Buyer beware

The choices for buying eco-friendly desks, chairs, cabinets, shelves and other office furniture are plentiful. Here are some health and environmental factors to consider from Washington D.C.-based Earth Share, a federation of America’s leading non-profits environmental and conservation charities, when making a new purchase:

Buy recycled. More and more shelving and countertops are being made from recycled alternatives to conventional wood or fiberboard products.

Consider “Wheatboard.” This alternative is manufactured from straw that is normally discarded when wheat is harvested. Instead, the waste is compacted into a sturdy fiberboard that is more economical than standard wood particle board.

Avoid tropical woods. Select domestic woods (pine, cherry, oak) over tropical varieties like teak and mahogany.

Try metal. Seek out one of the growing number of manufacturers that incorporate recycled steel or aluminum into their furniture designs.

Avoid VOCs. VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, are gases emitted by furniture glues, some of the foams used in making cushions, and some types of carpeting. These gases contribute to indoor air pollution and can cause headaches and other personal discomfort. Check with furniture manufacturers before you buy to select items that emit low or no VOCs.

Read the label. Some foam cushions are manufactured from polyurethane foam made from hydrochlorofluorocarbons or, HCFCs, chemicals that reportedly contribute to global warming and the destruction of the ozone layer. Look for less harmful alternatives like foams made with acetone, isoprene and even carbon dioxide.

Open the windows. When new furniture is installed, air out the room to reduce the indoor air quality impact.

Refurbish. Before you buy new furniture, consider the possibility of recovering or refinishing your current stock. Wood can be restained or repainted, cushions can be recovered.

Donate, don’t trash. Contact community groups, churches, shelters and even schools before you discard used desks, filing cabinets and other office furnishings.

How to reach: Earth Share, (800) 875-3863.