturers expect that prices will begin to go down as the demand for American-made sustainable furnishings increases.