Green is more than a color when it comes to eco-friendly furnishings


Trevor Webb found something worth admiring at the furniture show here: nail holes, scuffs and dents.

"It's pretty cool, isn't it?" asked Webb, admiring a massive wood table made by his Van Nuys, Calif.-based furniture company Urban Woods LLC. "You wouldn't know this is reclaimed wood from soundstages and old buildings in California unless you look closely."

Webb, and his furniture, are part of a growing green movement in the home decor industry that promotes recycled materials, wood collected from certified sustainable forests, cushions created from soy, vegetable-based stains and enviromentally sound fabric and foam.

Yet there are no national standards that spell out what makes one couch more environmentally friendly than another. Currently, any company can claim their eco-efforts are more green than the next guy.

Dozens of manufacturers touted eco-friendly products at the High Point Market &

the twice-annual home decor and furnishings trade show that previews what will be in stores next season. Industry analysts see it as both a response to a growing need for accountability and an effective marketing tool.

"The industry is reaching out," said Jerry Epperson, a furniture industry analyst with Richmond, Va.-based investment firm Mann, Armistead and Epperson. "Retailers see it as important to the younger generations."

Wood used for tables, dressers and frames is typically harvested from responsibly managed forests. Glues and finishes are water-based. Sofas use recycled steel springs, while cushions are soy-based. Fabrics are organic cotton, hemp, bamboo and leather byproducts. Then you have the more unusual offerings, such as chair slip covers made by using multicolored thread scraps or upholstery made from recycled water bottles.

"Everyone has a little something different to offer," said Hamed Alaghebandian, who's planning on opening a furniture store later this year in Maryland. "My job is to find things that my customers will want to help them maintain a greener lifestyle."

The shift comes from small producers as well as large manufacturers such as Precedent, Rowe Fine Furniture Inc., Century Furniture LLC, and Harden Furniture Inc.

Vaughan-Bassett Furniture Co. has vowed to plant one tree for every tree it uses to produce its furniture &

roughly 150,000 saplings a year. That's a bold commitment for the Virginia-based company, which is one of the nation's largest manufacturers of wood furnishings.

"We admit we needed to do something proactive," spokesman Doug Bassett said.

The Sustainable Furniture Council offers guidelines and bases its membership on "evidence of performance, and of commitment to continual and demonstrated improvement in the sustainability of all company operations." The Chapel Hill, N.C.-based organization even provides a brochure with questions consumers can ask while buying furniture.

"Customers want to buy what matters to them," said Susan Inglis, executive director of the group, which was founded in October 2006 and has nearly 200 members.

With the furniture industry continuing to face tough times in an ongoing housing and mortgage lending bust, consumers are cutting back on purchases.

"In my mind, it is fortunate that green is fashionable at this moment," Inglis said.

Manufacturers say it's too early to tell what percentage of overall sales will come from green furniture, but consumer interest is growing.

"People want to feel like they are doing something for the environment," said Catarina Jang, a potential buyer of Urban Woods' offerings. "I think this is something people will consider buying. Maybe not everything, but a piece or two."

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