We all want to make decisions that are best for our health and the environment, but it's confusing when so many terms are thrown around without any clear meaning. Often when I’m shopping, I see many products next to each other that seem to be environmentally responsible but have different labels. How do I choose between ethical and fair-trade coffee? So many things are labeled Green, Sustainable, Eco-Friendly, Ethical, Fair Trade, Clean, Organic, Non-Toxic, and Conscious, but what do these terms actually mean? Most of these labels seem to be talking about health and sustainability, but they can have different meanings that are small but important. To help you make the most informed product decisions, we’ve helped to clarify some of these terms.
The terms “green” and “eco-friendly’ both have similar meanings. They evoke a sense of environmental responsibility and that the company cares about the environmental impact of their product. “Green,” though, is a broad term. It refers to the overall Green and Environmental movement. It is the general term used to discuss a wide variety of production practices. Calling or labeling something "Green" implies a mindfulness of the planet, but regulatory standards or policies can be lacking because "Green" is not a certification. “Eco-friendly” is a bit clearer and means that something isn’t harmful to the environment. It usually refers to products that don’t pollute the air or water, or that contribute to sustainable living practices such as recycling. A wonderful example of this would be the Essentials Collection by Copeland. Apart from Copeland's unwavering commitment to sustainability and low chemical emissions, their Essentials Collection is beautifully crafted in scraps of wood. Blocks that were trimmed during their many inspection processes or cut off when shaping an actual piece, all come together in artistic collage within the Essentials tabletops to create exquisite and unique pieces made from Copeland’s own recycled wood. Choosing eco-friendly products is a great way to reduce your environmental impact. If you’re looking to choose the product with the least environmental impact, go for the one labeled “eco-friendly” over simply “green.”
“Sustainable” is a lot clearer. For a product to be sustainable, it must be produced in a way that doesn’t affect the resources of future generations. For example, a sustainable solid wood furnishings company would make sure that trees are being planted at the same rate which they are being cut down. Thankfully in present day most wood is sustainably harvested from plantations where trees are specifically grown and harvested for furniture manufacturing, thus reducing the catastrophic deforestation that had plagued our planet in years past. Even more sustainable is furniture crafted in reclaimed materials. "No trees were harmed in the making of this piece" is what reclaimed furnishings should be labeled as. Examples of this are the Teigen and Boneta Bedroom Collections. Both are beautifully and sustainably crafted in reclaimed pine. Another example of sustainable furniture is Greenington’s solid bamboo catalog. Bamboo is 20% harder than red oak yet it is actually a grass that grows to maturity within 3-5 years, thus it is a rapidly renewable resource. Additionally, bamboo releases 35% more oxygen into the atmosphere than the equivalent stands of trees. Greenington’s beautiful furniture is the definition of Sustainable.
Another aspect of sustainability is longevity and durability. If a product is of high quality, sturdy, and of timeless design it is much less disposable than a product made to last a few short years. Furniture on the cheaper side is often manufactured to be disposable thus forcing you to replace it with more frequency and consequently becoming a landfill contribution. Avoid being an anti-environment co-conspirator and look for products of heirloom quality that will last for decades. We at Haiku strive to fill our catalog with products of high quality that use solid woods and esteemed joinery practices such as the highly coveted English Dovetail to ensure durability. Sustainable products may not come with a big, shiny sticker that says "SUSTAINABLE", but terms to look for are "Sustainably Harvested", Reclaimed Materials", "Recycled Materials", etc. Being aware and conscious of furniture production practices will absolutely help you on your journey towards becoming and environmentally friendly shopper.
Two other terms that can be confusing are “Ethical” and “Fair Trade.” It seems like both refer to the fair treatment of workers, but they both refer to different movements within the fight for workers' rights. You’ve most likely heard the term Fair Trade at your local coffee shop. The Fair Trade movement started with coffee, but now it refers to lots of different products. Fair Trade certified products must meet strict standards for worker's pay and treatment, and is a term regulated by the World Fair Trade Organization, so not just anyone can throw around the term.
“Ethical,” is a philosophy. It is the idea that business practices should reflect social and environmental responsibility. Like Fair Trade, Ethical Sourcing means products are produced and purchased in a manner that demonstrates respect for the workers and the planet. It means intentionally buying from companies that promote diversity and equality. It is a belief in fairness, and a belief that paying and treating workers right results in higher quality and better-for-the-environment products. Unlike Fair Trade, it does not have a certification; so Fair Trade equals Ethical, but Ethical does not necessarily equal Fair Trade.
Trying to avoid harmful chemicals can also be a challenge, there are a lot of different labels that seem to mean the same thing. The terms “organic” and “non-toxic” are both used for products without pesticides or harmful chemicals, but they still have different meanings. “Organic” is a term regulated by the USDA. Organic products must meet strict standards for their safety and environmental impact, but people usually buy them because they are free from pesticides or chemicals. Much of our bedding showcases organic and/or natural components such as our Shiki Mats. Haiku’s Organic Cotton Shiki Mat features 100% USDA Certified Organic Cotton that is pesticide free, causes fewer allergies than conventional cotton, is substantially softer, and is both renewable and sustainable.
Another label I see a lot is “Non-toxic,” which means a product does not have toxic responses in humans and is not toxic to the environment. In the past furniture production involved high quantities of toxic chemicals, but now, thanks to extensive research into the effects of such chemical off gassing, many manufacturers are switching to water-based glues and wood stains. For example, furniture by Copeland is Greenguard Certified which is a certification granted by Underwriters Laboratories. Greenguard Certified items must meet strict standards to ensure low levels of toxic emissions in products meant for indoor use. Another important certification is E1 which is a classification for formaldehyde emissions. This one is important for products that have some HDF, MDF, or plywood components. Products can be classified as either E1, E2, or E3 depending on their formaldehyde emissions, E1 being the lowest. So, if a new bed you were hoping to get has some plywood in the headboard, make sure it’s E1!
Lots of these labels overlap and have very similar meanings, but at the end of the day simply being aware of the impact you are having is the most important. Reading labels and researching products is a great way to make sure you are having as little impact on the environment as possible. It can be hard sometimes, but if everyone made sure to choose sustainable products it would make a huge difference.