Environmentally Friendly Furniture has Gone Mainstream

As Americans begin gearing up for the warm summer months they will discover an increase in environmentally-friendly garden furniture in many familiar stores. According to a National Wildlife Federation survey of major outdoor furniture retailers, consumers can expect to find a wider variety of styles and prices of sustainable wood garden products.

No longer just for the passionately eco-conscious, such environmentally friendly furniture has gone mainstream, being sold at retailers ranging from Wal-Mart to Pottery Barn. “Outdoor furniture can now be good for the environment and good for the pocketbook,” said Stacy Brown, forest certification coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation and overseer of the survey. “Sustainable wood garden products are most often competitively priced with conventional garden furniture.”

Reflecting this increase, the National Wildlife Federation expanded the number of companies invited to participate in its second annual Garden Furniture Scorecard from 13 to 22. Crate & Barrel and Pier 1 Imports scored highest for the second year in a row, with The Home Depot, Wal-Mart, and Gardener’s Supply Company also scoring well. Notably, the majority of retailers that were part of the scorecard last year improved their scores in 2008, meaning a higher percentage of their wooden outdoor furniture options are environmentally friendly.

The U.S. is the world’s largest single importer of wooden furniture from tropical timber-producing countries, with garden furniture representing about one-fifth of the wooden furniture market. U.S. imports of all tropical wood products have increased four-fold over the past decade. As a result, the once biologically rich forests of countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Brazil are being depleted at an unprecedented rate.

“Deforestation, especially in tropical forests, accounts for approximately one quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, contributing significantly to global warming,” said Eric Palola, senior director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Forests for Wildlife campaign. “Unsustainable tree harvesting also greatly contributes to the rapid disappearance of the world’s remaining natural forest habitats. As more retailers offer wooden garden furniture made from sustainably-harvested forests, and those products become more popular with consumers, trends in tropical forest loss can begin to reverse.”

Several species of neo-tropical birds that summer in the U.S. and Canada depend on threatened tropical forests in Latin America. A major cause of deforestation is the legal and illegal logging of remaining primary forests to meet the global appetite for tropical wood products.

At current rates of deforestation, the remaining biodiversity-rich natural forests in countries such as Ecuador, Columbia, Guyana, Indonesia, Myanmar, and the Democratic Republic of Congo are expected to disappear within a decade.

Stacy Brown recommends that consumers look for and ask for products with a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo, which means the wood is traceable to a sustainably-managed forest. An FSC distinction assures that wildlife and forest ecosystems are conserved through rigorous ecological standards that an independent company audits on an annual basis.

Fortunately for buyers, FSC-certified furniture is becoming easier to find as more products bear the FSC label and more stores are using the label in advertising to identify products. ""At Wal-Mart we believe that selling FSC certified furniture not only shows our commitment to the environment but also to quality products that have added value for our customers,” said Tom Flynn, Strategic Sourcing Senior Manager at Wal-Mart. “Displaying the FSC logo on FSC-certified products and in our advertising demonstrates this commitment and helps our customers feel good about saving money so they can live better, while supporting sustainable forestry practices. "

However, consumer vigilance is still necessary since many green marketing claims lack independent verification and may not be truly eco-friendly. By insisting on FSC-certified goods, buyers can influence retailers’ supply of sustainably-forested products.

As wood products, FSC-certified goods reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save energy at all steps of production. The manufacture of metal or plastic garden furniture requires greater quantities of fossil fuels and releases more carbon than the crafting of wooden furniture. In fact, the amount of carbon a tree collects from the atmosphere and stores during its natural growth processes exceeds the amount of carbon emitted when that tree is harvested and made into furniture.

NWF plans to continue its annual surveys of major outdoor furniture retailers to track the progress of making FSC-certified products available to consumers. To learn more about the Scorecard, go to http://www.nwf.org/gardenfurniture Look at http://www.fscus.org to find stores near you that manufacture or carry FSC-certified products.

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