With energy-consuming equipment, such as water heaters and refrigerators, we have good data on energy consumption and can set clear standards accordingly. In some product categories—clothes washers, for example—Energy Star standards were adopted because those standards provide a high enough threshold to represent just the very top segment of the product market (less than 10%). In other product categories—e.g., refrigerators and dishwashers—we set a higher threshold than ENERGY STAR: for example, exceeding those standards by 10% or 20%. With lighting and lighting control equipment, certain generic products qualify, such as compact fluorescent lamps and occupancy/daylighting controls, while in other categories only a subset of products qualify. In some cases, products that meet the energy efficiency requirements are excluded, because of evidence of poor performance or durability. Microturbines are included here because of the potential for cogeneration (combined heat and power) that they offer.
The Temperfect office chair from Tempronics can provide an energy-efficient alternative to space heaters in allowing office occupants to control individual thermal comfort. Powered by a low-voltage DC power supply, the chair uses semiconductors embedded in foam cushions to move heat toward or away from users at the turn of a dial. The chair’s maximum power draw is 80W while cooling and 60W while heating, and Tempronics claims that providing the chairs to all occupants of an office can allow temperature setpoints to be expanded to 61°F in winter and 84°F in summer for HVAC energy savings. The base chair, prior to the addition of the semiconductor pads, is Greenguard certified and contains 35% recycled material. The Temperfect chair is made in Mexico and carries a two-year limited warranty.
You’ll probably be choosing furniture based on aesthetics, ergonomics, durability, and cost. In addition to that, make sure that furniture doesn’t introduce harmful emissions into the space. Also look for lower-impact materials and manufacturing processes.
Finding low-emitting furniture, along with other low-emitting building materials, is a must.
GreenSpec generally lists only furniture that meets California Section 01350 or more stringent emissions certifications such as Greenguard Children & Schools. In rare cases GreenSpec lists products that haven’t been tested to these standards, but that instead are made from inherently low-emitting materials with certified low-emitting adhesives, or are in subcategories where a less stringent certification (such as Greenguard Indoor Air Quality) is as good as it gets. Salvaged products also frequently don't have low-emitting certifications—check the certifications to be sure.
Furniture isn’t one-dimensional. It incorporates many different materials, and each material has its own environmental and health issues.
GreenSpec looks at furniture materials based on their key environmental attributes. For example, wood furniture must be FSC-certified, and upholstered products should reduce hazards from chemicals in fabrics and foams, such as halogenated flame retardants.
The attributes GreenSpec looks for in products listed here 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 for furniture products 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. Ask the manufacturer for the certification scorecard or other comprehensive environmental disclosure.
GreenSpec lists BIFMA level 3 certified furniture because we think that level 3 sets a high, comprehensive bar. We list many BIFMA level 2 certified products, but we base those listings on additional disclosure of a product’s green features.
Although BIFMA’s level is a key industry standard, we sometimes find and list products with exceptional performance under other multi-attribute standards, or other clearly exceptional products that provide full disclosure of environmental and health characteristics, or products that stand out in a unique application for which there are few green alternatives.
In a residential setting, where there is likely to be lower air exchange and also children—a more vulnerable population—consider placing increased emphasis on occupant health over other environmental concerns.
For residential products in particular, GreenSpec seeks out products that, in addition to the emissions certifications described above, provide full disclosure of material composition demonstrating no content of high-hazard chemicals (according to the Pharos Chemical and Material Library).
As with all furniture products, make sure that seating doesn’t introduce harmful emissions into the space. Also look for lower-impact materials and manufacturing processes.
Seating must meet the same high bar that GreenSpec has established for all furniture products: products must be low-emitting and exhibit multiple other environmental features, such as being made primarily from greener materials. Note that salvaged products typically don't have low-emitting certifications but are included anyway for their efficient use of resources.
- Most seating products are at least certified to BIFMA Level 2, although there may be some exemplary seating which is included without this.
When specifying upholstered seating, pay special attention to unique environmental and health concerns. Upholstery requires chemical- and water-intensive processing. Fabrics and foams often include chemical additives and finishes such as flame retardants, mothproofing, and stain-resistant chemicals. Items incorporating fabric can also collect dirt and airborne contaminants, releasing them later. Consider whether upholstered products are really necessary, particularly if a greener alternative isn’t available.
GreenSpec includes upholstery products as part of a green furniture line, but upholstery products are only singled out for listing if they address toxicity concerns for both the product and manufacturing process.
GreenSpec lists upholstery products that provide full disclosure of material composition demonstrating no content of high-hazard chemicals (according to the Pharos Chemical and Material Library).
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