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Image: Woodshanti's green computer desk
Purchasing furniture made from wood sourced from sustainably harvested forests helps to ensure that many trees will be with us for a long, long time. The Forest Stewardship Council is the biggest certifier. Look for its seal of approval before investing in an eco-friendly piece of furniture, like Woodshanti's FSC-certified computer desk.
TODAY contributor
updated 1/5/2009 5:10:48 PM ET 2009-01-05T22:10:48

Whether you’re a design junkie who obsesses over every piece of furniture in the house or a low-maintenance IKEA type, there’s no question that the surfaces on which you sleep, eat and lounge are a big part of your everyday life. And like most choices we make, the furniture that fills our home not only affects our comfort levels, but also has an impact on the environment and our health.

There are many good reasons to seek out green furniture: Keeping excessive manufacturing waste out of landfills; saving endangered forests; and improving indoor air quality by reducing the use of toxic chemicals are a few of the big ones. And as innovative designers become increasingly tuned in to the desires of the consumer who is as style savvy as she is environmentally conscious, options abound for outfitting your pad with supremely cool gear that doesn’t forget the planet.

Sound too good to be true? Economically, it may be. Though rapidly growing, green design is still a relatively small segment of the furniture market, which often results in hefty price tags for even simple pieces. The solution? Start slowly.

Just as it’s impossible to instantly transform every piece of your wardrobe into organic cotton, it’s unrealistic to quickly fill your home with furniture crafted from sustainably harvested wood. While you’re saving up for the big-ticket items like the Isabella Bed from RC Green — made from Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified wood and natural latex — you can score furniture that is eco- and wallet-friendly by seeking out previously owned pieces. Reusing is always the greenest option as it doesn’t require new materials or the energy required for manufacturing, and it keeps another item out of the landfill. You can go the craigslist.org or freecycle.net route or you can hunt for vintage and antique items.

But if you’ve got the green to purchase new green pieces, keep these tips in mind as you shop:

  • Look for furniture made from reclaimed materials. Houses, kitchen tables, pianos, baseball bats — think of all the wood that is used to make things each day and then think about all the scraps left over from construction and manufacturing and the landfill waste from discarded wood items. Instead of using new wood to make dining room chairs and beds and bookshelves, some green designers are turning to wood that’s already in play. NYC-based RG Furniture Design turns lumber from historic buildings under demolition in New York City into striking tables, benches, shelves and lamps.

  • Seek out furniture made from FSC-certified wood. We need trees. Lots of them. They produce oxygen, absorb carbon dioxide, and help to keep the planet cool, among several other very commendable attributes. Purchasing furniture made from wood sourced from sustainably harvested forests helps to ensure that many trees will be with us for a long, long time. The Forest Stewardship Council is the biggest certifier. Look for its seal of approval before investing in an eco-friendly piece of furniture. Check out Woodshanti’s stunning FSC-certified computer desk.

  • Purchase furniture made without toxic chemicals. Your couch may look harmless, but unless you know exactly how it was manufactured, there’s a good chance that it’s off-gassing (emitting substances into the air) harmful chemicals into your home. The most common off-gassed substances are VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, which actually sound as scary as they are — they’ve been connected to cancer and birth defects — and can be found in substances like formaldehyde, flame retardants, finishes, adhesives and foam cushions. Check out the Brave Space Hallow Coffee Table with low VOC adhesives and a nontoxic finish.

Marisa Belger is a writer and editor with more than 10 years of experience covering health and wellness. She was a founding editor of Lime.com, a multiplatform media company specializing in health, wellness and sustainable living. Marisa also collaborated with Josh Dorfman on “The Lazy Environmentalist” (Stewart, Tabori, and Chang), a comprehensive guide to easy, stylish green living.

Please note: Neither Marisa Belger nor TODAYshow.com has been compensated by the manufacturers or their representatives for her comments or selection of products reviewed in this column.

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