Did you know that indoor air is often more polluted than outside? That's because products off gas chemicals, and dust accumulates and all kinds of other good scary things lurk in our homes. The American Lung Association has a great roll over visual here. Some products off-gass toxins throughout their whole life cycle. Our homes can be pretty polluted. Oy vey.
One product to avoid completely in new purchases is melamine particle board that contains formaldehyde-urea. It off gasses for its whole life cycle. Why is this bad? Formaldehyde is considered a carcinogen. It's found in furniture, kitchen cabinets, shelving. Anything that has a veneer covering may contain particle board.
An extensive search on Google and the green web sites comes up with precious little in the way of green office furniture that I'd want in my home office. Herman Miller (among other big commercial brands) have a green commitment right up front on their web page. Some vendors are doing amazing things. But, they don't offer what I need. If you need a whole office building, great. But if you just need a few basics, it's not quite right. I need: a desk, additional file cabinets, some shelving for the walls.
But one thing is sure. In decorating my home, I am making a green commitment. Important to me are the following: carbon footprint (shipping/freight/where it's manufactured); indoor air quality (no off gassing of toxic chemicals, decreasing dust collection, other considerations); life cycle of product — amount of raw materials and post consumer materials used in manufacturing: how sustainable materials are; recycle-ability of product; manufacturing process — how toxic to the environment is it to make the product.
It's very hard to find info and it's very hard to find products that contain all of the above. So it becomes about priorities. All the experts making the sound bites over the internet and the television say: ask the questions. The problem is, you cannot always find the answer. Me? I am pretty informed and it's hard to find the answers. I know the questions to ask. I know that it's often the sales reps and owners of companies with access to information so I know how to get to these people. It's really not easy to find answers. (I wonder if the experts have ever tried to find the answers.)
Last Saturday, I planned my office shelving. I played designer for myself. Took out the tape measure, thought everything through. Made elevation sketches to scale even.Think I figured out what I need which is timely b/c right now I am working on folding tables since my desk didn't fit in the door to the office.
Products I am considering:
Rakks. Love them. A bit expensive, but sleek and cool. A bit hard to install. Local production… well, local to me. That reduces carbon foot print. Info on their green-nes can be found here. The owner of the company did not know where the aluminum came from. It's many steps away. I was impressed though. He knew the aluminum was manufactured in NY state. He knew the percentages of post consumer materials and he knew it was recyclable. When I asked where the original aluminum came from, he didn't though. Fair enough. Most manufacturing is so vertical that it's hard for companies to have control over their products. Materials come from too many sources. The further they are from the raw materials the harder it is to know. And it's not that important since so much of the material is post consumer anyway.
Elfa. Available at the Container Store. Really easy to install. Shelving is melamine particle board w/veneer. But they do have a bamboo shelf so I am waiting for a call to find out about their epoxy coating and bamboo shelving. Many levels of phone calls and it's not on the web site. I was faxed something from the commercial version of the company and the metal components do not off gas. It took serious sleuthing to find this contact. In a week I have not heard back from Elfa about what kind of sealer is put on the bamboo shelving. Come on now. They should know that.
Rubbermade. Available at the Home Depot, a company not especially known for green products or being a green company. Really easy to install. Shelving is melamine w/veneer. Many levels of phone calls and it's not on the web site. A manager did call me back but we are playing phone tag.
I am trying to avoid "green washing," when a company says a product is green but it's all marketing spin. 2 conversations are case in point:
The process to get leather ready for your sofa is soooo toxic to the environment, but the folks who sell leather will say: leather is a by-product of the cattle industry. There's no waste and cows are not raised for the leather alone. Have those folks looked into how the cattle industry pollutes the environment? This is a joke right? (PS there are a few vendors who do leather in green way….PPS I wear leather shoes and do eat meat on occasion so I am not against the cattle industry, but let's call a cow a cow.)
In response to a question about a desk, one of my vendors actually said: the veneer covers the particle board, so you are all set….to which I inquired: but what happens when the veneer gets nicked and the particle board is exposed? I know he was just trying to spin it to make a sale, but his was not the right answer. Oh and what about the people in the factory who come in contact with these toxic glues to manufacture the particle board? hmmm….
As consumers, let's support companies that do not use, or are in the process of moving away from using toxic chemicals. That way the prices will drop and we can live healthier.
PS I'll keep you posted on what I find and what I decide to use for my office.