features
#051 / 2004

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Olympian objective

Will the 2010 Olympics help jump-start sustainable furniture manufacturing in British Columbia, Canada? The international event has this potential because the official "bid book" states: " . . . the Games will be a showcase of the best in green building design and construction techniques. North America’s most respected green building rating system, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), will be used as the standard for all new facilities."

An example of how the Olympics LEED requirement is spawning more "green" furniture was demonstrated at the Globe2004 Environmental Conference held in Vancouver in March 2004. The exhibit that received the most media and political attention (including a visit by Canada's Prime Minister Paul Martin) was the 700 sq. ft. condominium built to LEED standards and promoted as a prototype for the Olympic village housing units.

This article examines the development of a sustainable furniture industry in British Columbia and/or the Pacific Northwest. However, it is relevant to many regions aiming to develop their local industries on sound eco-design principles.

LEED awards points to a maximum of 69 for overall sustainability in new buildings. One point is awarded when a minimum 50 per cent Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified wood is used in the construction of a building, including the furnishings. Vancouver's Peter Busby of Busby+Associates Architects, designers of the display condo, noted at the opening ceremony, "We are trying to show developers and consumers what's available now in British Columbia and in Canada [in sustainable technology and products]."

Busby met this objective with the condo's furniture by specifying the use of FSC-certified timber and veneered panels and contracting the manufacture to Ornamentum Furniture (*), an FSC chain-of-custody certified producer in Vancouver (see issue #027). The furniture and millwork manufactured by Ornamentum included a platform bed, kitchen table, AV unit and built-in storage. The solid wood and panel materials were purchased through the Eco-Lumber Co-op (*) based in Richmond, BC.

LEED-rated furnishings can also earn one point by using "rapidly renewable" materials (for example the agriboard Woodstalk) and another one or two points by sourcing materials regionally. These "regional" points encourage reduction of transportation pollution by limiting shipping distances to 500 miles by truck or 2200 miles by rail.

Because LEED is a standard for building construction, not furniture manufacturing, only three to four points out the maximum 69 relate directly to furniture/millwork. However, every point counts. If "green" furniture is available at a competitive cost, architects would be inclined to specify it for the 754 Olympic's athletes' village apartments/condos.

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The sustainable condo exhibit at Globe2004

Inset: Grant Wyllychuk, principal of Ornamentum Furniture

With the furniture/millwork for other Olympic venues and the 10,000 additional condo units Busby says will be built in the Lower Mainland between 2004 and 2010, the incentives increase for local suppliers of wood panels and solid timber to produce FSC-certified materials in volumes that would be price-competitive with non-certified materials. Local furniture manufacturers would then be able to piggy-back on the Olympic-generated supply of eco-materials to generate new sustainable furniture lines for the long term.

One company interested in meeting the demand for certified wood veneered panels is Snowcap Lumber (*) of Abbotsford, BC. Company manager Richard Kaufmann, acknowledging the growth in the eco-sensitive organic food industry, said, "For that reason we have to get certified - the trend could come, then when that day comes maybe we have more people here making furniture - maybe we become the hub for the green furniture of the world . . . you never know."

LEED and Eco-Labelling

While LEED may have some potential to precipitate the development of local sustainable furniture manufacturing, it is not a certification system of long-term value to this sector. LEED and FSC certification focus mainly on the building construction sector, not on furniture manufacturing. For example, an FSC-certified wood panel can be produced using toxic adhesives, and LEED does not address the cradle-to-grave concepts of product recycling. As outlined in furniturelink's issue #048, the long-term goal of the Canadian and world furniture industry has to be the establishment of an industry-specific eco-labelling program based on life cycle assessment (LCA) procedures with sound global and regional standards.

Densification

The lack of local certified producers of "pristine" eastern maple veneered panels for the manufacture of the Globe2004 sustainable condo furniture resulted in the use of panels and solid wood sourced from Oregon. The distances involved to ship the maple from the eastern United States to Oregon brings into question whether the LEED standards were fully met (at least in principle). If we are serious about regional sustainability, we cannot continue to use select veneers such as maple, cherry and oak. We have to start using lower grades and more regional species. Unfortunately, as many BC/Pacific Northwest species are of low density, furniture made from these species is susceptible to damage (dents, scratches, etc.), especially when used in high-traffic areas. This lower life expectancy is a poor return on resources and demands a serious commitment to the local development and application of wood densification technology. Other countries have developed processes that can increase the density of "soft" local species such as aspen, hemlock and alder to equal or surpass the hardness of ubiquitous maple. furniturelink covered this in its #026 issue - why the delay in implementing this technology?

(*) Ornamentum Furniture, Snowcap Lumber and the Eco Wood Coop have closed.

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