How furniture is saving the planet – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
HIGH POINT, N.C. — It has been a decade since Jeronimo Cooklin, then owner of South Cone Furniture, founded the Sustainable Furnishings Council to address the need for environmentally friendly furniture.
The SFC has grown from an initial 70 companies to more than 400 members. It has also partnered with the World Wildlife Fund and the American Sustainable Business Council, according to president Steve Freeman of Room & Board retailers.
Ten years in, has its efforts changed the culture of the furniture industry? Do consumers look for the green SFC label, and how has that impacted the industry and the environment?
During the 10th anniversary celebration in High Point last year, Mitchell Gold of Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams encouraged members to vote for legislators who will protect the environment.
“There are a lot of Republicans in our industry, and I don’t think the Republican platform protects the environment,” Mr. Gold said.
He said the council has developed standards for the furniture industry that show manufacturers can protect the environment while also making a profit.
“We used to spend over $100,000 a year taking scrap fabric to the landfill. Now we sell that fabric for $100,000 to people who reuse it to make another product,” Mr. Gold said. “Being a good steward of the environment can make you money.”
“In some ways the SFC has been more than I hoped for, and in some ways it has been disappointing,” said Greg Harden, CEO of Harden Furniture. “The political climate is concerning, but in all honesty the U.S. has not been a leader regardless of who sits in the White House. I don’t see it getting better, but it may not change much either.”
Harden Furniture, a founding member of the SFC, has more than 10,000 acres of managed woodlands. Harden was the first large furniture manufacturer to be certified by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative program.
Mr. Harden understands that being eco-friendly is more than just using sustainably harvested wood. It’s also about reducing one’s carbon footprint and making home interiors safe from toxic chemicals. The company is switching its manufacturing facilities to LED lighting.
“It will be a huge advantage in reducing our carbon emissions, and it might be a blessing that we delayed the decision as LED has become more affordable and is a better choice,” he said.
Lee Industries, another founding member, has incorporated soy-based foams that don’t emit harmful toxins into its upholstery and builds the frames from sustainably harvested wood.
Copeland Furniture uses locally harvested hardwoods from managed forests and recycles end pieces and scrap material. The Vermont-based company has also begun using solar energy at its factory.
“Sustainability matters which is why Red Egg is a member,” said Red Egg owner Carol Gregg. Her company began by importing vintage and antique pieces from China. Today all her wood products are made in the USA, reducing the carbon footprint associated with shipping from another country.
Gat Caperton, owner of Gat Creek in Berkeley Springs, W.Va., noted that sustainable was not a familiar term in 2007, especially in the furniture industry.”The SFC has definitely helped in creating awareness among consumers and other manufacturers,” he said. “Sustainability is top-of-mind for many furniture producers and retailers today.”
Mr. Harden said “greenwashing” — manufacturers using sustainability as a marketing ploy without changing practices — remains a problem.
“In the long run, it comes down to what individuals decide to do,” he said. “We all make choices, and maybe more people will decide to do the right thing.”
Mr. Cooklin, who now makes furniture in Peru, remains hopeful.
“Consumers are most definitively ready to embrace green furnishings, as indicated by our yearly surveys. What better place to begin healing our lives and our planet, particularly in these challenging times?”
It is up to consumers to ask questions and look for labels that indicate what they are purchasing has been responsibly made. For more information on the SFC and a list of member companies, go to https://sustainablefurnishings.org.
Patricia Sheridan: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-2613, Twitter: @pasheridan.