As you are probably aware, most cabinetry is made with chipboard or plywood which contains urea formaldehyde in its adhesives.
- The doors and frames are made of wood but are always stained or painted with solvent based finishes.
- They are also coated with a clear sealer, a conversion varnish, which contains high quantities of volatile organic compounds (called VOCs) that may be hazardous to your health.
- Today's cabinetry is still considered toxic by most standards.
For more information about VOCs and their effects on indoor air quality see:IAQ and Your Health--A deeper look at VOCs and Formaldehyde.
The CARB2 standard
There is, however, a new standard (CARB2) for cabinetry and wooden manufactured products now in effect in California.
- It requires emission rates of urea formaldehyde to be very low--far below OSHA standards and even below their pre-existing CARB1 standards.
- This is a new frontier for most cabinet makers and most are struggling to comply with it.
- But there is much more to being green than just compliance to these standards.
Compliance is a funny thing. It means companies do whatever it takes to reduce emission levels down to what can be measurably acceptable by the local or federal government. They remove whatever bad ingredients that are classified as VOCs and that's it. This is how most companies are going green--by compliance to certain standards--which may not be high enough.
Very few companies, in the US anyway, set their own standards of health and safety. Few design and build from the ground up with products and procedures that are safe, sustainable and smart. Instead they wait for the market and/or the government to push them to a new level.
Finding purer products
There are a few small manufacturers in the US who insist on higher levels of health for their employees and their customers. These entrepreneurial companies have realized the need for purer products that don't pollute the environment or their factories and have developed a new way of fabrication.
- They have pushed the envelope by fabricating cabinet boxes out of plywood with no added urea formaldehyde adhesives and non-toxic finishes with ultra low or no VOCs.
- There are also some made with wheat-board.
But that is only the start.Some are now offering wood doors and drawers made from more sustainably harvested woods such as: lyptus, bamboo, or recycled wood veneers. Some of these are locally harvested and certified by Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and qualify for LEED points.
What about the door and drawer hardware; how is it made and sourced? What about reducing the carbon footprint of manufacturing and delivery? What about using more engineered products that require fewer trees to be destroyed? How about metal knobs and pulls?
Although some of these questions remain unanswered, forward thinking green companies push their own envelope and lead the way for others to follow.
A word of caution
Most cabinet manufacturers now say they offer green cabinets. They say they use low VOC finishes.
But you need to look behind the headlines and labels to be sure it is not just greenwashing. Why?
- Because many low VOC products still contain toxic chemicals that are not classified as VOCs.
- Also, the content and source of these is often unknown even to the manufacturer or remains undisclosed as a proprietary ingredient.
- Some companies claim to have sustainably harvested wood but may only have one species that is certified and the rest is illegally harvested from foreign countries.
- To be sure you are getting the straight story, you need to do your own research before you buy.
Green cabinets near you
Fortunately, you don't have to go to California to get truly green cabinetry.
Crystal Cabinetry made in Minnesota, is one such brand we carry that offers a unique line of healthy and sustainable cabinetry.
For more information about green cabinets please call or email.
For more information:
Read "I would like a list of green kitchen cabinet manufacturers." a Q&A answered by Molly McCabe.