By specifying office furniture that is manufactured in a sustainable manner, buyers have the opportunity to reduce the environmental and public heath impacts of this resource and energy intensive industry. The term sustainability can be difficult to define for the contemporary furniture designer/manufacturer, but typically it involves social responsibility, use of non-polluting technologies and certified materials, employment fairness and more. Though these "manufacturing with a conscience" ideals cannot be argued with, often they are difficult to implement on a regular basis. To encompass these practices we need to be responsible for the production cycle from raw material acquisition through to manufacture, end use and final disposal.
Office furniture is a multi-billion dollar industry that represents enormous environmental impacts at almost every level of development and use; from the materials and resource extraction phase, through the manufacturing and processing stage and finally, product disposal. In a nutshell, the furniture industry contributes to:
- the depletion of forests when using certain woods to manufacture their furniture; particularly old growth and rain forests
- soil erosion, diminished biodiversity and loss of watersheds when wood harvesting is not conducted and managed under a certified sustainable process;
- water and air pollution through the release of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) when more harmful painting and manufacturing processes are used;
- the wasteful use of valuable land mass by ignoring the fact that millions of tons of desks, chairs, cabinets, shelves, tables and more end up landfills at the end of their useful life instead of being reused, refurbished or recycled;
- the demise of the economic security of many communities impacted by one or more of the above factors as well as the general acceleration of climate change conditions.
Some of the other processes included in the making and use of office furniture that impact the environment and public health include the use of:
- flame retardants, particularly those containing polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) that are persistent in the environment and identified as a potential carcinogen;
- metal plating processes that use hexavalent chromium with a copper/nickel plated undercoat; hexavalent chromium and nickel dust are classified by the EPA as human carcinogens;
- adhesives with high VOCs or fiberboard and plywood components that use a urea-formaldehyde binding agent; formaldehyde is classified by the EPA as human carcinogen;
- paints and finishes with high VOC emissions; such products can continue to emit VOCs during their lifetime, significantly contributing to poor indoor air quality.
Purchasing office furniture produced using sustainable processes will serve to eliminate or reduce the various implications indicated above. Many of the vendors awarded under OFF20 for remanufactured and other office furnishings incorporate the following sustainable principles and practices into their design and manufacturing processes. Furnishings buyers are encouraged to support these sustainable efforts wherever possible.
Powder Coating - Powder coating is a "dry paint" application process in which finely ground particles of pigment and resin are electrostically charged and sprayed onto a surface, which is then cured to set the coating. It reduces VOCs in the application process lending to improved indoor air quality.
LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System ® is a voluntary, consensus-based national standard for developing high-performance, sustainable buildings. LEED for Commercial Interiors (LEED-CI) addresses the specifics of tenant spaces primarily in office, retail and institutional buildings. It is the recognized standard for certifying high-performance green interiors that are healthy, productive places to work, are less costly to operate and maintain, and represent a reduced environmental footprint. For details visit the US Green Building Council website at www.usgbc.org .
Cradle-to-Cradle (C2C) Protocol( www.aia.org) - as designed by William McDonough and Michael Braungart reflects a strategy for developing ecologically intelligent products that generate economic, social and environmental benefits at every phase of their use, including, but not limited to:
- Material Chemistry and Safety: What chemicals are in the materials specified for the product; are they the safest possible?
- Disassembly: Can the manufacturer easily take products apart at the end of their usual life to recycle the materials?
- Recyclability: Do the materials contain recycled content and/or can they be recycled?
Certifications - such as Greengard, Green Seal, ISO 14001, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and others that represent sustainable programs.
Contract #: OFF20 Contract Title: Office, School and Library Furniture, Accessories and Installation
Contract Summary and Specifications:
The contract contains close to one dozen product categories including those mentioned in the title as well as shelving, demountable walls, filing systems and more. Many of the remanufactured panels on this contract represent a savings over the new OEM panels on the contract, yet meet the same specifications as their OEM counterparts and are available in a broad range of fabrics and design configurations. Remanufactured panel also represent a significant reduction in waste generation and their primary components are reused after undergoing comprehensive refurbishing.
