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Environmental News

"EARTH TALK"

From the Editors of E / The Environmental Magazine

THIS WEEK'S COLUMN

Dear EarthTalk: Are there certain brands or retail stores where sustainable furniture options can be had? And what should I look for when shopping for greener furniture?
—W. Cary, Trenton, NJ

Thanks to increased consumer awareness and demand, there are more “green” choices in furniture available than ever before. Pictured: A Savvy Rest organic crib mattress distributed by Furnature.

Photo © Savvy Rest

While we now opt often for greener cars, appliances, household cleaners and food to up the sustainability quotient of our lifestyles, the furniture we spend all day and night in close contact with is often far from eco-friendly. The vast majority of sofas, chairs, beds and other upholstered furniture we love to lounge on contain potentially carcinogenic formaldehyde and/or toxic flame retardants and stain resistors that have been linked to developmental and hormonal maladies. And much of the wood used in desks, chairs, tables and the like (as well as in the frames of upholstered furniture) comes from unsustainably harvested lumber which contributes to the deforestation of tropical rainforests.

But today, thanks to increased consumer awareness and demand, there are more “green” choices in furniture available than ever before. A good place to start the search for that perfect couch or chair is the website of the Sustainable Furniture Council (SFC), a non-profit formed in 2006 to help develop solid standards and certification processes within the home furnishings industry. The organization has become a leading information source and network of some 400 “green” furniture makers and related retailers, suppliers and designers as well as other non-profits. Consumers looking for greener furniture can browse SFC’s membership list which features contact information and website links accordingly. Buyers beware: Just because a furniture maker is listed with SFC doesn’t mean it eschews all chemicals or unsustainably harvested wood entirely, but only that it is making strides in that direction. Consumers should still be knowledgeable about which green features they are looking for and/or which kinds of materials to avoid.

Of course, with something like furniture you really need to see and feel it in order to decide whether it will work in your space. Eco-conscious consumers making the rounds at local furniture stores should keep a few key questions in mind for salespersons. Does the piece in question contain formaldehyde, flame retardants or stain resistant sprays? Is the fabric used certified under the Global Organic Textile Standard program (GOTS, which mandates that at least 70 percent of fibers are derived from organic sources and do not contain chemical dyes or other additives)? Is the wood used certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) as sustainably harvested? Does the piece contain any parts or pieces that come from bamboo or reclaimed wood or recycled metal or plastic? And is it easy to disassemble into reusable or recyclable parts if it needs to be replaced down the line?

If the salesperson doesn’t know the answers, chances are the piece does not pass environmental muster. Limiting your search to brick-and-mortar and Internet-based retailers that specialize in green products is one way to reduce the amount of research and self-education needed, especially because salespersons in such stores are usually up-to-speed on the latest and greatest in sustainable furnishings. Some leading national furniture chains that carry a sizeable inventory of sustainable goods include Crate and Barrel, Room and Board and West Elm, but many more single store eco-friendly furniture stores exist across the country. Some leading online green furniture retailers include Eco-Friendly Modern Living, Furnature, InMod, Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, SmartDeco, Southcone and Viesso.

CONTACTS: SFC; FSC; GOTS; Eco-Friendly Modern Living; Furnature; InMod; Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams; SmartDeco; Southcone; Viesso.

 
 

 

Dear EarthTalk: I imagine you’ve been down this road before, but what’s hot in the green-friendly sunscreen department nowadays?
—Elaine Mayer, Ocean City, MD

Most of us assume that all we need do to prevent sunburns and skin cancer from exposure to the sun is to slather on sunscreen. But consumers should be careful about which sunscreens they trust for themselves and, even more important, for their kids.

Photo © Fuse/Thinkstock

Most of us assume that all we need do to prevent sunburns and skin cancer from exposure to the sun is to slather on any of the widely available sunscreens on the market today. But the non-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG) points out that this may not be the case, and that consumers should be careful about which sunscreens they trust for themselves and, even more important, for their kids.

According to EWG, some researchers have detected an increased risk of melanoma skin cancer among sunscreen users. “No one knows the cause, but scientists speculate that sunscreen users stay out in the sun longer and absorb more radiation overall,” reports EWG. Scientists also suspect, says EWG, that free radicals, which get released as sunscreen chemicals break down in sunlight, may be playing a role.

Most sunscreens screen out some of the ultraviolet B (UVB) rays from the sun that lead to visible sun burns, but many do not protect against the potentially more damaging ultraviolet A (UVA) rays that penetrate deeper into the skin and may facilitate the development of skin cancer later on, regardless of how high a Sunburn Protection Factor (SPF) the sunscreen may have. Also, EWG warns that many common sunscreen ingredients generate free radicals that can damage the body’s DNA and skin cells, accelerating skin aging and potentially causing skin cancer in the process.

But just because some sunscreens can’t be trusted and overexposure to the sun is unhealthy doesn’t mean staying indoors all the time is a viable solution. Getting some sun is good for you, as the body converts it to Vitamin D, an essential nutrient that facilitates good health and prevents a wide range of diseases.

So what’s a sun lover to do? The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) recommends wearing protective clothing, seeking shade, and timing outdoor play to avoid peak sun. IARC adds that sunscreen still has a place in our lives to augment these other sun exposure minimization tactics.

But which sunscreens do live up to EWG’s stringent standards? The major choice is between chemical sunscreens that break down quickly, penetrate deep into the skin and may disrupt the body’s hormone system, and mineral varieties that can contain potentially irritating and damaging nano-scale particles.
According to EWG, mineral sunscreens are the better choice, as they protect against both UVB and UVA rays, remain effective longer and don’t contain as many dangerous substances. Some leading mineral-based options come from Alba Botanica, Beyond Coastal, ECO Logical Skin Care, Karen’s Botanicals, Kiss My Face, Poofy Organics and Solar Sense, among others.

For those who don’t like mineral based sunscreens, which can be chalky and leave a white film until washed off, EWG recommends sunscreens with avobenzone (three percent for the best UVA protection) and without the notorious hormone disrupter oxybenzone. Some leading non-mineral choices are available from manufacturers including Bull Frog, Ocean Potion, Sunbow and Vichy.

CONTACTS: EWG’s Sunscreens 2012; IARC.

A SYNDICATED COLUMN ONLY ON AMERICAJR.COM

 

 

 

 

 

SEND IN YOUR QUESTIONS...

GOT AN ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTION? Send it to: EarthTalk, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; submit it at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/thisweek/, or e-mail: earthtalk@emagazine.com. Read past columns at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/archives.php.

 

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