The true cost of furniture
There is a general conception that furniture similar in appearance, is of equal quality and sustainability, but this is far from the case. Unfortunately, most consumers only look at the initial cost of an item, without any appreciation of its total life cycle cost, or the impact on our environment.
Many furniture items being purchased today contain volatile compounds or carcinogens. These put people today, as well as future generations, at risk. Inferior and hazardous products continue to infiltrate the market and that’s because it’s easy and cheaper for companies to import products that don’t comply with Australian standards.
While organisations such as the Australian Furniture Association (AFA) and the Australasian Furnishing Development and Research Institute (AFRDI) are working tirelessly to implement and develop standards, legislative support is needed. It’s become nearly impossible for the industry to self-regulate.
We’ve already seen the start of government action – Queensland and Western Australia have introduced some mandated supply arrangements. Essentially, products going into government schools must be manufactured to meet Australian standards, which include achieving environmental certification. Other states and territories so far have been reluctant to follow.
We believe the mandating of standards within the procurement process would not only provide better value for money over the life cycle of the product, it would also provide more opportunities for local manufacturers, greater protection for consumers and, more importantly, a more sustainable world for future generations.
Sustainable local manufacturing
While we are committed to Australian manufacturing, and have been since 1953, many of our competitors have chosen to use imports as the key source of their furniture supplies. We prefer to procure raw materials from other Australian manufacturers, ensuring we are creating our products in a sustainable manner.
By investing in CNC (computer numeric control) machinery such as steel tube benders, a laser cutter, robotic welders and woodworking equipment, we have the technology to produce most of our components in-house, but we’ve gone further – adopting solar power in our factories, harvesting rainwater, and keeping waste minimisation, resource conservation, recycling and sustainable manufacturing decisions and processes uppermost in our minds.
So, what does best practice look like in terms of minimising the furniture industry’s impact on the environment? I’m proud to outline what we’re doing at Woods Furniture.
We try to reduce our manufacturing footprint through:
- adopting waste emission minimisation, resource conservation, recycling and sustainable development through the manufacturing process and selection of raw material
- strictly observing all statutory and company regulations
- educating all employees on the environmental implications of their actions
- continually monitoring and updating appropriate technology in relation to environmental management
- ensuring all parts used in the manufacture of our furniture can be disassembled and used in the recycling process
- installinga100-kilowatt (Kw) solar panel system that contributes around a third of our production facility’s daily power requirements, and exports excess power back into the grid on weekends and non-production days
- installing four 10,000-litre tanks to harvest rainwater from the roof of our production facility and eliminate the need to use potable water in our powder- coating plant
- emphasising the vital importance of timber sourcing – we select MDF (medium-density fibreboard) and decorated MDF products from suppliers with documented sustainable forest practices such as Laminex Industries (our standard board and decorated board is derived from 60 percent pre-consumer recycled and 40 percent reclaimed silver culture; the board products used are rated at E0), and
- powder-coating our steel in-house – it is regularly and independently tested for compliance to EPA (Environment Protection Authority) regulations for discharge into the water cycle; the powder used in this process is TGIC (Triglycidylisocyanurate) free.
All steel and plastic parts used in our manufacturing process can be separated and sent for recycling at the end of the product life span.
We strategically select supply partners situated close to our production facility and use only Australian-made steel to ensure a significant reduction in our carbon footprint through decreased need to transport materials.
So what should consumers look for?
Green Certification gives customers the confidence that their furniture products meet environmental, human health and ethical impact criteria. Because our range is targeted for educational use, we go further to ensure our products are VOC (volatile organic compound) Emissions Certified and contain no volatile compounds or carcinogens that cause chronic irritation to children.
Look for products designed and manufactured to the highest Australian standard. For example, AS/NZS 4610 is currently the highest quality standard for classroom furniture.
Investigate the manufacturer – do they implement best practice across their operations? We achieved the ISO 9901 accreditation, which ensures we maintain a consistent level of service and product delivery throughout the company.
Tony Rogers is the director of Woods Furniture, vice chairman of the AFA and non-executive director of AFRDI.