In some facilities, certain fire safety codes apply to furniture, says Alicia Snyder-Carlson, project consultant with Green Building Services. That's more likely to be the case in highly public spaces. For instance, furniture placed along an exit route in a lobby may need to meet codes that stipulate the use of flame-retardant material. Some fire retardant materials use chemicals that create their own health issues, so it makes sense to check this out as well, Snyder-Carlson says.
A growing number of organizations are taking sustainability into account when purchasing products, including furniture. "It's becoming a new normal," Laing says.
In 2009, BIFMA announced an independent sustainability certification program for commercial furniture, called "level." The program is modeled after LEED, and considers the types of materials and amount of energy used to manufacture a product, among other factors, Reardon says. In total, about 30 elements of the manufacturing process and materials used are evaluated, he adds.
Another program is the Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS), Snyder-Carlson says. CHPS is a non-profit focused on making schools better places to learn. Its tools, such as a building rating system, can help schools use energy, water and material more efficiently, and operate in a safe and healthy manner.
Three attributes are significant when it comes to determining the environmental responsibility of different products, Snyder-Carlson says. One is the location at which the item was produced or manufactured. Products made near where they'll be used mean that less energy is needed to transport them to their final destinations. In addition, most production operations within the United States are subject to a range of environmental regulations. That may not be the case in other parts of the world.
Another consideration is the degree to which a product incorporates recycled or re-used materials. In general, the more a product uses recycled or re-used material, the better it is for the environment. However, Snyder-Carlson says that you still want to consider what likely will happen to the product after you're done using it. If it can't be re-used or recycled in some way, you may want to look for a product that offers the same functionality and durability, but that can be re-processed down the road.
The third factor is the product's impact on indoor air quality. The preference, of course, is for products that emit few or no chemicals that can compromise indoor air quality. Greenguard is one example of a certification program that focuses on indoor air quality. Certified products meet stringent chemical emissions standards.
Furniture pieces that are sustainable may cost more, Snyder-Carlson acknowledges. However, the price difference may be relatively modest.
Reardon says that sustainably produced furniture isn't automatically more expensive. In fact, furniture manufacturers that operate more efficiently, using fewer resources and less energy, should see lower costs, he says.
Sustainable Design, Flexibility, Mobility Are Key Selection Criteria for Office Furniture
Sustainable Furniture Playing Larger Role in Office Design Choices
Aesthetics Can Help Improve Furniture's Longevity
Showcase Products: Furniture