I know of a modern furniture line that is made from 100% FSC Certified Wood.
The problem is that after the sustainable materials for these pieces are harvested, they are sent to China where the furniture is manufactured. Then the furniture is shipped via slow boat to Vancouver where they get on a train and travel across Canada to Toronto, to the company’s warehouse. Then it gets on a truck and is driven to San Diego where it appears at my local store.
This happens all the time.
Sure the material that it is made from is harvested responsibly, but the impact on the environment to get the furniture to market more than cancels out these benefits. The sustainable label on this piece is about as authentic as the “Rolex” you bought from that guy out of the back of his van down by the river. I could make a chair out of locally sourced asbestos that would be more Green. This doesn’t mean that I’m not dedicated to sustainability – it’s just that there is a lot of greenwashing going around these days. Being good stewards of the earth often times has nothing to do with a label or checklist.
Sustainability needs to be a mindset, a lens through which every project is viewed. The trick is figuring out which tactics make sense for the project rather than paying money for someone to stamp your design with a shiny marketing ploy.
It’s not that these rating systems are bad, because they are not – and the aim of the originations is fantastic. The problem, which is not just architectural, is that we as a society are more concerned with the label than what was done (or not done) to earn it.
So what are we supposed to do about it? We need to be more conscious buyers, with the materials we use to build our homes and the objects we bring into them. We need to do a few minutes of googling to see what the company / product is really about before clicking buy. Now, I am not proposing that we all spend three days researching which napkin rings to buy… but I think we can all admit that we generally don’t bother to research the environmental impact of most the products we support with our money. Often – at best – We rely on the stamps, seals, or approvals of governmental or third party organizations… without asking what those certifications really mean. Another great way to ensure that the products you invest in are made / delivered to market responsibly – is to buy local. I love that the crafted, local, sustainable movement has made it to mainstream to certain extents… but we still have a very long way to go.
I’ll step down off my soapbox (…for now) with one last reminder. The best path to sustainability is not always through buying a new “green” product… Sometimes the most sustainable thing you can do is reuse or re-purpose an old “non Green” item rather than buying a new Green one. This is equally true in all scales; from a chair to a house.