My wife and I noticed a very scary thing a few weeks ago—our son was beginning to lift his knee as if to climb out of his crib. He is an accomplished climber, so we fully expect him to be out of the crib within a month of two. Time for a big boy bed—and time to find out if the words “sustainability” and “big boy bed” can work in the same sentence. Depending upon how you define it, it is probably possible to buy at least somewhat “sustainable” youth furniture.
For me, the number one definition of sustainability is made in the USA. I generally think of sustainability as environmental first, economic second. However, in this case, I am flipping my preference list. I would vastly prefer to help keep an American company (and its jobs) in business rather than send the money overseas for something like this. I am not entirely sure if it is the litmus test, but it is pretty close. By essentially filtering on “Made in the USA”, I realize that I am potentially limiting my options, but I want to fully explore these companies first.
While looking at potential beds for my son, I identified 3 companies who make youth collections in the United States—Young America (Stanley Furniture), Vaughan-Bassett, and Lea Furniture, which is owned by La-Z-Boy. I thrilled to learn that all of Young America’s collections are made in the Southeast. However, I was less thrilled to learn that Stanley’s adult collections are made primarily in either Indonesia or Vietnam. Lea Furniture has a similar dichotomy, with some collections (like Deer Run and Austin) being made in the United States, and others (like Lea Elite) being made abroad. Vaughan Bassett seems to be the company most consistently making its line of products here in the United States—they claim 95% of their product is made in the USA.
Vaughan Bassett also has a very nifty program where they essentially replace the trees they use. They had a “one for one’ program which provided 150,000 seedlings to the State of Virginia, which has replanted them in state forests. They’ve also installed equipment to increase lumber yield (and therefore use and pay for fewer trees). Both they and Stanley (at least, the domestically made Young America collections) source most of their lumber from within 500 miles of the factory—75% for Young America, 99% for Vaughan. Young America is also working towards reducing the amount of materials used in its packaging as well as decreasing the amount of hazardous by-products created in the course of the manufacturing process.
Both Stanley and Vaughan-Bassett are members of the Sustainable Furniture Council, a furniture industry organization dedicated specifically to sustainability. Another industry initiative is the EFEC: Enhancing Furniture’s Environmental Culture. This is a program of the American Home Furnishings Alliance focused specifically on environmental aspects of the production process, that Lea Furniture and Hooker Furniture have affiliated with.
For its part, the SFC has a lengthy application where companies detail a variety of efforts in various aspects of sustainability. Examples concerning People, Planet, and Profit (triple bottom line) include whether a company has implemented recycling in its production process, not using virgin wood if at all possible, pays a living wage (vs a minimum wage), implements an energy audit, etc. Their website has lots of good information oriented towards building a community of players within the furniture industry who care about sustainability including but not limited to environmental aspects.
The EFEC is specifically an environmental management program, analogous to the ISO 14001 environmental management standard. The EFEC requires an applicant company to have written environmental goals and a documented process to measure progress to achieving them. Further, EFEC audits the manufacturer when they first apply for registration and annually thereafter. Additionally, the EFEC program has an extension called Sustainable by Design (which Lea qualified for a couple of years ago). This goes beyond the environmental management program to include supply chain management, greenhouse gas emissions, energy conservation, social performance, etc.
This research has actually affected my thinking about which bed I buy. I was always determined to buy a good quality bed for the long term, with underbed storage. I want to buy a bed that is simultaneously American made, high quality, environmentally friendly and affordable. The easiest piece to define has been high quality—I can shake the bed, pull the drawers and decide if the combination will be suitable for my son as the years go by. I begin there as the initial filter, and then went into other factors such as American made and good on the environmental and sustainability fronts.
Now, after learning about what different companies are doing in terms of overall manufacturing and environmental performance across their various brands, it is becoming more complex. I might be making this too complicated, but what if a company makes only some of its collections in the United States? What if I am impressed about a particular company’s environmental performance, but that specific collection is imported while others are made here? Or, do I want to stick with what is probably a perfectly suitable American made, relatively environmentally friendly collection vs spending a premium for another collection (also American made, and relatively environmentally friendly collection) that is reputedly “higher quality”. I wish I knew.
Sustainable Furniture Council:
Enhancing Furniture’s Environmental Culture:
Hooker Furniture Eco-Friendy Furniture Post: