Are Your 2018 “Well-Being” Resolutions Being Undermined?
A few weeks ago, many of us brought in the New Year with fresh hopes and new goals to better our lives for 2018. Chances are that many of us have committed to improving our well-being through exercise, eating healthier, and losing weight. Although these commitments often reign our New Year’s resolutions lists, challenging our own self-determination and dedication, there is an aspect of our well-being that is often overlooked and met with external challenges that make it seem out of our control: the toxicity in the furniture we introduce into our indoor spaces.
Over 90% of our lives are spent indoors.1 Yet some companies, with a lack of transparency or accountability, continue to create products that undermine our resolutions surrounding our health. Furniture products and the materials they contain are often a threat and should be considerably vetted to ensure a healthy environment.
Employed persons spent more time at their work than at home in 2016.2 With that in mind, the NRDC Facilities team finds it essential to vet every furniture product and building material we buy. We adhere to the most stringent, self-initiated accountability standards to ensure the continued health of our employees. However, these vetting processes and standards should not be limited to our places of work. It is imperative that all consumers protect themselves with informed purchases and use their buying power to signal to companies that there is a need for healthy furniture.
Five common chemicals of concern for furniture
Although there are several comprehensive lists of chemicals to be cautious of, the five most common chemicals of concern—according to the Center of Environmental Health—for furniture are:
Commonly found in
PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)
Pipes, vinyl flooring, door & window frames, textile finishes
Strong, lightweight plastic, good for construction
Carcinogenic, hormone disruptor, immune system damage
VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds), specifically Formaldehyde
Furnishing, particle board, plywood, paints, solvent, coatings, varnishes, adhesives, wood binding
Used in production of resins for adhesive quality
Eye, nose & throat irritation, headaches, damage to liver, kidney, & central nervous system
Protection of spread of bacteria and germs
Not fully understood, however no data support the efficacy of these products in preventing spread of infection through contact with furniture
PFC (Per- and poly-flourinated compounds)
Fabrics, carpets, furniture, mattresses
Provide for stain, oil and water-resistant properties
Carcinogenic, high cholesterol, reduced immune functions
Furniture, nap mats, baby products
Hormone disruptor, carcinogenic, decreased fertility, hyperactivity
Source: Center of Environmental Health
Trustworthy ecolabels and accountability standards
The NRDC has proudly committed to the Center of Environmental Health’s (CEH) pledge toward the purchasing of safer furniture products. In addition, NRDC adheres to the standards of the Living Building Challenge’s Red List, which seeks to eliminate “worst-in-class materials/ chemicals with the greatest impact to human and ecosystem health”.3 These standards offer comprehensive ‘chemicals to avoid’ lists and are valuable tools to guide your own purchases.
There are a few trustworthy furniture ecolabels that help ease the research process: LEVEL by BIFMA, Cradle2Cradle, SCS Certification for Indoor Quality and Recycled Materials, and Greenguard Gold for Air Quality. These certifications set standards for manufacturers and award them some distinction. However, these certifications are not all encompassing. They should be used to help guide decisions and additional research may be needed to ensure the product meets the full criteria of ensuring human and environmental health.
The issue of transparency
Regulations and standards for furniture producers are inadequate. An overall insufficiency of transparency within the product industry promises that unhealthy products will continue to contaminate our indoor spaces. However, in an era that is characterized by easily accessible knowledge, constant information exchange, and the move toward smarter choices, transparency is increasingly being sought and demanded. These demands have applied pressure on manufacturing industries to take more accountability for what they produce and how they produce it.
The move toward more transparency begins with you as a consumer. Understanding the dangers that lurk within your purchases and doing your due diligence is the first step. Following that, communicate your needs for product transparency. Demand disclosure tags, such as Declare or Health Product Declarations (HPD), which encourage producers to adhere to strict transparency standards positioned toward improving human and environmental health. Encourage your employers, friends, and family to adopt higher standards for their products. Lastly, use your own buying power to show support for products that seek to support the ecological and human health we need.
Don’t let your resolutions for overall well-being this new year be crippled by unnecessary chemicals. Safeguard yourself and the environment with informed purchases.
Authored by NRDC colleague, Anthony Galura
 EPA, accessed 1/17/18: https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq
 Bureau of Labor Statistics, accessed 1/16/18: https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/atus.pdf
 Living Building Challenge 3.1, Materials Petal Handbook. October 2016