#080 / 2007

Flowers on furniture

Europeans discard eight to 10 million tons of furniture a year into their landfills. Only about 10 per cent (mostly wood) is recycled.[1] For several decades, such statistics, published by the European Furniture Manufacturers Association, have generated growing concern. Public and environmental organizations pressured governments to establish national eco-labels for their own countries (samples listed below).

In 1992, the European Union developed an eco-label that would be recognized EU-wide and aimed "to promote the design, production, marketing and use of products that have a reduced environmental impact during their entire life cycle and to provide consumers with better information on the environmental impact of products."[2] The labelling process was revised in 2000, with the founding of the Eco-labelling Board (EUEB) to establish categories and priorities for product groupings (appliances, computers, paper, detergents, etc.). Products awarded the eco-label can display the official "flower" logo (at top).

* * * * *
Blue Angel
Green Home
NF Mark
Nordic Swan

Samples of current European national eco-label schemes for furniture.

Each EU country participates on the EUEB, with representatives from a national eco-standards organization or government department (termed "competent body"), consumer groups, environmental organizations, large corporations, SMEs and unions. The Regulatory Committee votes on the eco-label criteria after input from all parties. Criteria are based on a range of parameters to analyze a product's environmental impact throughout its life cycle, from raw material extraction through production, distribution and disposal.

Entirely voluntary (surprising, given the huge amount of time and resources involved), the labelling scheme is initially limited to 30 per cent of products on the market in each category/group. This "compromise" policy introduces environmental standards to the marketplace and provides the consumer with a clear choice without imposing undue economic hardship on established manufacturers. As the market adjusts and develops, criteria are revised every three to five years.[4]

Criteria for a furniture eco-label have been under consideration by the EU bureaucracy since August 2000. The EUEB rejected draft standards presented in December 2003.

Sophie Labrousse of the French Centre Technique du Bois et de l'Ameublement (CTBA) explained to VCR (now furniturelink) the reason for the rejection. "The scope was large, including all types of material used for manufacturing furniture, and therefore the process was not successful. Therefore, as a first step and in order to simplify the exercise, the scope [of the label] was narrowed to wooden furniture."

In May 2005, the EU Commission tendered for a new study, which was awarded to AFAQ/AFNOR, with technical work subcontracted to CTBA.

Update: 2013 report from the European Commission

Revision of Ecolabel and Green Public Procurement criteria for Wooden Furniture

Members of the new study (termed a "working group") agreed that eco-labelled wooden domestic, contract or outdoor furniture must contain at least 90 per cent wood or wood-based materials calculated by weight (glass exempted), and no non-wood material could exceed three per cent of the product's total weight. This last restriction effectively excludes upholstered furniture, metal and plastic office furniture, kitchen cabinets and mattresses (which have their own product group).[5]

Working group members from the European Consumer Organization (BEUC) and the European Environmental Organization (EEB) contributed their comments (see footnote) on a number of the "controversial" issues and technical standards under debate, including:

Certified wood: Advocating use of at least 70 per cent wood from certified forest sources.

Finishes and adhesives: Limiting the emissions of volatile organic compounds.

Formaldehyde: Limiting formaldehyde emission to a maximum of 50 per cent of the E1 standard (equivalent to the 0.05 ppm level reached by the panels that furniturelink recently reviewed).

Greenhouse gas: Establishing criteria for calculating GHG emissions, including transportation.

Preservatives: Limiting use of toxic chemicals to preserve wood for outdoor furniture.

PVC: The plastics industry supports its use for foils or edging, while Greenpeace and other enviros oppose it.

These and many other complex issues are under discussion to establish criteria for "acceptable" wooden furniture eco-standards, which should be finalized by the end of 2007 and submitted to the EUEB for approval. Then, over 350 million consumers in the European market [3] can pick the flower when they choose their furniture purchase.

[1] Source: Eco-label Furniture: Extension of the Scope, Final Report (2004).
[2] Source: The Feasibility of an EU Eco-label for Furniture (2001).
[3] Source: The European Eco-label Scheme.
[4] Source: European Eco-label: a flower for the environment.
[5] Source: Development of Eco-label Criteria for Wooden Furniture, Second Interim Report, Paris (2007).

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