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Guidance for manufacturers and consumers: Environmental certificates for furnishings

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Modern homes should be cosy, comfortable and – most importantly – healthy. When buying furniture, a growing number of consumers are therefore looking for products without harmful substances that are compatible with healthy living. However, when it comes to furniture, ceiling linings and floor coverings, their environmental impact is usually difficult to determine. A range of certifications has therefore been developed to make it possible to base purchase decisions on environmental and health considerations.

Environmental certificates help with the interior

Modern homes should be cosy, comfortable and – most importantly – healthy. (Source: photo by Spacejoy at Unsplash)

Certificates for market positioning

For manufacturers of furniture components, these kinds of certificates are evidence of sustainable practices and are also relevant for their market positioning. Providing proof of environmental sustainability is increasingly important not only with regard to the growing awareness of the topic among consumers. Ultimately, this is also a matter of meeting the company’s due diligence obligations, which are now a legal requirement and subject to verification. Laws such as the German Supply Chain Due Diligence Act, which was introduced in early 2023, and the European Union’s Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive make companies more accountable. There are now numerous certifications for sustainable and sustainably produced products. We present some of the leading international seals of approval in this article.

Health and usage criteria: The Blue Angel (Der Blaue Engel)

The Blue Angel is one of the oldest and best-known quality standards. The seal for sustainable products has been awarded by the German Environment Agency since 1978.

However, the evaluation goes beyond traditional environmental criteria such as environmentally friendly manufacture, low emissions and resource conservation. It also covers health aspects such as contaminant levels and criteria relating to use such as durability, repairability and recyclability. A distinction is made between individual product groups, for which the German Environment Agency defines specific requirements. In the field of interior design and the topic of healthy housing, the main focus is on low-emission and contaminant-free construction materials and furniture.

A guide for consumers: the EU Ecolabel

The EU Ecolabel has featured on products with low environmental impact since 1992.

It was introduced by the European Commission to help consumers distinguish between products. The awarding process takes into consideration the entire life cycle of a product, and includes the most important environmental impacts, technical performance and, where applicable, health, safety, social and ethical aspects.

And, like the Blue Angel, it takes the product’s user-friendliness into account. For furnishings and interior design, the spectrum ranges from paints and varnishes to surface materials and floorings.

Certificates confirm sustainable forest management

Certificates confirm that forests are managed in a socially acceptable, environmentally sound and economically sustainable manner. (Quelle: photo by Maksim Shutov at Unsplash)

For healthy forests and furniture: the FSC seal

The Forestry Stewardship Council awards the FSC quality seal globally to timber and wood products from sustainable sources – that is, forests managed in a socially, environmentally and economically sustainable way. There are two certification models: one for forests and one for product chains. The latter is awarded to producers and retailers of FSC-certified wood products. To gain this certification, all parts of the product chain must be certified to FSC standards. Regular independent reviews are carried out for renewing the certification. In addition, a satisfaction survey is carried out among the certified companies every two years.

Sustainable forestry and manufacturing: the PEFC seal

The PEFC seal (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification) is another international certification system for sustainable forestry.

According to PEFC, it is the leading forestry certification system in Germany, with around three-quarters of German woodlands certified with the seal. Wood and wood products carrying the certification mark are verified as coming from environmentally, economically and socially sustainable forestry. The PEFC seal takes the entire product manufacturing chain into account, from the raw material to the end product. A new guide to the PEFC standard was published in late November 2022 to provide information and support to interested companies.

Materials for circular economy

According to the Cradle to Cradle principle, single-variety starting materials are to be recycled or reused as the basis for new products. (Source: photo by Max van den Oetelaar at Unsplash)

Verified recyclability: Cradle to Cradle

The certification of the US-based Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute is an international eco-label that is growing in importance.

The focus here is on the circulation of healthy materials in closed product cycles. The idea behind this is that, after use, consumer goods such as furniture are broken down into homogenous basic materials, recycled or used again in new products. To take office chairs as an example, those carrying the Cradle to Cradle certification are not only easy to recycle, but also come with a take-back guarantee. The raw materials used in interior construction and furniture production carrying this seal are biodegradable and can be returned to the product cycle without quality losses.

Environmental certificates such as the ones covered in this article make the sustainability of products transparent. This makes them an important guide for manufacturers and consumers in their efforts to improve environmental and health protection. And, not least, they also improve the image of a brand.

At interzum 2023 you will find a wide variety of certified manufacturers and products for furniture and interior design.