How To Craft Climate Friendly Furniture That Creates Zero Waste
Is it possible to build climate friendly furniture without creating any waste? It sounds like an environmentalist’s pipe dream, right?
Well, it’s no fantasy. It's possible to make furniture that's completely sustainable and waste-free. In fact, it also makes profound economic sense from a business perspective.
But first, why should you care?
As you may know, the furniture industry has never been on great terms with the environment. It's secretive, flouts regulations, fights lawsuits, follows the path of most resistance, and it features outmoded manufacturing methods.
In many ways, the furniture industry is a dinosaur that's just exiting the Neolithic era. It has a poor history of creating furniture that harms people and the planet.
The residence hall furniture industry isn't much better.
Why Isn't Residence Hall Furniture More Sustainable?
It's a question we ask ourselves a lot. Students are idealistic and often so are the institutions of higher education where they study. But we've noticed that most residence hall furniture is not sustainably manufactured.
Here are just a few examples of how residence hall furniture has failed to evolve and meet current sustainability standards.
1. Flame Retardants: For several decades, the furniture industry has resisted regulations prohibiting carcinogenic flame retardants in furniture.
2. Formaldehyde: It's a toxic volatile organic compound (VOC) in furniture, contributing to poor indoor air quality and reduced cognitive function. It's also a known carcinogen.
Yet to this day the furniture industry has fought EPA efforts to regulate the use of formaldehyde. In fact, many residence hall furniture companies import wood and furniture from Malaysia and China, which still use formaldehyde in their furniture.
According to a feature on furniture and formaldehyde in the New York Times:
3. Rubberwood: There is also the issue of sourcing materials outside the United States. Companies that build residence hall furniture from Rubberwood (Hevea Brasiliensis) import the wood from China and Southeast Asia where labor is cheap and transport it halfway across the planet.
According to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Rubberwood plantations are ravaging China’s natural resources and creating a monocultural wasteland. Furthermore, transporting Rubberwood around the world consumes profligate amounts of carbon-emitting fossil fuel to say nothing about exporting American manufacturing jobs to Asia.
4. Wood laminate is a popular and cheap source of man-made wood for residence hall furniture. It’s also filled with chemical glues and resins which don't break down organically.
From a Life Cycle Analysis perspective, this has serious consequences. After ten years of use (if it lasts that long) it gets tossed into the landfill where those glues and resins won't decompose for a thousand years.
And you can’t incinerate laminates because the fumes from the chemicals are poisonous.
This is the tip of the iceberg. Like many manufacturing industries, Big Furniture embraced some dubious manufacturing practices early on.
In that era, we knew less about the public and environmental health effects of certain chemicals. And we hadn't yet realized the atmosphere-degenerating impact of burning fossil fuels.
Today these consequences are well documented and undisputed. So why isn't there more change?
The good news is that a few companies within our industry have moved on to embrace people and planet-friendly business practices. But for the most part, the same issues are still at play in the residence hall furniture market today.
That’s why we feel it’s so important to spread the good green word.
You can get the high quality climate friendly residence hall furniture that creates zero waste.
Let me explain.
Zero Waste Manufacturing
Because of improvements in technology over the last few decades, wood manufacturing has become a zero waste industry. Unlike other industrial production processes, there's no waste at all.
What does that mean?
In essence, you can reuse and repurpose wood bi-products from every stage of the production process. When you harvest wood, you can process some of it into lumber, and you can convert the rest into other wood products or recover it for energy production.
But none of it goes to waste. How do we do it?
First, we work with NH State Foresters to harvest logs locally within 180 miles of our sawmill. Then we cut them using a special blade to get the most wood from each tree.
Of course only a certain percentage—let’s say 80 percent—is fit for furniture manufacturing.
What about the other 20 percent? We use all of it.
Here’s how we use the wood that doesn’t make it into the furniture.
- We use bark for landscaping.
- Local farms buy our sawdust.
- We burn sawdust in our boilers as fuel for heating.
- We fashion rough wood cuts into pallets or other building materials.
- Finally, we build internal furniture components from leftover hardwood.
One reason why we can maintain a zero-waste approach is because we own every step in the supply chain. It's also why all our products are FSC-certified.
In the residence hall furniture industry, zero-waste furniture manufacturing is unique. This green approach ensures that we aren't filling landfills with the kind of waste that comes from building furniture from engineered wood composites that can't be recycled, like MDF and laminated wood.
Instead, manufacturing furniture from sustainable FSC-controlled hardwood allows you to maximize the resource at every stage.
From cradle to grave, nothing goes to waste.
Climate Friendly Furniture & Carbon Offsetting
Global warming is also a big concern for us. We want to explemplify green business practices, so we strive to craft residence hall furniture with the lightest environmental and carbon footprint.
The truth is, furniture manufacturing can be totally climate friendly. We prove it every day.
More than anything, using solid hardwood as the basis for all our furniture is what makes it possible to build eco and climate friendly residence hall furniture.
