How eco-friendly is Crate & Barrel's eco-friendly furniture?
May 14, 2008 10:07 AM   Subscribe

Should I bother trying to buy eco-friendly furniture? Crate and Barrel claims that many of their products are eco-friendly. Although there is much discussion in the blogosphere about the existence of C&B's claim, I haven't found anything in the way of discussion about how eco-friendly the furniture really is. Can someone with more expertise in furniture production help me? (BTW, I'm most interested in couches.)

And if the answer is, yes C&B's eco-friendly products really are eco-friendly and the best thing one can do for the earth short of buying used or recycled furniture, can anyone suggest comparable eco-friendly furniture in the same price range? I'm in Chicago, if that helps.
posted by Xalf to Home & Garden (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Well all they're doing is using certified sustainably-grown hardwood in the frame and feet and a 20% soy 80% petroleum-based foam. Is that eco-friendly enough for you? It depends on where you draw the line on what's acceptable.

Personally I think if you want to be more eco-conscious, don't buy new furniture and look for something used on Craiglist. Relative to waste and the environment, buying new things is always more harmful than just buying something used. Even if you have to get it reupholstered or repainted, I think that's still better than buying a new couch.
posted by junesix at 10:18 AM on May 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Agreed, used is better than new.
posted by electroboy at 10:40 AM on May 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you for your comments. I have no objection at all to criticisms of companies using words like "green" and "eco-friendly" to sell new products that we could easily do without. Surely the answer to "how can I conserve?" is never "by buying something." But my question isn't "how can I conserve?" My question is, "given that I have chosen to purchase a new couch, will it make any significant difference to purchase one that Crate & Barrel labels eco-friendly?"
posted by Xalf at 10:54 AM on May 14, 2008

Best answer: Metropolis magazine has a number of articles on furniture design, and they take a pretty "green" stance on things, so if reading those articles and studying for the LEED exam qualifies me as an expert, I'd look for the following things from a truly "eco-friendly" piece of furniture.

C&B's material selection is a start. Ideally, you'd want something that also has a very low factor of VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) emittance, which typically comes from the glue used in processed wood products (plywood, particle board). They're also quite prevalent in older methods of laying down sheet flooring or thinset tiles; again, this is basically glue. I think vinyl itself also emits VOCs, but even if it doesn't, it's petroleum-based, which means that it requires oil extraction to be produced. Since the filling on the C&B couches is petroleum-based, I'd bet it's some sort of vinyl compound, like PVC (polyvinyl chloride) foam or something.

I'd also want something where the construction of the object involved a minimum of waste product. You know the old cartoons where a log gets shaved down into a toothpick? That's an extreme version, but if you're going to be chopping down a tree for something, try to use as much of the tree as possible. That way you use less virgin material, don't have as much waste material, don't fill landfills, etc., etc.

I'd also want something that had the end of the life-cycle of the product in mind in the product's design. Office furniture companies are all about this now, and design chairs such that they can be reduced to a minimum set of parts once they're done being used and the entire chair can be easily recycled. The concept is sometimes known as "cradle-to-cradle" construction, meaning that there is no "grave" for the product, it just gets reborn as something else.

It would also be nice if the product was able to be flat-packed to make shipping to stores as efficient as possible, thus bringing more product in one shipment and reducing the need for multiple shipments (IKEA kicks ass at this concept but fails miserably in the VOC category for obvious reasons).
posted by LionIndex at 11:01 AM on May 14, 2008

On C&B's own Environmentally Friendly pages, they mention that they're reducing the use of petroleum-based foam and using low-emittance glues, so good for them. They're also using scrap materials from other products and salvaged wood in some things. So, they're really not doing too badly.
posted by LionIndex at 12:22 PM on May 14, 2008

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