Go Green: Reduce, Renew, Recycle

This article with many great excerpts and tips from the National Home Furnishings Association, may seem a little long but the subject of sustainability is too important to briefly brush over it.  After all it is the future of our environment, where we live, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the community we interact with.  We, at Casual Elements, firmly believe that as individuals and manufacturers, we all have a responsibility to do what we can to be good stewards of our planet.


So what is the definition of “green”?   Some of the favorites:


Joint responsibility. 

The responsibility for sustainability cannot rest on only one segment of our society.  It has to be a concerted effort from all of us working together to achieve this goal.  We each have to do our part.  So how can we, as manufacturers and consumers each do our share when it comes to furniture?  As a manufacturer, it is the raw materials that we use, then the manufacturing, finishing, packaging and shipping processes.  All are important but since the raw materials from which furniture is made have the most significant impact, we will focus on them in this article. Whether  from

wood, fabric, metal, plastic, foam, stone, or whatever else, there are always earth-friendly options available.


 Wood  Way back when cave people realized that boulders weren’t the most comfortable things to sit on, wood was almost certainly where they looked.  We have been using wood for furniture ever since.  But the world needs more trees, not less, so practices that lead to deforestation aren't any good.  Not only do trees absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen, they keep the surface of the planet cool, they hold soil together so it can stay rich, and they provide the habitat that animals, insects, birds, and plants call home, not to mention they support many people's livelihood.  Therefore it is very important to find sustainable ways to obtain wood, either from sustainably harvested forests or better yet, from sustainably harvested tree farms.  The best alternative is of course reclaimed wood.


As the third largest user of wood, the home furnishings industry has a lot of leverage in making sure that all trees are legally logged under some sort of sustainably managed replacement system.  Plantation-grown species such as Teak, Mahogany and Mango are treated like crops, part of a cyclical process of harvesting and re-planting.  Rapid renewables like Bamboo, Wicker, Rattan and Sea grass naturally grow back and quickly replenish themselves. All wooden furniture lines at Casual Elements are either made from re-claimed Teak, or from plantation-grown Teak wood, Mahogany, Mango, or from sea grass or bamboo.

If wood is taken care of, it can last a really, really long time. So shouldn't we be able to make good use of all the wood that's already out there? A lot of designers think so and are doing just that. Reclaimed wood usually comes from old furniture, old houses, old boats, retired farm tools, or anything made out of wood that has served its time and is now ready to be reincarnated into something more beautiful. Whatever the source, furniture made from reclaimed wood is a great example of resource efficiency.  At Casual Elements we have designated two furniture lines to be made from reclaimed Teak, our Tahoe and Villa collections.  You can also read a cool story about our reclaimed Teak in our blog.  This link will take you there Of fishing boats, dining tables and reincarnation.


Another way for a wood furniture manufacturer to be eco-friendly is to reduce the waste of timber in the manufacturing process.  Since wood is a product that nature provides us in fixed sizes, it must be cut to the desired lengths when making furniture.  Quite often this results in cuttings or pieces of wood that are wasted.  At Casual Elements, we use

every piece of this precious material.  With cuttings from our timber boards, we make picture frames, plant stands, miniature chairs, etc.  This is not only good for the environment, it is also good for saving money which is an important point because fiscal responsibility is an integral part of the sustainability formula.


Check out our Wooden Accessories line, it features fun products that are totally earth friendly.


Bamboo  You've probably heard by now that bamboo isn't a tree at all, but a grass. Bamboo represents a family of grasses that range in size from tiny to huge, and in color from lime green to maroon stripes. It is claimed to have the tensile strength of steel, and is incredibly fast-growing and versatile.  Bamboo can be flattened into flooring, molded into furniture, pressed into veneers, sliced up to make window blinds, or fashioned to become cool and elegant shade structures like our Bamboo Palapas, Gazebos and Pergolas .  Most bamboo comes from the Far East and is grown with few or no pesticides.  Because it is so fast growing, it is much easier to maintain healthy bamboo forests.   All these characteristics have made bamboo one of the greenest materials around and the unofficial poster material for environmental designers and builders.


Metal and plastic   Since both metal and plastic are recyclable, they can be considered eco-friendly materials for furniture and actually more and more furniture is being made from recycled plastics and metals. 

Recycled materials require less processing and fewer resources, and help support the market for

recycled materials. Technologies are always improving, meaning that recycled plastics and metals

are always going up in quality.


So now, how can you as a consumer contribute your part toward sustainability?  The short answer is in your choices of what furniture you buy, how you use it and what do you do with it after you are done with it.  Let’s examine these choices further.


Choose your brand  Purchase your furniture from manufacturers and dealers that have made a serious effort to produce and sell eco-friendly products.  They should convey clearly why and how is their product eco-friendly and that their claim is not just a marketing slogan.


Recyclable and disassemblable  Good eco-friendly furniture should lend itself to easy repair, disassembly, and recycling. These products can be easily taken apart, sorted into their constituent parts, and recycled at the end of their useful lives. When buying furniture, stay away from "monstrous hybrids", pieces that are an inseparable amalgam of materials. If they can't be taken apart it's probably a sign that they can't be repaired very well either.


