04/08/2014 12:05 pm ET Updated Jun 08, 2014

Why Do We Need to Furnish Sustainably?

This is the week commonly known as High Point Market, the largest home furnishings trade show in the world, when over 10,000,000 (yes, you read that right!) square feet of furniture is displayed. Many of these manufacturers are committed to sustainable practices, such as replanting trees used in the manufacturing process, using non-toxic foam cushions or adhesives and ensuring the safety or their plant workers. At the same time, there are other companies that care very little about consumer safety or sustainability. It is time for consumers to vote with their wallets and to look for those companies that are certified as safe manufacturing companies.


Recently, HBO premiered a film about the "secrets" of the furniture industry called Toxic Hot Seat, which refers to the fact that consumers have little knowledge of the dangers of flame retardants and foam in their upholstered living room furniture. What can start out as a small fire, can become a toxic plume of smoke and chemicals that kills within seconds. If you survive the plume of smoke, a few months later, you will probably have respiratory issues.

As a designer, I was recently involved in a project called EcoBungalow-LA, which involved rebuilding the home of a family who lost everything in a fire. The client insisted on using sustainable furnishings. We consulted with the Sustainable Furnishings Council (SFC), a non-profit that works to ensure that consumers purchase items that are manufactured with sustainable practices using non-toxic and fire safe materials.

Many sponsoring companies got involved to donate products, but each company had to be committed to sustainable and eco-friendly practices. Each company, such as Mitchell Gold+Bob Williams, Salamander Designs and FLOR was reviewed in advance by the SFC organization. Their certification process helped the family identify furnishings with low off-gassing, no toxic foam and sustainably forested (a tree is replanted after each one used in the manufacturing process) hardwoods. Given that family's children had suffered respiratory issues due to the fire, it was of key importance that there be limited "wheezing and sneezing" in their new home.


The inevitable question is: "How can I make sure my family has safe, non-toxic furnishings?" And we just learned that an event is open to the public in a few weeks, SFC Next in Washington D.C. This two-day symposium will allow attendees to have a dialogue about home furnishings, meet with furniture manufacturers and meet the filmmakers of Toxic Hot Seat at a premiere of the HBO film.

It is exciting to know that SFC is allowing consumers to be part of the next steps... so that we can all ensure that our homes are safer with our furnishings. And hopefully, the buyers and attendees at High Point Market will review the furniture options, and ask the question: Is this sustainable, made with limited toxins and healthy furniture for consumers?