Phrases like “eco-friendly”, “green” and “sustainable” are used rather freely in marketing everything from cars to clothing. At present there are no legally binding definitions of these terms so they can be used loosely with no recourse. There are a lot of companies out there who are sincerely trying to tread more gently on the planet and there are also those who are using it as a marketing strategy and nothing more. In an industry like furniture is an environmentally sound choice possible and how big of a difference does it make for Mother Nature?
Even taking small steps to conserve resources will go a long way over time. For instance, it takes one tree to make about 700 paper grocery bags. If you go to the grocery store twice a week and come out with 3 or 4 bags, you could save a tree over the space of a year by opting for reusable bags. How does one tree benefit the Earth? The Arbor Day Foundation says that a single mature and leafy tree can produce as much oxygen in a season as 10 people inhale in a year. Trees also help cool the earth and discourage droughts by giving off moisture. One 100 foot tree can absorb 11,000 gallons of water from the soil and release it into the air in a single growing season. Trees are vital to a balanced ecosystem. Birds, insects, animals and even other plants depend on trees for shelter, food and to prevent soil erosion.
Biking instead of driving, fixing drippy faucets and recycling junk mail are all well-known methods of being green but, when doing something like buying an entertainment center, what considerations factor in? We’ve heard the, “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra over and over on environmental topics. “Reduce” comes first because it is the most beneficial. No further resources are utilized and nothing has been added to the landfill. Buying good quality furniture that will still be usable over a long period of time saves not only money, but resources as well. If one person no longer has use for it, a well-made piece of furniture can be recycled and reused by someone else.
Other considerations include what materials are used and what chemicals are required for manufacturing and growing. As we’ve already discussed, every tree makes a difference. Plants and trees that can grow without the use of chemicals, with minimal water, that grow quickly, are ideal. Bamboo for instance, does not require pesticides, is self-regenerating, and can grow up to 4 feet a day in some cases. Plants and trees are used for producing not only lumber, but fabrics as well. Cotton is an example of a crop that is heavily treated with pesticides. Some fabrics are also treated with stain repellant chemicals which can cause health concerns. Try to choose natural fibers that are untreated and are colored with eco-friendly dyes. Responsible harvesting methods are also imperative. Selective cutting benefits the health of the forest while clear cutting destroys habitats and leaves soil vulnerable to erosion. Efficient use of materials and resources with little or no waste is also important.
Shopping locally has taken on a new connotation in the world of ecommerce in a global marketplace. Buying furniture made in your town or city may not be possible but buying furniture that can be trucked to your destination rather than shipped treads more lightly on our planet. Commercial shipping causes air pollution as well as particulate pollution. This pollution, as well as oil and waste that escape from ships, pose a threat to the delicate ecosystem of our oceans. Some of this information may be found on a company’s website but another excellent resource for this type of information when shopping for furniture, is the Sustainable Furnishings Council.
The Sustainable Furnishings Council seeks to take the ambiguity out of terms like “sustainable” and “environmentally safe”. They assist companies in identifying areas where they can be more eco-friendly and less wasteful benefiting not only the planet but the companies themselves. Eagle furniture is one such company. As a member if the Sustainable Furnishing’s Council, they have taken advantage of their environmental assessment tools and have implemented changes to reduce their environmental footprint as well as increase profitability.
Eagle planes and cuts rough lumber products to various lengths and widths necessary for building their TV stands and entertainment centers. Wood has natural imperfections so a number of odd sized pieces are sometimes generated that were discarded as waste but Eagle was able to reduce waste to the very minimum by using a technique called finger jointing to create tops and various common sized parts with lumber that would normally be unusable. The material waste that cannot be re-purposed for manufacturing furniture is sold to companies that will use if for items such as wood flour, charcoal products or animal bedding. Lowering waste increases Eagle’s bottom line and is kinder to the Earth as well.
Eagle has also taken measure to eliminate harsh chemicals in their manufacturing processes to guard against harmful chemicals finding their way into ground water and to protect the health of consumers as well. They use a large percentage of water based, eco-friendly finishes and are implementing an acetone reclamation system to enable us to recover and reuse solvents used in the finishing process.
Eagle is centrally located in Kentucky for efficient North American delivery routes that don’t require shipping. They have utilized the Sustainable Furnishings Council, Life Cycle Assessment to track wood flow to ensure sustainable harvesting methods as well as materials from forests in as close a proximity as possible.
Not just taking “eco-friendly” marketing at face value, but doing your own research is key. Well informed consumers make better decisions and if more people are researching these topics, it will encourage companies in all industries to develop more sustainable practices and environmentally friendly manufacturing methods which will benefit all of us.