Worry-Free Furniture

Article excerpt

YOU HAVE THE SAVINGS for a new living room set--but every time you open a home furnishings catalogue, a nagging headline about "illegally logged mahogany" runs through your brain. No mahogany, you decide. Then thoughts arise of Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth and the role of trees in offsetting greenhouse gases, so you rule out the exquisite grain and color of all tropical hardwoods. You want style and fine design, but contributing to South America's illegal logging is not what you have in mind.

But the practices that nab headlines--wood poaching, rainforest destruction, illegal clear-cutting, and so on--are easier for would-be furniture buyers to avoid than you might think. With selective logging techniques, woodcutters can skip over big leaf mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla), coveted for its beauty and durability, and add value to forest stands by choosing less-endangered alternatives like light mahogany (Ocotea bofo), a fine Peruvian hardwood similar in grain to mahogany and slightly harder. Other species such as Ocotea albida and Ocotea amazonica can also be used to fashion furniture.

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The Sustainable Furniture Council is committed to helping consumers make such eco-friendly choices. When it comes to wood sources, it looks to the nonprofit Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which provides credible independent certification of environmentally and socially responsible practices. Although the FSC certification seal doesn't show up on finished furniture, this spring the Sustainable Furniture Council will begin to display signage in stores to help consumers identify exemplary products.

When you buy a piece with the Sustainable Furniture Council's seal of approval, you know that the designers, manufactures, and retailers adhere to strict standards to reduce their carbon emissions and waste pollutants, and eliminate content from unsustainable sources. To avoid "greenwashing"--the act of using marketing techniques to appear "Earth-friendly" without making fundamental reforms--members must reveal a verifiable supply chain of socially and environmentally responsible businesses from the forest floor to the show room floor. The association's membership includes manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, designers, trade shows, and nongovernmental organizations such as the Rainforest Alliance and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). …