Give Your Office an Eco-Makeover – Tips for Greening Up Furnishings, Décor and More

People understand that Green is good, and many people want to choose Greener options. But who isn’t easily confused by marketing messages claiming one product is Greener than another? Become a savvy Green consumer by understanding that there is no such thing as a Green product -“ only products with Green attributes. Then ask everyone who wants to sell you a “Green product” to tell you the specific Green attributes. When you know what the attributes are, you can easily judge one product against another and choose what is right for your office needs.

The following list of Green attributes is by no means comprehensive, but it will get you on your way to finding products that are stylish, may actually save you money, can help improve the quality of air you breathe, and lessen the impact of your decisions on the environment.

Recycled Content
There are two types of recycled content -“ pre-consumer (also known as post-industrial) and post-consumer. Pre-consumer material was never used for its intended purpose while post-consumer was (just like an aluminum pop can). Look for products with a minimum of 25 percent post-consumer content or 40 percent pre-consumer recycled content. The top chair manufacturers offer this kind of option.

It is easy to find office furniture suppliers on the Internet that refurbish used office furniture, and they cost less than new. Consignment and resale shops are great places to find accessories like mirrors, silk plants, lamps, area rugs and art.

A product may be labeled “recyclable” but it is only “recyclable” if there is a waste stream established at the time of purchase to collect and reprocess the material to make a new version of the same type of product. An increasing number of office chairs, desks, and carpeting are being manufactured in a manner that allows them to be collected and recycled in today’s market.

Low Emitting
To promote good indoor air quality, purchase wood products labeled NAUF or no added urea formaldehyde. This indicates that the glues and resins do not contain added formaldehyde -“ a cancer causing agent. This is especially important if the piece you are buying has plywood, medium density fiber board or particle board. The GreenGuard Indoor Air Quality label and the Scientific Certification Systems (SCS) Indoor Advantage programs certify that furniture, flooring, textiles, and window treatments have passed air quality standards. CRI Green Label Plus can be found on carpeting and padding to indicate low-emitting products.

Sustainably Managed Forestry Practices
If something is made of wood, look for a certification, such as FSC, SFI or CSA, that demonstrates sustainable forestry practices. Or, see if the wood was sourced from the United States or Canada.

Fabric Certification
Fabrics for furniture, window treatments, and wall panels can be made in a more sustainable fashion. Look for the GOTS or Oeko-tex labels. These independent certifications indicate the fabrics were made with organic fibers (GOTS) or are better for the environment and human contact.

Improved Cushion Options
Manufacturers are working hard to reduce or eliminate petroleum in their products. Look for the Preserve Foam label, which indicates that some of the petroleum in the foam cushions was replaced with a bio-based product.

Multi-Attribute Certifications
SCS Sustainable Choice Level is a third-party certified label that measures environmental, social, and financial impact of a furniture piece. Cradle-to-Cradle Certification can also be found on some commercial furniture, carpet and wall coverings.

Business Sustainability
The ISO 14001 standards are used by manufacturers to establish an environmental management protocol. This certification shows that a manufacturer has a process in place to promote sustainability. The most innovative companies also have a corporate-wide sustainability initiative or produce a formal sustainability report. If the retailer doesn’t know this information, look for it on the Internet.

Retailer Efforts
If you are putting effort into making your work space more sustainable, demand the same from retailers who are trying to capitalize on products with Green attributes. Ask the retailer what they are doing to become more sustainable. How are they reducing energy and water use in their store? Do they receive and deliver furniture wrapped in blankets instead of cardboard and plastic? If they ship with cardboard and plastic, do they recycle?

When it comes to products, understanding Green attributes will arm you with tools to make more informed decisions that benefit you, employees, the bottom line, and the environment.

Cindy Ojczyk, LEED AP, is the owner of two Green businesses – Verified Green, Inc. – a Green building consulting and training firm and Simply Green Design -an interior design firm.