Monday, April 6, 2009

Sustainability and Survivability

We are members of the Sustainable Furniture Council. We believe in using resources wisely. We recycle our wood waste and our water bottles. We are always looking for materials that are less harmful for the environment (and for us). Tomorrrow, for example, a salesman I know is coming by to talk about water borne finishes with me. We haven't converted to them yet because the industry has not been able to produce a finish with the same aesthetic and durability qualities as lacquer. Water borne finishes also have solvents in their formula. I will be interested to see what they say and what the product looks like and what it is made of. We will not compromise our quality. And the lacquer that we use meets the rigorous European standards for HAPS and is considered a low VOC product. Acetone is not considered a VOC, by the way, which doesn't mean you can freely breath it. When a lady is getting her nails done and the nail lady is not wearing a respirator, you do wonder what is happening to her lungs. But perhaps you understand why acetone was excluded from the VOC list.

I have contended for the longest time that the most environmentally friendly thing you can do in purchasing furniture is to find a local or US maker (assuming that you are the consumer and are also in the US) and buy a product that is built to last generations. In the same logic that recycling is good, but it still uses lots of energy - while re-using is better as it doesn't have to convert matter to another form and therefore uses minimal energy, buying furniture built locally to last generations is much better than buying "Green" furniture shipped across the ocean and built to last ten years. The latter will then have to take up landfill space or be burned. The former has a small carbon footprint.

We try to build things that last. That means basically doing two things: Firstly, choosing materials of a high quality, such as solid wood, kiln dried to the proper level of moisture. Secondly, it means paying close attention to joinery. A good joint should not need a great deal of glue to successfully bond. Staples and screws will always fail before a good glue joint will. I have looked at a great deal of antique furniture that needs to be repaired. You learn a lot by examining these joints. Chairs built from turned parts with dowel joints almost always fail because the maker didn't understand wood shrinkage and the joint had to rely on the glue. Nakashima ( was one woodworker who knew how to fit the joint and then shrink the wood before joinery so that the wood would expand to lock the joint together. A good dovetail joint almost needs no glue to be solid. Same with a mortise and tenon. But I have seen countless joints come to me after desperate repairs with screws, dowels, etc. in a last ditch attempt to save a chair or some such thing. Crafted quality will last and takes up no landfill space.

We just had a potential customer switch to a product made in Asia, rather than buy custom made from us. The reason was money. The imported product is of vague provenance and of non described materials. In a photograph, the import looks great. In reality, when it arrives, how will it look? When will the day come that quality and the environment play equally weighted roles?