There are three primary ways that we offset our impact on climate change and reduce carbon emissions:
- Wood allows us to power our operation with our own "waste";
- Wood is abundant and self-replishing. This allows us to sourcing our wood locally;
- Wood is far and away the most durable furniture matierial. Our furniture lasts three to four decades.
Powered By Wood Waste
At our factory, we use all the wood waste byproducts from our green manufacturing process to make steam and/or electricity for our operation. Every machine has a filter that captures excess sawdust and wood waste.
That “waste” fuels our wood-fired boilers.
When our boiler is in use, the factory consumes no gas or oil (even during cold New Hampshire winters).
By using a wood boiler to run our kilns and heat our factory and offices, we are saving on average 68 gallons of oil an hour. Burning our own wood waste like this offsets 200,000 gallons of heating oil every year.
Do you know how many pounds of CO2 that amounts to? It equals nearly 4.5 million pounds of CO2*. Otherwise, all that carbon would be heating our atmosphere and contributing to climate change.
The truth is, you can’t do anything like that with other furniture raw materials. Most of it is too saturated with chemical treatments, glues, and resins. Burning it creates toxic fumes.
One hundred percent of the wood we use in the boilers is a byproduct of our sawmill or plant operations.
(*We determine CO2 saved through the following calculations. 1 gallon of heating oil = 138,500 Btu. 1 million btus = 161.3LBs CO2. Therefore: (((200,000 x 138,500)/1,000,000)x161.3)=4,500,000)
Locally Sourced Lumber
Over the last two decades, a huge amount of U.S. furniture manufacturing has gone overseas to China. According to Chinese import company ITI:
Between 1995 and 2005, the supply of furniture products from China to the USA increased thirteen-fold...China manufacturing costs are low. Building-space costs per square foot are about 1/10 of those in the USA, hourly wages even less than that, and these low labor costs justify simple single-purpose machinery, which is cheaper. In addition, there are much lower overhead costs, [because] China manufacturing plants do not have to meet the same stringent safety and environmental regulations as US plants.
Yes, this quote definitely raises issues with respect to human and environmental health and sustainable business practice.
But the key point I want to make is that a lot of residence hall furniture is unsustainable. It's manufactured overseas and it has a huge climate footprint.
This is one reason why we are passionate about furniture that is made in the USA.
Forests and timber are abundant in the Northeast United States. So another big way that we offset carbon emissions is by sourcing all of our wood locally.
We minimize our energy and carbon footprint by choosing trees that are harvested within 180 miles of our sawmill. This helps us minimize fossil fuel consumption.
And once the logs are turned to lumber, it's a short distance from our sawmill to our manufacturing plant.
And if your organization owns standing hardwood timber, we can provide a “chain of custody” for logs harvested from your property. These logs are delivered to our sawmill, dried in our kilns, and delivered back to you as completed furniture.
We’ve done this very thing for Dartmouth College with great success.
Furthermore, one of our prime sources of wood comes from a National Park, where no machinery is allowed. In fact, because the NPS requires us to use draft horse logging practices, we reduce our fossil fuel consumption even more. We also erase the deleterious effects of noise pollution on wildlife.
Building Furniture That Lasts
Maybe you've noticed that companies like Ikea implicitly promote the idea of disposable furniture? Yes, it's convenient to be sure. But that kind of furniture is manufactured with man-made wood that doesn't last, and it's often toxic.
There's an unseen cost to that kind of cheap furniture which is only visible over long periods of time. Can you guess what that cost is?
In essence, throwaway furniture—made mostly from particleboard, MDF, and plywood—requires companies to manufacture more and more furniture. In the process, you're burning through more raw materials and more fossil fuels.
It's bad for landfills and it's bad for the atmosphere.
In contrast, furniture made from solid hardwood lasts for several decades. Furniture that we built 40 years ago is still in service. Manufacturing long-lasting hardwood furniture is just good for the climate.
Here's the bottom line. Over time, manufacturing hardwood furniture consumes categorically less fuel and raw material.
A Virtuous Cycle Of Sustainability
From a business point of view, this zero waste carbon friendly approach to manufacturing makes environmental and economic sense. In the end, these sustainability practices save us money and free us from relying on fossil fuels.
We call this our virtuous manufacturing loop.
We start with an infinitely renewable resource: wood. It only takes air, sunlight, water, and soil to grow a tree.
When we harvest trees, we minimize the impact on local wildlife habitat and maximize long-term forest health.
Then we use every single part of the tree to eliminate waste. Not only is nothing wasted, but we displace CO2-burning fossil fuels with clean burning wood which is recycled from our manufacturing process.
In the process, we save money, reduce our CO2 footprint, improve forest health, and build beautiful long-lasting furniture for you.
It’s a virtuous manufacturing loop—the only one of it’s kind in our industry—and it allows us to provide you with the most sustainable furniture in the residence hall marketplace.
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To set up an order today or to talk with one of our representatives, you can write to us here or call: (800) 552-8286.
You can also learn more about our industry-leading FSC CoC certification, our MAS certification, and our green materials sourcing, sustainable manufacturing, and our unique zero waste Vertical Integration Process (VIP).
Download the DCI Sustainability Pledge here.
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