Looking for non-toxic and sustainable furniture? Keep your eyes peeled for the GREENGUARD label.
Furniture is a major source of indoor air pollution due to the chemicals involved in manufacturing. This pollution can have some dangerous impacts on human health. We know you probably don’t want a toxin-filled bed frame…. Thankfully, GREENGUARD has your back when it comes to finding safe products.
We’ll break down what a GREENGUARD certification is and why you should look for furniture with this label.
What is GREENGUARD Certified Furniture?
GREENGUARD-certified furniture refers to furniture that’s been tested and certified by GREENGUARD, a third-party certifier devoted to testing and evaluating chemical emissions from household products.
The GREENGUARD certification program is designed to assess and ensure that furniture and other indoor products, like flooring, meet a very specific set of standards for low chemical emissions. GREENGUARD’S main goal is to enhance indoor air quality by minimizing how many harmful chemicals are released into the air.
If you didn’t know, indoor air pollution is a serious issue. This problem is beginning to get a lot more attention. While there are many types of indoor air pollution, what we’re talking about here is specifically related to volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These are compounds that easily turn into vapor at room temperature.
GREENGUARD’s certification process involves rigorous testing. This testing is designed to determine how much certain chemicals are off-gassing from a product. These evaluations look for specific compounds like formaldehyde, benzene, chlorides, and more.
Meeting GREENGUARD’s criteria means that the furniture is designed and manufactured with materials that do not add unnecessary indoor air pollution.
Some of the key features of the GREENGUARD certification include:
- Low Emissions: Products with a GREENGUARD certification have been shown to have low emissions of volatile organic compounds, formaldehyde, and other harmful chemicals.
- Thorough Testing: A GREENGUARD certification requires rigorous testing in controlled environments to make sure a product meets strict emission standards.
- Healthier Indoor Air: Purchasing GREENGUARD-certified products helps keep indoor air healthier by reducing the volume of chemicals emitted into the air.
GREENGUARD-certified furniture is a popular choice for homes, offices, schools, and healthcare facilities. Safe indoor air quality is essential, especially for sensitive populations.
The Focus on Low VOC Emissions
GREENGUARD certification puts a huge emphasis on low VOC emissions. VOCs are “volatile organic compounds,” a group of organic chemicals that easily evaporate into the air at room temperature. The word “volatile” refers to their tendency to evaporate and contribute to pollution.
These compounds are extremely dangerous and have been associated with a lot of negative health outcomes. We’ll talk more about these problems later in this article.
VOCs come from a bunch of different sources, like:
- Cleaning supplies
- Air fresheners
VOCs are also present in furniture, creating the potential for more indoor air pollution in your home. VOCs commonly occur in materials used to make furniture, like the wood used to make couch frames and the upholstery used to finish cushions. VOCs can also come from the adhesives, finishes, and paints used on furniture.
It’s important to keep this in mind when shopping for furniture. Exposure to VOCs is known to cause a lot of negative health effects. Long-term exposure to high levels of certain VOCs has also been shown to cause cancer. Furniture tends to be a permanent fixture in our homes, so a piece with even moderate levels of VOC emissions can seriously increase your home’s indoor air pollution.
Products that are certified with GREENGUARD use low VOC and safe alternatives to the toxic chemicals otherwise present in furniture. Wood, for example, can be polished with natural oils and waxes and finished with water-based products that don’t emit VOCs.
Health Implications of VOCs: Types and Risks
Volatile organic compounds aren’t one chemical: the term VOCs refers to a large group of chemicals that all share similar qualities, like their tendency to vaporize at room temperature.
Some of these include substances like formaldehyde and benzene, chemicals known to have severe negative health effects on people exposed to them. Other chemicals in this class aren’t known to have any effects on humans.
The specific impact of VOCs on human health can vary depending on the type of chemical, its concentration in an area, and the individual’s sensitivity. In general, having a severe health problem caused by VOCs happens after exposure to very high levels or after chronic, long-term exposure.
Some of the more common VOCs found inside homes include:
- Benzene: This chemical is known to cause leukemia. It’s found in crude oil, gasoline, and cigarette smoke. Benzene is also used to make chemicals for plastics, resists, nylon, and more.
- Formaldehyde: Formaldehyde is known to cause throat and nose cancer and is suspected to cause leukemia. It’s used in products like composite woods (plywood and particleboard), building materials and insulation, glues, paints, finishes, and more.
- TCE: Trichloroethylene is known to cause kidney cancer. It’s found in cleaning and furniture care products, arts and crafts spray coatings, and more.
- Chloroform: This is a suspected carcinogen. It’s used in industrial processes as a solvent for things like lacquers, floor polishes, resins, and adhesives.
- Naphthalene: This is another suspected carcinogen. It’s found in products like adhesives, cleaners, and construction materials.
These are only a handful of the more dangerous types of VOCs that may be present in homes. The health effects of these chemicals are very serious.
According to the EPA and Minnesota Department of Health, constant exposure to low levels of VOCs over long periods can increase your risk of health problems. Several studies have linked VOCs to worsening symptoms in individuals with asthma or other health complications.
Symptoms of exposure to VOCs include:
- Eye, nose, and throat irritation
- Nausea and vomiting
Chronic exposure has been linked to cancer, liver and kidney damage, and central nervous system damage. One study found that lifetime indoor exposure to VOCs increased the risk of developing cancer significantly.
What is GREENGUARD?
