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What Makes a Building Product Green


Furnishings aren’t one-dimensional. They incorporate many different materials, and each material has its own environmental and health issues. In GreenSpec we look for furnishings that don’t introduce harmful emissions into the space and are made from lower-impact materials and manufacturing processes.

Indoor environmental quality

The introduction of furnishings that off-gas hazardous chemicals can undo all the care given to using “clean” building materials. Furniture and furnishings incorporate many separate components, each of which can introduce pollutants. As a result, they can be a significant source of indoor air quality problems—from binders in wood composites such as particleboard, from finishes used on the products, from flame retardants used in foam cushions, and from adhesives used to assemble the products.

Products covered in fabric, such as upholstered furniture and workstations, can also collect dirt and airborne contaminants, releasing them later.

Each material has a unique environmental profile

GreenSpec looks at furniture materials based on their key environmental attributes. For example, upholstered products should reduce hazards from chemicals in fabrics and foams, such as halogenated flame retardants. Hardwoods—especially tropical hardwoods—used in furniture manufacture should be third-party certified according to Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standards to ensure that they were harvested in an environmentally responsible manner.

The attributes GreenSpec looks for include salvaged material, pre-consumer and post-consumer recycled content, use of agricultural waste, certified wood, rapidly renewable material, material that is natural or minimally processed, or uses alternatives to hazardous components.

Comparing the many environmental claims furnishings is challenging. Multi-attribute green product certifications like BIFMA’s “level” certification can provide an even playing field. However, you’ll have to dig deeper to get at a product’s tangible benefits.


Furniture and casework is often selected based on aesthetics, ergonomics, durability, and cost. In addition to that, make sure that it doesn’t introduce harmful emissions into the space and look for lower-impact materials and manufacturing processes. Better choices in furniture are typically simple, made with a minimum of different materials, and designed for disassembly to encourage end-of-life recycling.

Modular, flexible, integrated interior architecture for office partitions and cubicles that incorporate such features as access flooring, walls, wiring and cabling, and lighting, can decrease building and remodeling time significantly.

The greenest product is often one that has already served one useful life. Where feasible, reusing or refurbishing existing furniture or selling it for reuse can save both financial and environmental resources. Also, choosing enduring design over a trendy look reduces the pace of replacement cycles, minimizing associated impact.


Countertops have particular performance demands because of their high use and exposure to water, especially at the seams of sink cutouts and backsplashes. A variety of suitable countertop products with environmental advantages are available. Ceramic tile or natural linoleum surfaces also offer green countertop options.

Window treatments

Window treatments (also known as window attachments or retrofits) include storm windows, shades, blinds, awnings, films, and air sealing upgrades to existing windows. The selection of window treatments is a complex proposition, with almost two dozen window treatment options and attributes. GreenSpec lists high performance window treatments that significantly improve the thermal performance of existing windows.

Outdoor Furnishings

Outdoor furnishings are made from a wide variety of materials, each with its own environmental and health issues. Whether you're looking for seating and tables, trash and recycling bins, outdoor planters, or other site furnishings, choose durable, low-maintenance products made with lower-impact materials and manufacturing processes, which do not use hazardous preservative treatments or finishes. Outdoor furnishings are a good use for recycled plastic material, including commingled plastics for which there are limited applications.

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