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
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.
© Savvy Rest
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.
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.
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
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.
Modern Living; Furnature;
Gold + Bob Williams; SmartDeco;
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Sunscreens 2012; IARC.
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