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Cinde W. Ingram

Industry focusing on GREEN

It all begins with asking questions.

Where does this wood come from? Are these eco-friendly finishes? What about the fabrics or the cushions? Are reuse and recycling involved? Does the manufacturer operate its facilities with a green mindset?

Limited edition Maku lounge chair features frangipani carving on sustainable wood without sacrificing style

Limited edition Maku lounge chair features frangipani carving on sustainable wood without sacrificing style.

“It starts with one person making the decision to find out,” said Daphne Hewitt, Rainforest Alliance senior projects manager. Developing an internal purchasing policy and establishing partnerships for information, guidance and reliability can be valuable tools to help meet goals and become better stewards. “The public is becoming much more aware of this and is demanding accountability,” she said.

Speaking to retailers, furniture manufacturers and designers at the High Point Market, Hewitt said loss of the forest cover across the globe accounts for 25% of greenhouse gas emission. So the home furnishings industry’s wise choices do count, especially given global changes in the furniture trade. “How you buy wood can really make a difference,” she said.

Hewitt said retailers and vendors can start good environmental policies by knowing their suppliers, where wood is coming from and requesting documented support to show use of sustainable sourcing or certification by the Forest Stewardship Council to meet the highest international standards. Nearly 250 million acres are certified in 52 countries worldwide, Hewitt said. FSC, the Rainforest Alliance, SmartWood and the Sustainable Furniture Council are among the resources now available to provide guidance and answers to questions.

Driven partly by the success of the green building movement, U.S.-based furniture manufacturers, designers and buyers are beginning to pay attention to the heightened environmental consciousness that has spread from Europe to America. Starting with the High Point Market in April, green seminars and displays have appeared at home furnishings markets across the nation including Chicago, New York, Las Vegas and San Francisco.

Eurasi uses recycled wood from Brazilian barns and houses to make furniture like this double chair.

Eurasi uses recycled wood from Brazilian barns and houses to make furniture like this double chair.

Eclectic Home, Portland’s leading retailer of environmentally sensitive home resources, joined forces with Maku Furnishings to be the lead sponsors of Portland Fashion Week’s Sustainable Lounge last month.

“In Portland, being green isn’t a trend, it’s a lifestyle,” said Dennis Rose, owner of Eclectic Home.

“Out of the box thinking, a commitment to the community and a friendly environmental stance are the new prerequisites for surviving in the specialty retail marketplace,” said Johnny West, co-founder of Maku.

In recent years, the U.S. home furnishings industry has undergone radical changes with production moving offshore plus a large increase in imported products and lumber. Because the outdoor furniture industry has traditionally relied on tropical sources for teak, rattan and other materials, it is at the forefront of the green movement.

Mike Italiano, president and CEO of the Institute for Market Transformation to Sustainability, brought his message to the High Point Market and the Casual Market. As founder of the U.S. Green Building Council, he has more than 35 years of environmental experience including as senior analyst in the White House Science Office. He noted past interest in standards for sustainable products on Wall Street and by the U.S. government, but said companies responding to their competitors’ actions will make the green market move fastest.

Wal-Mart expanded its employee greening program this year, rolling out personal sustainability projects to all 1.3 million U.S. employees of Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club. They were asked to make commitments to healthier food choices, volunteering in their communities and using environmentally friendly products at home. Wal-Mart also is on track to force its suppliers to be sustainable. Italiano said. “When Wal-Mart said it would go organic, the very next day Target did,” he said.

Charleston Forge back-to-nature table combines petrified wood top with heavy hammered wrought iron legs.

Charleston Forge back-to-nature table combines petrified wood top with heavy hammered wrought iron legs.

Marketing to get credit for green efforts is crucial, but Italiano warned manufacturers and retailers to be honest with their messages. “There is absolute public hatred now for 'greenwash,’” he said.

Sustainability practices balance environmental conservation, economic development and social equity, both Italiano and Hewitt said. Deforestation can lead to a permanent loss of biodiversity and wildlife species along with traditional livelihoods. Preferred Forest Source designations take those factors into account by having long-term management plans, harvesting legally, respecting traditional and civil rights as well as protecting conservation areas including water supplies. With drought forcing water restrictions in High Point and surrounding areas this fall, those comments were timely.

Inside the EcoStyle Pavilion in High Point, several manufacturers exhibited green products. Among them was GroovyStuff, a manufacturer of reclaimed teak. “The truth is we’ve got global warming going on,” said Chris Bruning, vice president of Groovystuff. “If we come together and share knowledge to address the issue, we will make a difference.”

Another exhibitor was Eurasi, which makes outdoor and indoor furniture from peroba, a Brazilian hardwood. Some wood comes from managed forests, Henri Philippe said, while the rest is recycled lumber from houses and barns, some still with original paint.

“Already the consumer is starting to ask questions and we as manufacturers have to answer,” Philippe said. “Being green goes from what you put in your car to your house to your mouth.”

Champ Land of Troutman Chair said he has not heard of consumers asking for green products, but expects questions soon from educated buyers. “I’m already there,” he said of his vertically managed plant. “About 60% of the woods we use come from the Appalachian forest and the other 40% from areas cleared for subdivision development. We fire our boiler with scraps and scrap lumber; the dust we sell to Statesville Brick and to farmers. We’re using water-based finishes and we use no glue.”

Foamex International introduced Reflex Natural cushions, manufactured with renewable resources and organic, halogen-free fire retardants. Chip Benjamin, director of business development, said the response so far has been positive.

Many furniture makers launched initiatives to take on a green hue. For example, Vaughn-Bassett filled its showroom entrance with live trees to illustrate its “1 for 1” pledge to plant 150,000 trees each year to replace the timber used in making its furniture.

Charleston Forge introduced petrified wood tables and new lines made with reclaimed and recycled tabletops. Its Pinnacle Award-winning Hudson Collection was made of reclaimed cedar from demolished houses along Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia.

Showing in High Point for the first time, Linwood Furniture presented lines crafted of sustainable American hardwoods. The volume of American hardwoods is 90% larger than it was 50 years ago, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Fabric makers also are offering eco-friendly choices. For example, Phifer partnered with American Fibers and Yarns to develop its Marquesa Green fabrics, which begin as a byproduct of post-industrial waste. Compared to other synthetics, they require less energy to make, produce less waste and do not require harmful topical treatments for performance. They also have an existing recycling system.

“Designing and creating fabrics for today’s leisure lifestyle also means taking into account the impact they have on the environment,” said Hugo Benitez, national sales manager, designed fabrics for Phifer.

Bella-Dura fiber also is environmentally friendly because its proprietary fiber is a byproduct of petroleum manufacturing. Bella-Dura also uses a water/stain-repellent finish engineered for low temperature application, which requires less energy to apply. Its makers, Wearbest Sil-Tex Mills, partnered with AF&Y to develop a recycling program that uses energy-saving manufacturing practices to make re-generated products.

“The fact that we can offer our customers an incredibly beautiful, durable performance fabric that can be recycled at the end of its life into other useful products helps us to be good stewards for the environment,” said Irwin Gasner, Wearbest president and CEO.

Considering the amount of recycled plastic used to make outdoor furniture and the amount of other sustainable resources in place, the industry doesn’t have to fear consumers’ questions about green products. Still it’s time for honest answers. “The future belongs to those giving the next generation reason to hope,” Italiano said.

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