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Furniture / Furnishings

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Design Guidance

Overall Strategies

Furniture and furnishings play a large part in the indoor air and environmental quality of a space. Low-emitting furniture should be selected wherever possible in order to minimize any negative indoor air quality (IAQ) impact. Finishes and flame retardants for the furniture should come from low-emitting sources, and any hardwood should be third-party certified. Select simple furniture with fewer variations in materials. Metal fastenings or low-VOC adhesives should be used to construct the furniture rather than high VOC adhesives. Use of metal fastenings is preferred as it reduces the amount of VOCs emitted as well as allowing for the furniture to be recycled or partially reused at the end of it's useful life. Additionally, furniture should be ergonomically-designed to provide maximum comfort and convenience for the occupant.


Seating is a critical component of the furnishings. High quality ergonomically flexible seating options are paramount in supporting a high quality work environment for each employee. Select seating options that avoid brominated flame retardants, plasticizers, or PVC. Additionally, the seating should be recyclable for proper disposal at the end of its useful life.

Task Seating

Task seating is exceptionally important in open offices because of the amount of time employees spend here. It should hold a third party certification for low emissions, contain recycled content, and be locally manufactured if possible. Ergonomics are of primary concern with task seating, and care should be taken to source task seating that is highly adjustable to employees' bodies. 


Desk selection should be driven by sustainable materials. Refer to the compare section for guidance. Using casters will support the flexibility for future relocation. Also consider use of key board trays and computer monitor mounting arms to support ergonomics.

Casework / Millwork

Select casework and millwork that have sustainable attributes such as rapidly renewable, recycled content and sustainably managed forest material. Also look for products that are low-VOC and formaldehyde-free. In addition, consider ease of maintenance and durability when choosing any material.

Fabrics / Upholstery

Use durable and cleanable upholstery for soft-sided furniture, especially in rooms where coffee, drinks, or food may be present. Select upholsteries that have low VOC content and made of materials that do not significantly contribute pollution by their manufacturing.

Systems Furniture

Systems furniture is frequently used in open office areas because of its flexibility in being reconfigured and rearranged. It is generally comprised of metal, wood, and glass components. Care should be taken to source systems furniture that holds a third party certification for low emissions, contains a high percentage of recycled content, and is locally manufactured. Panels should contain glass or be kept to a low height to preserve access to daylight and views.

Best Practices

  • Use moveable, re-configurable furniture to maximizes functionality of space such as rolling/locking casters and moveable white boards.
  • Select ergonomically-designed furniture to provide maximum comfort and convenience for the occupants.
  • Use low-emitting furniture to protect indoor air quality.
  • Select third-party certified wood to ensure extraction is from a sustainably managed forest.
  • Evaluate sustainable attributes such as high recycled content and rapidly renewable materials when selecting furniture for the space.
  • Select furniture constructed with metal fastenings rather than high VOC adhesives to protect indoor air quality.
  • Use ENERGY STAR rated copiers, fax machines and other office equipment, they use less electricity.
  • Use double sided copy setting as default on all printing equipment.
  • Support recycling of toner cartridges and purchase of recycled content paper products.
  • Specify composite wood products that do not contain urea-formaldehyde as a binder or adhesive.
  • Use modular furniture systems that allow for reconfiguration and reuse.
  • Specify composite wood products that do not contain urea-formaldehyde as a binder or adhesive.
  • If reception seating is upholstered it should have highly durable commercial fabrics with 100,000 double-rubs and contain either recycled or bio-based fibers.
  • Furniture and wall panels with fabrics should be durable 100,000 or more double rubs.
  • Modular planning principles provide flexibility for future spaces that may be required due to changes in laboratory designation, equipment or departmental organization. Ensure laboratory piped services, HVAC, power and communication cables are delivered to each module in a consistent manner, and do not fix casework unless necessary (e.g., with sinks or fume hoods).
  • Before purchasing, check to see if existing furniture, perhaps in a surplus department, can serve the lab’s needs. Send unused furniture back for reuse.
  • Install metal wall bumpers help to minimize damage as equipment is wheeled down the hall.
  • Design spaces to include natural features to improve physiological, cognitive, social, and psychological health.
  • Provide active workstation options, such as sit/stand desks, treadmill desks, or cycle desks, to decrease sedentary behavior and improve health and weight control.

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EB = Existing BuildingsNC = New Construction and Major Renovation

Federal Requirements

Guiding Principles