Decoding the Nomenclature of Natural Furnishings
Once you start to shop around for natural and eco-friendly furnishings, you may encounter a whole new set of terminology that does not come into play when buying conventional products. Here is a short glossary to help decipher and decode some of the more common and more important terms.
This abbreviation will be found on the tags of wooden furniture if the wood in question has been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Certification to FSC standards involves third-party evaluation and monitoring of sustainable forestry practices, so the FSC designation indicates that the product is more eco- friendly.
VOC stands for Volatile Organic Compounds. These are nasty-smelling chemical compounds often used in the recipe for paints, stains, and glues. They are a source of harmful greenhouse gases and there is even evidence that some of them can also continue to compromise air quality inside the home. Choose low or no-VOC as a healthier and greener alternative.
Conventional cotton production relies heavily upon toxic pesticides to keep insects like the boll weevil from destroying the cotton crop. But in order to be certified as organic, cotton must be grown without the use of those non-organic fertilizers and pesticides and then colored with natural dyes.
Kapok is a fiber contained within the seed pods of the Cieba tree. To harvest kapok the fibers are removed from the seed pods and then cleaned and dried, in a process not unlike that used to harvest cotton (although cotton does not derive from seeds but from the bud of the plant). Kapok fiber is often used to stuff pillows because it is soft but highly resilient. Because the tree is not harmed when the seed pods are harvested, kapok is deemed an eco-friendly alternative to synthetic or non-organic fibers.
You may also encounter other eco-friendly products or furnishings made from everything from milk-based paints to sustainably harvested cork flooring or recycled glass. If you don't understand what you're buying, don't be afraid to ask. If the retailer doesn't know the answer you may want to shop elsewhere - but if they do they will be proud to share their eco-info.
Tips for Selecting Environmentally Friendly Furnishing
Although many retailers will try to lure consumers with advertising that insinuates that their products are eco-conscious and their company is sincerely devoted to the green movement, not all such claims can be fully supported. So here are a few tips to help shoppers make that determination.
One of the first things to consider when looking for eco-friendly furnishings is how far they had to travel to get to you. Locally-sourced products not only contribute to the economy of your own community but they require less transportation - and transportation can dramatically increase the carbon footprint of any product, especially a heavy piece of furniture.
Perhaps the easiest place to find local furnishings - regardless of where they were originally manufactured - is at estate sales, moving sales, and in the classified ads. Buying pre-owned furnishings and recycling them back into use keeps them from going to the landfill, and that is always a good idea.
Look for FSC Certification
When buying wooden furnishing, look for FSC-certified wood. This indicates that the wood was grown and harvested according to sustainable forest management principles. To earn FSC certification growers must comply with standards of adherence to such things as the respect for the rights of workers and indigenous people and the continued assessment and monitoring of environmental impact.
Choose Eco-Friendly Finishes
"VOC" refers to Volatile Organic Compounds, which are the smelly chemicals often found in conventional paints and varnishes. Most furnishings are painted or coated to protect them, so look for low VOC or zero-VOC finishes that are healthier for your home and for the environment in general.
Consider the Source
When shopping for furnishings, look for those that are made of recycled materials and materials that can be easily replaced and renewed. Bamboo is a great example of an eco-friendly material because it is easy to grow and is quickly replenished after harvesting.
Ultimately it is up to the consumer to know how to select furnishings that are genuinely environmentally friendly, while separating the hype from the facts. Follow these tips and ask questions of retailers and you will be much better informed so that you can furnish your home while also helping to sustain the earth - which is the one home we all live in and share together.
Relax in Green Comfort with Eco-friendly Furniture
Outfitting a home with just the right mix of style and comfort is no easy task, so when you pile the imperative to "go green" on top, it can seem like a daunting challenge. A few guidelines will help you get a grip on what to look for, and our list of DC-area furniture-shopping options will have you hitting the eco-friendly pavement in no time.
According to Planet Green, environmentally sensitive furniture shoppers should seek out certified sustainable or reclaimed wood, low-impact materials like bamboo and furnishings that have low chemical toxicity, such as those certified by Greenguard.
Used, vintage and recycled furniture is also high on the green scale, since no production is necessary. And high-quality, crafted pieces, even when not marketed specifically as "green," can be better for the planet than flimsy eco-furniture that must be replaced every few years.
Where to get such things in the DC area? Try these spots.
Off the shelf
• Vastu, 1829 14th Street NW: This neat shop provides sleek and eco-friendly offerings.
• Take Home a Park, 7059 Blair Road, NW: Green outdoor furniture for the green spaces of your life.
• Thos. Moser, 3300 M Street NW: This extremely expensive but very high-quality furniture is guaranteed for the lifetime of the original owner.
• Authentically Amish, 4609 Duke Street, Alexandria, VA: This furniture is the lovely stuff we expect from Amish craftsmen. It'll last a long time and support the sustainable lifestyles of its makers.
• A. Drauglis, Woodworker and Furnituremaker, 2507 Queens Chapel Rd NE: This consummate craftsman can make his custom pieces as green as you'd like them.
Used and antique
• Goodwood 1428 U Street NW: Not your father's antique store. This place is gorgeous, featuring hip, vintage merchandise.
• Kensington Antique Row, E. Howard Ave, Kensington MD: This cluster of antique shops will get you outfitted with old stuff in no time.
• Miss Pixies Furnishings and Whatnot, 1626 14th St NW: This fun shop offers whimsical, vintage furnishings and decorations.
Whether you're furnishing a house or sprucing up your studio apartment, you're sure to find something good and green in one of these furniture-hunter's treasure troves.