Of course, hardwoord isn’t the only choice of furniture material. One common – and more affordable! – alternative is pressed wood, such as plywood, particleboard, and MDF (medium-density fiberboard).
Much of the lower-priced furniture on the market is constructed from the material, which consists of wood strips or particles bonded together with formaldehyde-based glue. Although far cheaper than wood, these products carry a different kind of cost: since formaldehyde becomes a gas at a room temperature, pressed wood can release formaldehyde fumes, polluting your home or office indoor air for years after purchase. While many pressed wood products are covered by a plastic laminate layer that limits the release of formaldehyde, the chemical can still escape from exposed edges.
If you choose new office furniture made from pressed wood products, first contact the manufacturer and inquire about the product’s formaldehyde levels and about whether it enforces any limits on the chemical. Or shop the furniture stores that have demonstrated their concern about the issue and often provide green office furniture solutions. You can also find retailers of formaldehyde-free pressed-wood furniture through the FSC website.
Once home you can reduce emissions by letting furniture off-gas in a separate place like a garage before bringing it into the living space, and by coating unfinished pressed-wood surfaces with a low VOC sealant purchased at a hardware store. And inspect your furniture thoroughly: a desk or table may look like it is hardwood, but thin wood veneers are often used to obscure pressed wood underneath.
Also, don’t forget to explore other Earth-friendly office furniture solutions besides wood!
Furniture made of bamboo is increasingly available; it earns kudos for its sustainability and durability. You can always find furniture made from durable metal and glass, which lacks wood’s natural appeal but won’t leach any chemicals into the air. And if your style sensibility includes antique and retro furniture, be sure to check out local flea markets and online contract office furniture stores for new and pre-owned pieces. Doing so not only saves natural resources but is a good idea in terms of health as well, since the longer a wood or pressed-wood item has been around, the less a health risk it will pose.