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Quick Guide to Buying Green: Questions to Ask, Answers to Look For

These are a few basic questions to ask when you're purchasing furniture.

Where does the wood come from that was used in this furniture?
The most important consideration in wood procurement is to ensure that the wood was legally harvested from responsibly managed forests. Look for certified, reclaimed, North American, or plantation grown woods. 

Is the wood third-party certified?
Look for legitimate third-party certifications that have high standards and the ability to monitor performance.  Some examples include Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) - the gold standard in wood certification - and in North America, Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI).

Does this manufacturer have a Social Equity Code of Conduct for their production processes?
A Social Equity Code of Conduct is a good assurance that workers are fairly treated, receive decent wages, and work in a safe environment.  Every manufacturer should be able to provide a written code of conduct.

Does this manufacturer have an energy use reduction plan?
The production of electricity is the single largest contributor to CO2 emissions worldwide. Companies with an energy use reduction plan are a significant part of the solution.

Where was this furniture manufactured?
Transportation is the second major contributor to greenhouse gases.  Look for furniture that was produced closest to where you live and uses raw materials sourced within a 500 mile radius of their manufacturing facilities.  Buying local will cut emissions and support local economies.

Were paints or finishes with high Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC's) used on this product?
VOC's are harmful pollutants from certain finishes that are released during the manufacturing process and into your home.  Look for low or no VOC finishes, many of which will be water-based.

What about fire retardants in foam, including mattresses?
Until recently, most of the foam products in our homes were required by law to be treated with fire retardants, most of which are toxic chemicals linked to cancer, neurological deficits, developmental problems and impaired fertility.  There are non-toxic alternative ways of ensuring a product is fire-safe and also healthy for the home.  Check the label on upholstered furniture for assurance that it does not contain chemical fire retardants.

What about leather?
Leather is often produced in a very toxic process using quantities of water and many chemicals, including heavy metals like chromium salts that often pollute waterways.  Leather products often have a very large transportation footprint – the leather may come from South America; the final tanning may be done in Europe; the manufacturing may be in Asia, all for consumption in North America.  That said, leather does last a very long time and durability is an important attribute for sustainability.

What about textiles?
Textile production accounts for more toxic waste pollution of water than any other industry.  Toxic chemicals are used in growing the natural fiber or creating the synthetic fiber, in processing it into thread, in making the fabric, and in finishing the cloth.  You can reduce the amount of toxic chemical input by choosing organically grown natural fibers and by looking for the GOTS and OekoTex certifications of safe manufacturing.