Can a Leather Chair be Organic?


The Wall Street Journal points out that while there may be organic standards for food, when you get into furniture and clothing words like green, natural, organic, or sustainable can have all kinds of meanings.

"The U.S. Department of Agriculture requires that product fibers like cotton or wool that are labeled "organic" be produced without the use of most conventional pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. However, the department doesn't regulate how these textiles are processed. This means consumers could potentially buy a chair made with organically grown cotton, but the chair could be treated with a chemical dye or flame-retardant. The Organic Trade Association has standards for textile handling and processing -- which ban things like toxic dyes -- but the guidelines are voluntary.

Another term frequently used to sell everything from furniture to flooring is "sustainable." According to Jerry DeWitt, director of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University in Ames, the term sustainable is generally defined as a production method that provides a long-term profit for the producer, protects natural resources, and has positive social impact. But ultimately, he says, "sustainability is in the eyes of the beholder. You don't have a litmus test." Some argue that just because something is grown organically doesn't mean the method is sustainable.

The words "natural" and "green" can also fluster consumers. Textiles made from 100% natural cotton often mean that no dyes or chemicals were added to the cotton, but it doesn't guarantee the cotton was grown without the use of pesticides or other chemicals.

This can bother some purists. Jeannette Kearney, a 50-year-old homemaker in Lexington, Mass., made a mistake several months ago when she purchased a "green" blanket she assumed would be made from cotton grown without pesticides. "I looked at the label, and that's when I realized it just meant there were no additives," but not that the cotton was grown organically, she says.

The organic trend has gone beyond textiles, with some companies pitching so-called organic or sustainable leather. Q Collection offers a chair made with leather from free-range cattle that is treated with vegetable dyes and isn't processed with heavy metals. Organic Leather, a new company in Mill Valley, Calif., sells everything from bed headboards to leather bangle bracelets, made from the hides of wild animals or those raised to produce organic meat, says founder Rowan Gabrielle. ::Wall Street Journal

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