When it comes to construction the term “green” is nothing new, as energy efficiency and environmental impactare now basic considerations for many. Today the desire to be green extends well beyond the structure itself and more compnies are responding to the demand for green elements inside as well as outside.
New Green Businesses
The home furnishings industry seems to be witnessing a proliferation of environmentally friendly businesses, including the recent start-up of two new “green” furniture and home–decorating companies in the Upper Valley—Earth Deco in West Lebanon, New Hampshire, and Catamount Custom Cabinetry in Sharon, Vermont. Earth Deco, owned by partners Trevor Law and Duc Do, is a wholesale gallery and retail supplier of environmentally sustainable furniture and home decor that recently opened in the Glen Road Plaza. One of Law’s personal goals in opening Earth Deco was to create a business that focused only on the idea of sustainable global trade. Unlike many green businesses that focus on local goods and services to ease carbon emissions, Earth Deco recognizes that today’s marketplace is global. Although Law advocates buying locally he acknowledges it is not always possible. In a recent interview with The Valley Business Journal Law said, “I think this is the way the world is moving these days. As much as we have tried to focus on issues such as locally made products, the vast majority of things we have come to expect in our lives come from someplace else.”
As a result, he has tried to create a model of global trade that is still environmentally sustainable and responsible. For example, Earth Deco attempts to offset carbon emissions from shipping products by working with manufacturers who are investing in renewable energy and re-forestation.
Jack Jones, a contractor, and his employee Tyler Cortemanche decided to join forces and start Catamount Custom Cabinetry when they began receiving increasing requests for cabinets that were formaldehyde free. Kitchen cabinets and other furniture made from particle board or pressed wood are among the primary producers of formaldehyde gases in the home. When the men could not find sufficient suppliers to meet these requests, they decided to start making their own cabinets, bookcases, desks, and other furniture using wood manufactured in a forestry stewardship program.
Not the Only Ones
Yet, these new businesses are not the only furniture companies in the region to express a concern for the environment. From its inception in 1973, Pompanoosuc Mills has been a green manufacturer. Bradford, Vermont’s Copeland Furniture has also had a longstanding green emphasis and is a member of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), indicating that the wood used to make its products comes from a forest that is managed according to stringent environmental, social, and economic standards. Even office supplier Staples is concerned with off-gassing and indoor air quality, and is looking into furniture products that have green guard certification and are made from materials that are low VOC (volatile organic compounds) or no VOC.
Aside from their interest in the environment, each of these companies also shares the concern that they not be viewed as jumping on the bandwagon. “We’ve been doing this for a long time. A lot of people are doing the littlest things and calling themselves green, which comes across as kind of gimmicky,” said Robert Chapin, vice-president and director of marketing of Pompanoosuc Mills.
Indeed, Tim Copeland of Copeland Furniture notes that many of the environmentally friendly companies in the Upper Valley are following “a longstanding New England tradition of stewardship and responsibility that goes back generations.”
Law, too, hesitates to use the word green. He, like many conscientious companies, instead favors the term “environmentally sustainable.” Susan Inglis, executive director of the Sustainable Furniture Council said, “although there is no one way of defining sustainable furniture, we define it as a healthy balance of environmental conservation, social equity, and economic development. We want to watch for doing more good than harm to people, planet, and profits when making choices for sustainability.”
This means looking for furniture that is made from sustainably harvested wood, assured that it is FSC certified. It is also important to consider whether the workers making these products are being treated responsibly, a potential problem with overseas labor. Inglis advises consumers to look for furniture that is manufactured by companies with established energy-use-reduction plans. For example, Earth Deco keeps energy use to a minimum by creating a gallery that is 100 percent solar powered. Pompanoosuc Mills uses a co-generator in its plant and has never had to rely on any petroleum products to heat the facility.
The Bottom Line
For most of these companies, going green is a matter of conscience, but one has to wonder how it affects their bottom line. The strides taken to be environmentally sustainable can at times be costly and reflected in a product’s price tag. Nevertheless, the demand for green furniture has grown. Inglis notes that as many as 70 to 80 percent of consumers would choose a sustainable product if it is available to them and that most are willing to pay 10 to 20 percent more “without batting an eye” for something they feel is making a positive difference to the planet.
“Consumers may be able to buy something that performs a similar function for a lot less money, but being able to buy something that is made from hardwoods from well-managed forests, is something that I think appeals to a lot of people,” said Copeland.
Law adds that many people see sustainable furniture as something that is “sort of rustic and simple, maybe even stark or kind of ugly.” He is trying to show people that they can buy things that are friendly to the planet, but beautiful as well. Trend or not, the idea seems to be catching on. When it comes to the home, consumers are going green.