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What to Look for to Be Sure Your Event Seating is Green & Sustainable

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Dr. Tom McElheny

Whether you operate an event space, offer lodging, or both, you know how time consuming it can be to find the right furniture. This can be especially challenging when you require a large quantity of seating, particularly for an event space. In all this bustle, it’s easy to overlook the importance of purchasing environmentally friendly furniture.

If you are trying to be mindful of your environmental impact and wish to find green, sustainably produced seating, this can pose an even greater challenge. Fortunately, to meet the demand for eco-friendly products, we’ve seen an increase in the number of green furniture companies and offerings over the past decade.

What Is Green Furniture?

The purpose of green furniture might seem simple enough: reduce negative impacts on health and the environment. But how is this accomplished? What should you look for when researching a company or product?

There are a few major items to focus on, including the manufacturing process, the materials used, and what green certifications, if any, the furniture is rated for. Ideally, the manufacturer or seller will provide you with this information so you can make an educated purchase. If the information isn’t made available on the brand’s website or in their marketing materials, talk with a sales representative about the company’s sustainable practices.

Here are some specific things to look for when shopping for sustainable seating.

Look for Recycled & Reclaimed Manufacturing

One of the first things to look at is how the furniture is manufactured. Depending on the manufacturing process, the product will have a varying degree of environmental impact. One way to reduce your environmental footprint is to look for furniture that is produced from reclaimed materials.

Reclaimed Furniture

Furniture made from reclaimed materials like wood, glass, and metals is becoming more common. These materials can be sourced from old furniture, homes, and other structures. Some manufacturers have even begun to use flawed wood pieces or scraps available from lumber yards for their furniture.

While this is a truly sustainable process, it can be difficult, if not infeasible, to use reclaimed materials to manufacture large quantities of furniture or seating. That’s why recyclable and recycled materials are another option.

Recycled Furniture

Furniture that is produced in mass quantities or made from plastics and certain metals can be hard to manufacture from reclaimed materials. In these cases, check to make sure the piece is sourced from recycled materials. It’s just as important to know how much of the furniture is recyclable itself. If this information isn’t made readily available, don’t be afraid to request further information.

Be Mindful of Potentially Toxic Chemicals

Part of going green is not only considering outdoor air pollution, but the indoor air quality and the health and safety of your guests. That’s why it’s vital to understand and identify potentially harmful chemicals used in chairs and furniture.

Toxic substances and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are commonly used in textiles as preservatives, protectants, or fire retardants. Some of these chemicals include the following:

Solvent-Based Lacquers

Lacquers are used to treat or finish furniture. In the case of wood-based furniture, they help to protect and preserve the wood, while giving it a glossy sheen. Solvent-based lacquers contribute to indoor air pollution by emitting or off-gassing VOCs.

Water-based lacquers are a safe and eco-friendly alternative to finishing wood furniture. Most lacquers will clearly label if they are water-based along with noting their VOC emissions.

Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is a common VOC and a known irritant and carcinogen. It’s colorless, strong smelling, and often used as a preservative. It can be found in many products such as lacquers, particle board, household chemicals, glues, permanent press fabrics, plywood, and fiberboard.

TDCPP

TDCPP has long been used as a flame retardant for the polyurethane foam padding found in furniture and automobiles. It’s a known irritant and carcinogen to humans, and, in October 2012, California enacted strict standards limiting its emissions.

Educate yourself on the prevalence of these types of chemicals in furniture so that you can be an eco-conscious consumer. Ask sales representatives about the presence of potentially harmful chemicals. If they can’t answer your questions, contact the manufacturer directly.

Check for Eco-friendly Certifications

There are a number of green certifications to be aware of when chair shopping. Some certs are specific to the furniture’s emission levels; others specify how sustainably sourced or recyclable it is. Below are a few of the more common certifications.

MAS Green Certification

MAS (Materials Analytical Services) Certified Green provides testing for VOC emissions (including formaldehyde), as well as green certifications. MAS helps businesses enter the green market and reduce the impact that products have on the environment.

Green Seal

Green Seal is a nonprofit founded in 1989. They work closely with companies to encourage sustainability. They want to ensure our resources are being used responsibly and that manufacturing processes have as little environmental impact as possible.

FEMB Level

Founded in 1972, the European Federation for Office Furniture Associations has striven to create a single overarching certification to easily inform consumers of a company’s sustainable manufacturing process. Despite being located in Europe, they regularly certify non-European manufacturers.

Cradle to Cradle

Founded in 2010, the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute is a nonprofit that works to educate both consumers and manufacturers on the safety and sustainability of many common products.

They provide certification services so that companies can work to meet specific standards and label their products as Cradle to Cradle Certified.

There are several other green certifications that can be helpful in deciding whether or not a furniture product has been made using the best environmental practices. Whenever you see a certification, take the time to research the organization that offers it and be sure the organization is testing to the most up-to-date standards.

For example, certifying organizations should test according to CARB2: The Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act or the BIFMA M7.1 Testing Standard.

The Importance of Going Green

It’s as important as ever to consider your company’s environmental impact. There are many ways to lessen your footprint and provide a safer, healthier experience for guests and customers. It’s also easy to overlook the seemingly small things, like the chairs, tables, and other furniture that fill your business.

The next time you need to make a furniture purchase, whether it’s a large order for a banquet area or a small order for a lobby area, be mindful of what goes into these products. Supporting sustainable, green products and manufacturing practices can create massive environmental changes.

About the Author:

Dr. Tom McElheny holds an MBA and a doctorate in education. For over 30 years, he has served as CEO of his church and event seating company, ChurchPlaza. Many of his chairs have earned the MAS certification and are additionally certified in accordance with ANSI/BIFMA e-3-2014 furniture sustainability standard section 7.6 which establishes seating to be classified as low-emitting furniture.

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