Look for furniture that's durable and fixable   One of the most important but often overlooked aspects of green products is durability. If something is tough and/or can be readily repaired, this lessens the chance that it'll end up in the landfill, and could easily save you money in the long run, even if it's initially more expensive. Even recyclable materials if they break (and can't be fixed) require energy and other resources to reprocess and then replace. Durable goods that will last a long time can be passed on from person to person. Even if your style changes and that kitchen table isn't your thing anymore, a good strong table will almost always be appealing to someone else, while a broken (and unfixable) one probably won't. When it's time to part with your possessions, think of Craigslist, Freecycle, or eBay, and find it a new home.


Low-toxicity furniture  Do your homework before you buy to make sure you are choosing furniture that is not finished with toxic chemicals such as those with high VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds), toxic flame retardants, or products containing lead or formaldehyde.  Everyone should be conscious of the kinds of chemicals they bring home, but especially those who have infants or pets.  Casual Elements never uses lead, formaldehyde or other toxins in the manufacturing of our Furniture. All our stains are low VOC and all of our paints are water-based.

Buy local    If possible, source furniture close to home. This will support the local economy (and decrease the environmental cost of shipping). For every $100 you spend at a local small business $45 goes back into your local economy, while for every $100 you spend at a multinational corporation only $13 goes back into your local economy. The rest goes to the corporation's headquarters. Another important fact to remember is that small firms with fewer than 100 workers employ half the labor force and typically account for two-thirds of jobs created in a recovery.  A community with low unemployment is a vibrant and healthy community.

 

Buying locally means that you have a say in what you support. Talk to your local retailers and make sure the brands they carry go toward supporting causes that are important to you like the environment and fair wages for workers.  Vote with your Dollars.  Locally owned store owners will listen to you because their survival depends on you while your wishes will never make it to the decision makers of a large corporation.  Casual Elements is one of several locally owned and operated family businesses.  We care about our environment and our community because we are a part of it.   We always solicit feedback from our customers and try our best to achieve what is important to them.

 

What to do with it when you're over it  We can't promise we're going to like something forever or that our furnishing needs won't change. When it's time to bid a chair, table, bed, or dresser farewell, make sure it goes to a good home. Sell it on Craigslist, eBay, or the local paper, give it away via Freecycle, or include it in your next yard sale. Putting it safely on the curb with a "free" sign on it can also do the trick. If you are the crafty type, lots of furniture can be repurposed into new functions or just freshened up with new paint or finish. No sturdy artifact should have to Live out eternity in the landfill. If it's your mission to get deeper into the green furniture space, put on your designer's smock and start tinkering.


Price, Style and Green, you can have it all   The market for sustainable products has been on a meteoric rise for the last five years.  What started as a novelty progressed to a trend and has now become staple for most industries.  Nearly two out of three consumers have bought green cleaning supplies, compact fluorescent light bulbs and star-rated appliances.  Eco-friendly options have sprung up all over, prices have come down, and in categories everywhere, green products have become mainstream.  Although the furniture industry is trailing behind, there are many good manufacturers that are making a serious effort to catch up.  They are designing and producing furnishings with materials and construction processes that are kind to our planet.  Not incidentally, they are also accenting styling that satisfies consumers’ demand for high-fashion and eco-friendly furnishings.  Supporting these manufacturers will send a clear message to the others to do their part. There is also the misconception that green furniture costs more.  In reality green furniture tends to be much better made and better value for the money.


To recap, sustainability is about our future, about the environment that we and other creatures will live in and will hand off to generations after us.  Not long ago, nature was viewed as a creator of unlimited resources, an unstoppable re-generator of life, and sometimes a force to conquer and tame.  After thousands of years of trying, humans have half way succeeded.  Now we are in trouble.  We suddenly realize how vulnerable our planet is and the damage we have done to it.  We also realize that as a consequence, our own survival may be in jeopardy.  Fortunately, it is not too late yet.  Given half a chance, Earth will renew herself but she needs our help. After all this is our home and we each need to do our part in taking care of it.


Casual Elements mission statement:  To provide elements of beautiful, tranquil and inspiring settings in harmony with the environment.


Our commitment to social and environmental responsibility:   Casual Elements is committed to fair labor practices and environmental responsibility in the production of our furniture. We provide equal opportunity employment and hire only seasoned professionals in our factories. We insist on safe and comfortable working conditions and offer high salaries and benefits in order to attract and retain the best skilled people around. All timber used in the crafting of our furniture is obtained from reclaimed materials or professionally operated plantations.  We strongly believe that timber harvested from other sources is often illegal, damaging to the environment and of poor quality. We never use lead or other toxic chemicals in the production or finish of our products. All of our stains are low VOC (volatile organic compounds) and all of our paints are water-based. This ensures they are safe for our workers and customers and are not harmful to the environment.