A great opportunity for transformation has arrived for China’s furniture market. With more emphasis on domestic demand, furniture manufacturing is expected to surpass all other sectors in output value to become China’s biggest industry by 2015.
But first, the industry has to clean up its “pollution” problem, caused mainly by indoor environmental contaminants.
It’s a big ask for the country, which is the world’s largest furniture manufacturer, accounting for 25% of global capacity.
When China began opening to the outside world in 1978, it produced furniture worth Rmb1.3 billion. Now, its output value has soared to over Rmb700 billion.
Calculated at the average annual growth rate of 22.2% over 30 years, the total output value for China’s furniture industry will hit Rmb2.4 trillion by 2015.
|More eco-friendly Chinese furniture.||Eco products constitute a selling point.|
Furniture retailing was the fastest growing sector in 2009, 2010 and over the first half of 2011.
But a survey conducted by the indoor environmental monitoring committee of the China Interior Decoration Association said that so-called “furniture pollution” has become a hot topic.
China Environmental Labelling (also known as the Ten Ring Logo) is the highest standard for green certification in China. It is China’s only government-awarded green label, with certification authorised by the Ministry of Environmental Protection.
Next in importance is the China Quality Certification (CQC) mark awarded by the China Quality Certification Centre.
According to China’s mandatory standards, the major problem of formaldehyde emission limits for furniture has been set at ≤1.5mg/L, but many furniture manufacturers think that they are producing “green products” as long as the boards and materials used are up to standard.
|New types of furniture have low formaldehyde content.|
“A common phenomenon in the furniture market is that the formaldehyde content of the boards and materials is up to standards but the finished products may not be,” said an official at the China Consumer Association.
The General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine recently conducted a nationwide survey of 85 wooden furniture manufacturers and discovered that 76.9% of these operations were turning out products that exceeded the formaldehyde emission rate, some by as much as 116 times.
A survey of major furniture malls in Beijing showed that the environmental certification requirements for furniture mainly include “formaldehyde emission rate”, “heavy metal content”, “VOC content” and the presence of benzene and other harmful chemicals.
“Eco label” appeals
It is not difficult to find products bearing the “eco” label in large, well-established furniture malls. Many furniture retailers even use terms like “zero formaldehyde”, “green” and “zero pollutants” in their advertisements.
However, some experts pointed out that it’s impossible for products to be completely formaldehyde-free.
At the Jimei Furnishing City in Beijing, advertisements for eco furniture can be seen everywhere. The salesperson at one of the branded furniture stores said the furniture at their store is up to European standards and uses top-grade EO/EI materials.
At the Red Star Macalline Furniture Market in the capital, a furniture dealer said many consumers mistakenly thought that any product that complies with national standards has “zero formaldehyde”.
Indoor formaldehyde levels mainly originate from various types of boards, paints, glue, foam rubber and furniture.
|Eco-friendly Chinese traditional furniture.||Solid wood Chinese traditional furniture.|
Products with unacceptably high formaldehyde emission levels mainly include wood boards, block boards and furniture. According to one industry source, mattresses, glue used in coir mattresses, chemical substances in foam rubber and man-made boards used in sofas may all contain formaldehyde.
Solid wood pieces with thick veneers on both sides have a much lower level of emissions of volatile chemicals.
But the industry source disclosed that about a third of the furniture sold in the market does not measure up to standards for formaldehyde content. Consumers have to be careful to avoid buying the “three no” products, those with no name and address of manufacturer and no production license number.
Standards for children’s furniture
|Eco-friendliness important for children’s furniture.|
Compared with the adult furniture market, children’s furniture seems to be moving even faster in environmental compliance.
The General Technical Requirements for Children’s Furniture, the first of its kind in China, took effect this month.
The requirements are mainly intended for children aged between three and 14 and fall into nine categories, including safety requirements and warning signs.
Many dealers have already started gearing themselves for the implementation of these new standards. Furniture brands were prepared to sell their substandard products at a discount before the new standards took effect.
The Jimei Furnishing City in Beijing has a special section for children’s furniture. In one of the stores, the new standards will result in a reshuffle of the industry and could intensify competition, but it will also generate a lot of business opportunities.
One manager was optimistic about the future prospects of children’s furniture as many imported and first-line domestic brands have already reached the standards of the new requirements.
However, the manager of another store said that if manufacturers were to strictly comply with the new standards, they must upgrade their requirements for raw materials, paints, metal parts and production techniques, which will inevitably increase costs.
As these costs will ultimately be passed on to consumers, how the market accepts these remains to be seen.
|A-OK is well-liked by children.||Children’s furniture can be fun as well.|
Leading brands like Mokki, A-OK and White Cottage all have outlets at this furnishing city. Some parents made use of the summer holidays to bring their children to buy the furniture they liked.
A parent said he would not consider buying anything that is not eco-friendly, no matter how cheap.
The manager at Mokki said consumers and manufacturers should all show “zero tolerance” for contamination in children’s furniture.
At this furnishing city, one of the leasing conditions is that shops will not just be punished for selling products that are not eco-friendly but will be permanently black-listed.
De-formaldehyde items are big sellers
An advertisement for an indoor air purifier was shown on the big-screen TV at one of the furniture markets. A dealer noted that indoor air purifiers are mainly intended for new furniture and new home decorations and are well-received in the market.
More than a dozen products of this kind are available, all claiming to be green. Most claim they can “effectively dissolve benzene, formaldehyde and other toxic substances in a sustained manner,” and are priced at between Rmb20 and about Rmb100.
Some experts said caution should be exercised because substandard products can cause secondary pollution.
For this reason, some shrewd business people see great market prospects for plants that can detox indoor air.
Hanging orchids, aloe vera and tiger tail orchids were selling well at a florist near the furnishing city. It’s believed these plants can absorb formaldehyde and other pollutants.
Jasmine, lilac, honeysuckle and morning glory can secrete disinfectants that can kill certain germs in the air as well as inhibit the growth of pathogens for tuberculosis, dysentery and other diseases.
Activated carbon absorption is a method commonly used in the market for the removal of “toxic” substances in furniture.