Sustainability in the furniture and furnishings industry

A number of sustainability initiatives, both on-going and new, are being implemented by the furniture and furnishings industry. Organizations such as the American Home Furnishing Association (AHFA), the Business and Institutional Manufacturers Association (BIFMA) and the Sustainable Furnishings Council (SFC) have brought together their membership of manufacturers, retailers, designers, suppliers and others, to develop programs to measure and improve environmental performance, as well as begin communication of results to consumers.

Who is doing what?

The AHFA has worked extensively to help its members meet numerous environmental compliance requirements (e.g. for air and water quality), but one of its big steps towards sustainability is the Enhancing Furniture’s Environmental Culture (EFEC) program.

EFEC is an AHFA developed environmental management system (EMS), tailored to the furniture/furnishings industry, to guide members through a very systematic approach to reviewing and improving their operations for better environmental performance and profitability. In many states implementation of this program results in tangible benefits, such as less reporting, permit flexibility, faster approvals and reduced fees. Member companies have taken EFEC beyond regulatory requirements, to use the program as a tool to focus on waste and energy use reduction.

Once EFEC is fully in place AHFA’s sustainability programs continue with “Sustainable by Design” (SBD) and the “Eco3Home” product registration program. Through continuous improvement the SBD program requires companies establish and execute their own commitments for: minimizing  their environmental footprint; supply chain management; global climate change; and social  performance. “Eco3Home” product registration then requires companies to provide safety, health and environmental information for each piece of furniture they wish to have registered.  The intent is to makes it easier for consumers to evaluate the product’s safety, health and environmental attributes through a standardized format.

Working to address product, facility and organizational sustainability performance within the furniture industry, one of BIFMA's major achievements has been the development, and successful adoption, of the “level’ certification program. As of February 2012 over 2000 products by 51 manufacturers had achieved program certification.

Level is built on the ANSI/BIFMA “e3” Furniture Sustainability Standard, which considers a company’s energy use, material selection, social responsibility as well as human and ecosystem health impacts. It is a third party certification program focused on reasonable and transparent sustainability performance measurement and communication.

Adding to the program’s success and recognition is that some government departments, e.g. the EPA western region, specify the purchase of level certified products. Currently both the Government Services Administration and LEED program are considering specifying or offer points in its rating system, respectively, for level certified products.

BIFMA has also worked diligently to further the practice of measuring and communicating the impacts of institutional furniture by development of Product Category Rules (PCRs).  PCRs are used to provide guidance on how life cycle assessments (LCAs) of a specific type of product should be conducted, and how LCA results and other environmental information for that product type should be communicated.  Product lifetime, impact categories to be assessed, communication format and other specifications are established in the PCR. BIFMA completed a PCR on seating in June 2012. Currently BIFMA is finalizing the PCR for storage products, with a planned critical review in May and release targeted before NeoCon, the commercial interiors design expo and conference.

The SFC, a coalition of industry stakeholders, ranging from manufacturers to NGOs like the Rainforest Alliance, works to promote sustainability among industry and consumers by providing education, communication options and functioning as a clearing house on sustainability. The SFC is an advocate for use of LCA as the best method for analyzing product environmental impact, and a verifiable chain of custody as the only acceptable method for tracking wood materials. They established a public advertising and in-store tagging program to help consumers identify retailers and products which meet the SFC’s sustainability standards.

How SGS can help

SGS is a member of BIFMA, has attended the AHFA sustainability summit the past two years and has conducted services for members of all three organizations. Our sustainability team members have also worked with furniture/furnishings companies to assess and reduce the environmental impacts of products through life cycle assessment, benchmarking and/or Ecodesign, which can support the above mentioned sustainability efforts.

For more information please contact your local SGS representative or our global team:

Michael S. Richardson, P.E.
LCA & Sustainable Design
Senior Project Manager
SGS North America Inc.
t: +1 973 461 1517