The Massachusetts statewide contract encourages furniture manufacturers to adopt sustainable practices and principles in their furniture lines. Some of these include:
Packaging - Bidders must agree that all corrugated cardboard materials and containers used in the packaging and transport of office furnishings, accessories and miscellaneous supplies will be made with a minimum of 35% post-consumer recycled material. Confirmation of this recycled content requirement must be made to the Commonwealth by submitting a letter from the box manufacturer verifying the recycled content ratio.
Flame Retardants Information - The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is concerned about the increasing environmental problems caused by certain flame retardants (FRs). To make an informed purchasing decision, Bidders must disclose all FRs used in the products offered. Products are preferred that meet flame retardancy standards and/or the flammability requirements of CAL 133, without added FRs; with particular attention to halogenated FRs.
Sustainable Principles - Furnishings manufacturers and suppliers were also encouraged to offer some of the following initiatives within their operations. If they could demonstrate that such initiatives were already in place, then they may be eligible for additional points in the evaluation process of the bid.
- Adopt standards for product development that comply with the Cradle to Cradle (C2C) Protocol (see Section 2.11) and/or allow for easy disassembly of parts to facilitate recycling, and/or consider safe chemicals in product design.
- Obtain product / industry certifications, such as, but not limited to, ISO 14000, LEED, SCS, Greenguard, Green Seal and others pertinent to this RFR.
- Offer recycled, remanufactured or other EPPs, such as, but not limited to, fabrics made from post-consumer recycled and/or other sustainable materials.
- Offer wood products made from materials derived from sustainably managed forests, and/or those certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), and/or wood surface substrate made from agricultural fiberboard with no added urea-formaldehyde.
- Use bio-based or water-based adhesives for adhering laminate or other surfaces and limit or reduce the use of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic for work surface edging or other applications.
- Employ the use of innovative energy efficient technologies and systems at the manufacturer's or supplier's facility, and/or incorporate the purchase and use of renewable energy.
- Introduce the use of EPPs into various business operations (e.g. use of recycled paper for advertising, marketing and promotional literature; incorporate the use of re-refined oil, remanufactured antifreeze and retread tires into vehicle maintenance).
- Utilize alternative fuel vehicles and/or fuels for sales staff use or product deliveries (e.g. gas/electric hybrids, compressed natural gas trucks, ultra-low sulfur or bio-diesel fuels, diesel emission control technologies, etc.).
- Implement source reduction efforts to reduce or eliminate the use of primary packaging (e.g. cardboard cartons) and secondary packaging (e.g. polystyrene, shrink wrap), as well as determine the extent to which packaging may be returned for reuse or recycling.
- Encourage environmental initiatives at the corporate level such as conducting product life cycle assessments, waste audit, the elimination of ozone depleting chemical usage in the manufacturing process, implementing internal environmental auditing related to pollution control for the purpose of identifying ways to reduce the impact of manufacturing on the environment.
- Implement collection and recycling of materials at the manufacturer's or supplier's facility.
- Work with PMT to develop, market and distribute information and/or materials to the Commonwealth customers concerning the manufacturer's environmental practices and initiatives throughout the term of the contract.
- Offer products that contain alternatives to the flame retardants indicated on Attachment 13.
- Implement other initiatives not mentioned above.
- Green Seal, Choose Green Report: http://www.greenseal.org/resources/reports/CGR_officefurniture.pdf
- ForestCertification Resource Center- www.certifiedwood.org
- LEED- http://www.usgbc.org/
- Cradle to Cradle (C2C) Protocol - http://www.mbdc.com/ref_protocol.htm
- Powder Coating Institute - http://www.powdercoating.org/benefits/
- Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)- http://fscus.org/