If you’re shopping for nursery furniture, you’ve probably seen the GREENGUARD logo around quite a bit – manufacturers know that conscientious parents are worried about how chemicals in their home might affect their kids, and are stepping up to raise standards and reassure consumers. Today, we learned that Oeuf, one of our longtime favorite nursery furniture manufacturers, has achieved GREENGUARD Gold certification for low-emitting products (without even needing to change any of their premium materials or finishes!), and I decided to do a bit of research: what exactly does this mean?
Let’s start by talking about GREENGUARD themselves: they’re an industry-independent, third-party certifier, concerned primarily with the quality of indoor air and how that is affected by products you bring into your home. This is important because companies can make a wide variety of unfounded claims about how healthy or environmentally sound a product is, and since most consumers aren’t scientists, we have a limited ability to test these “greenwashing” claims. So having those products tested by an independent organization means you can put that much more trust into their claims: GREENGUARD’s mission isn’t to sell products, it’s to protect your health.
The Greenguard Environmental Institute was founded in 2001 by scientist Dr. Marilyn Black, a pioneer of the study of health risks related to interior product emissions. The mission of GREENGUARD, as stated in this profile of Dr. Black, is “to protect human health and improve quality of life by enhancing indoor air quality and reducing people’s exposure to chemicals.”
Since literally everything we touch and breathe is classified as a “chemical,”* the next question is, which specific chemicals should we be concerned about? GREENGUARD certification primarily is concerned with chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are emitted from products into indoor air. That is: these are chemicals that can sublimate from liquid or solid form into the air and be inhaled. (That’s why some of them are detectable by smell – the “new car smell” or “new carpet smell” are examples.)
Obviously not every VOC is bad for you (some occur naturally, of course), but there are a dizzying variety of VOCs that show up in commonly used household products, from carpets to paints, air fresheners to cosmetics, photocopiers to gasoline. Most of these chemicals were introduced in the last 50 years, and so there hasn’t been time to study their exact long-term effects. The effects that have been observed are worrying, though: depending on the chemical and the length of exposure, they can cause everything from breathing issues to skin irritation to even, possibly, forms of cancer. VOCs are everywhere, so the best you can do is just try to limit exposure, and given how much time our kids will be spending sleeping in their nursery or bedroom, low-VOC bedroom furnishings are a great investment in their health.
Finally, let’s get into the GREENGUARD testing process: how do they ensure that the products you’re purchasing are up to snuff? Dr. Black described how rigorous the certification process is in a 2010 interview with TileDealer Magazine:
“We are not in the business of ‘Rubber Stamping,” and these manufacturers are aware of this. Often achieving certification requires a manufacturer to go back to the drawing board to change the chemical composition of their products, make adjustments to their supply chain, or change a manufacturing procedure. It’s not an easy process. And it’s not a one-time-only affair; these manufacturers must undergo quarterly and annual re-testing to maintain their certification. Their products are screened for more than 10,000 chemicals, and any toxic chemical has to be removed.”
Naturally, since we’ve used a lot of the products we sell with our own kids, we’ve been keeping an eye on VOCs for years, and trying to stock as many GREENGUARD certified products as we can manage. This includes the wonderful Colgate Nuzzle Snuze Crib Mattress, and the Crypton Super Fabrics on Clek car seats and boosters.
Not all of our best eco-friendly brands carry this certification – for instance, Monte Design uses low-VOC foam and their wood, wood glue, and fabrics meet very high testing standards. Nuna also uses fabrics that meet with high standards for safety, including the LEAF inserts, which are global organic textile standard (GOTS) certified. So don’t assume that because a brand isn’t wearing the GREENGUARD label, that their products are dangerous! Many products are simply tested to a different standard, or are still in the midst of testing. After all, Oeuf products were already meeting GREENGUARD standards; they were only able to announce it after the testing was done.
In any case, since there are multiple testing standards and an incredible number of chemicals to keep track of, and we don’t have a testing lab right here in our office, we keep an eye on manufacturer claims and evaluate their credibility to the best of our ability. That’s why we’re glad that standard-bearers like GREENGUARD exist: they make it easier to determine which products really are the best to have in your home. Congrats to Oeuf!