The GREENGUARD Environmental Institute, also known as GREENGUARD, is an organization founded to protect human health by working to reduce human exposure to dangerous chemicals and pollutants. GREENGUARD acts as a third-party certifier for products and materials that have low chemical emissions.
GREENGUARD was founded in 2001 by Dr. Marilyn Black, an indoor air quality scientist. She wanted to create a third-party certifier to educate consumers and professionals about the dangers of chemical emissions in consumer products. GREENGUARD became a part of Underwriter Laboratories (UL) in 2011.
UL is a safety company whose purpose is to perform safety testing on consumer products. UL has helped develop safety standards for tons of industries. Their efforts range from sustainability standards to electronics.
You’ve likely seen their logo on many different products around your home! They’re one of the only companies certified by the United States government to perform safety evaluations on certain safety products.
Both of these names are well-recognized and respected around the world for their continued efforts to promote product and consumer safety. While some third-party certifiers have run into controversy, like Certified B Corp, GREENGUARD and UL have remained trusted organizations.
Types of GREENGUARD Certifications
GREENGUARD offers two tiers of certifications: GREENGUARD and GREENGUARD Gold.
While both of these certifications are designed to offer guarantees that a product has low chemical emissions, the standards used for each test are different. The focus on safety, however, is universal.
The GREENGUARD basic certification is a little less rigorous than GREENGUARD Gold. The concentration of total VOCs must be under 0.5mg/m^3 or 0.25mg/m^3, depending on the kind of product. The GREENGUARD basic testing also includes maximum volumes for certain specifically dangerous chemicals, like formaldehyde.
GREENGUARD Gold’s standards are much higher because this certification is designed specifically for sensitive environments, like children and hospital furniture. Total VOCs in GREENGUARD Gold-certified products cannot exceed 0.22mg/m^3.
GREENGUARD Gold was originally called GREENGUARD Children & Schools certification. The name was changed in 2011 to better address the variety of applications for which GREENGUARD Gold-certified furniture is used.
Why It Matters for Children’s Health
Children are most at risk when it comes to VOC exposure and indoor air pollution. GREENGUARD certifications are designed to ensure products with the label have low levels of chemical emissions from VOCs, which reduces how much children and families are exposed to dangerous toxins.
This is especially important because young children spend a lot of time inside. One study involved surveying 18 “microenvironments,” including schools and bedrooms, for pollutant concentrations.
The researchers found that kids were exposed to most of the pollutants in their bedrooms, where issues like poor ventilation, high occupancy time, and pollutant-emitting products were more concentrated.
This is important because children’s respiratory systems are still in the process of developing. Exposure to indoor air pollutants can impact lung function and development. VOCs and chemical emissions can also increase the risk of children developing conditions like asthma. Indoor air pollution can worsen the symptoms of kids who already have respiratory issues.
Some VOCs are also known to cause negative health effects in fetuses through prenatal exposure. Pregnant women are advised to avoid many products because of the dangers they pose to development. Studies have found that VOCs “increase the risk of birth defects, neurocognitive impairments, asthma, and cancer.”
In an ideal world, all products would be designed to protect children from exposure to dangerous chemicals. Many of these chemicals and compounds can lead to lifelong health issues. Unfortunately, the market is full of dangerous products designed with little regard for human health.
GREENGUARD certifications make it much easier to find products that meet important safety criteria, reducing the risk of children falling ill because of VOCs.
GREENGUARD Gold-Certified Furniture Brands
All of the parts of Medley’s furniture are designed to have low VOCs. Their natural fibers are GREENGUARD Gold certified. Their plywood is also designed to be non-toxic.
Crate and Barrel
This is a favorite of home design lovers. Crate and Barrel is also the perfect place to visit for GREENGUARD Gold-certified kid’s furniture. They have pretty much everything you need to get your kid’s room non-toxic decorated.
This is an excellent choice if you’re in the market for a GREENGUARD Gold mattress. Avocado also has a whole host of other certifications, like Responsible Wool Standard, USDA Certified Biobased, and Climate Neutral.
Part of Herman Miller’s ongoing commitment to sustainability has been getting GREENGUARD certifications for its products. Check them out for all your office furniture needs.
We love West Elm for its beautiful designs and commitment to sustainability. They also have tons of furniture that’s been GREENGUARD Gold certified.
What Does the GREENGUARD Gold Label Mean?
The GREENGUARD Gold label means a product has been tested and verified to meet GREENGUARD’s strict chemical emissions standards. This certification comes from GREENGUARD, a globally recognized third-party certifier dedicated to protecting consumers from chemical emissions.
A product carrying the GREENGUARD Gold certification means it’s been tested for its impact on indoor air quality and is considered a low-emission product. Furniture with this label won’t degrade your home’s indoor air quality.
The GREENGUARD Gold certification is more intensive than the basic GREENGUARD certification. GREENGUARD Gold products are meant for use in sensitive environments, like bedrooms, schools, and healthcare facilities.
Last Thoughts on GREENGUARD Certified Furniture
GREENGUARD-certified furniture is a must-have for a non-toxic home. While we don’t really consider the fact that our furniture can give off chemical emissions, more and more research is showing that this is a dangerous issue.
Purchasing furniture that’s been GREENGUARD certified means you’re supporting brands that are dedicated to creating safe, chemical-free products for shoppers around the world. Encouraging companies to adopt low VOC standards is important when it comes to improving the health and well-being of people everywhere.
Having a GREENGUARD certification doesn’t mean a product has to be expensive, either. GREENGUARD-certified furniture and household products are available at every price point, making a non-toxic household a reality for everyone.