green your furniture, floors and walls

Submitted by sproutingforth on Wed, 2008-07-23 12:34

Treading lightly on the planet and minimising our impact on the world’s forests doesn’t have to end when it comes to what goes inside our homes. Whilst SA might lag behind Europe and the US when it comes to eco design, there are nonetheless still green alternatives available, if one just knows where to look.

How green is your exterior wood?
This green guide began as a venture to find eco-friendly doors to replace our wooden verandah doors. As the hunt got underway, we realised that our difficulty was not going to be finding the right price or the right company to replace our doors, but sustainable wood. In South Africa virtually all outside wooden doors and window frames are made from meranti wood from endangered forests in southern Asia and the South Pacific; wood that is not listed with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)and is anything but eco-friendly.

What became painfully obvious, after some investigation was that either we part with a fortune and have the doors custom made from saligna, sustainable wood that is not as hard or as durable as meranti and will thus need replacing more often, or we install aluminium doors (they claim to be 100% recyclable). However, whilst touted as environmentally friendly, aluminium is a non-renewable resource – abundant or not – which requires huge amounts of energy to manufacture and the finish involves a chemical acid bath. In the end, we opted to refurbish our current meranti doors – an interim measure.

Visit the Forest Stewardship Council to see which woods are sustainable. Woods listed on the forest stewardship council site come from forests that are allowed to maintain themselves naturally, in other words from a forest that remains a forest. The opposite of this is clear-cutting, where entire forests are levelled at once and the ecosystem destroyed.

If any supplier of doors and windows claims that their meranti is sustainably harvested, they should have a Malaysian Timber Certification Council or FSC certificate to prove it.

Furniture/doors/windows from recycled timber
There are local companies that make furniture from recycled timber. Orejen, in Johannesburg, specialise in making windows and doors for old homes, listed homes and heritage buildings and use no new wood in the process.

Vintage furniture
The obvious green option, and one employed by a number of people long before it was a green option, is buying second-hand or antique furniture. Furniture that has already been used by someone else uses no additional resources to manufacture, has already given off any of the fumes from varnishes or sealants used in the manufacturing process, and doesn’t contribute to landfill. Second-hand and antique shops abound in the major cities in South Africa.

Buy local
Locally made furniture and décor avoids clocking up air miles attributable to any piece of furniture that might have travelled to reach us. In this way you support local economy, previously disadvantaged groups of people and you help limit the environmental cost of shipping. Locally made furniture should also cost less (in theory). However, you’ll need to be fairly discriminating. Not all locally-made furniture is made from sustainable or local wood. Many designers import woods from overseas.

Local furniture makers and designers featured on urban sprout’s directory:

This pretty versatile bamboo box system is just one of a number of designs by Cabinetworks , a South African design company that wants to bring true quality and sustainability to its market. They follow a natural and function-driven approach to design. Their other pieces include kitchen and furniture pieces.

An African redesign of a classic, this seat by Jungle Furniture , is made from twigs. The company follow a strict environmental ethic with regards to what materials they use, and their wood is kiln dried and treated with Boron, a non toxic treatment.

Heath Nash is a a much sought-after Cape Town-based designer who literally makes things from other peoples’ rubbish. His collection of lampshades, room dividers, chairs and other clever and unique designs add an element of retro chic to any home.

Haldane Martin recently won a Real Simple Green award for furniture design through innovative and functional thinking using recycled, recyclable and renewable materials. The furniture collection consists of over 25 unique, furniture products all originally designed and produced in South Africa.

Furniture and furnishings listed on urban sprout

Eco-friendly flooring
Tread lightly on the planet and use eco-friendly alternatives. If you’re going to go for wooden floors bear in mind that trees can take up to 50 years to regenerate (if they’re replaced at all). Use recycled or reclaimed wood floors (old furniture, houses or other undergo a reincarnation) or buy FSC certified wood floors. Watch out for the glues they use on wooden floors too, these can release harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air, and it’s worth asking your supplier to use an eco-friendly alternative. Other eco-friendly flooring includes cork flooring - AfriCork uses cork oak, whose bark regenerates leaving the tree unharmed - or bamboo – bamboo grass, for instance, regenerates in less than 10 years.

Suppliers of alternative flooring on urban sprout

This deserves a section all on its own as it’s one of the greenest materials around. The grass, known as bamboo, is not only fast growing, but it’s become THE green alternative because it’s so versatile. It can be flattened and used as flooring, moulded into durable furniture and sliced up to make window blinds. Bamboo can be grown without pesticides (some farmers do use them, so you might want to check) and the big thing with bamboo is its sustainability - it grows so fast it means healthier bamboo forests. Even clothing is made from bamboo!

What’s listed on urban sprout that’s made from bamboo?

Green walls
One of the greatest contributors to VOCs in the air in your home is a new coat of paint. Regular paint is full of chemicals – just take a sniff and you’ll agree! There are a range of eco-friendly paints on the market that are non-toxic and some are made from 100% natural products, easy to apply and eco-friendly.

urban sprout’s directory listings of eco-friendly paints and finishes

Cardboard furniture
No, really! This article we stumbled across shows you how to make some really nice looking and incredibly functional furniture from your old cardboard. []

Recycle it
Finally, when you can no longer abide a piece of furniture in your home, there is something you can do with it, other than sending it to landfill or heaping it in the garage. Sell it on ebay, if anyone will have it, or recycle it on

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