I hate shopping. I’m such a baby about it that I practically go kicking-and-screaming, arms crossed and angry into the store. And, invariably, when I DO go shopping, I always end up buying something I never thought I needed. Go figure.
Case in point: My girlfriend (how’s that, Missy?!) needed some furniture for her new pad and needed to go to a local San Diego furniture store. I sucked it up, tried to keep my mouth shut, and accompanied her inside, the heels of my Doc Martens scraping on the floor as she practically dragged me inside. Then, as I looked around, I realized, “Hey, I could sure use some new furniture. I’m not getting any younger and I sure as hell don’t need to live like I’m in my 20s anymore.” So I bought an end table, coffee table, and a TV stand.
But being the screaming greenie that I am, I asked the salesperson what their sourcing policy was. Although they at first looked at me as if I was speaking gibberish (“Um, what does ‘sustainable’ mean?” seemed to be rolling through their head), they passed the buck, explaining it’s up to the manufacturer. They don’t have any store sourcing policy, per se, as a furniture retailer. So me being me, I quickly purchased the furniture before I could change my mind. (Hey, a guy’s gotta have a TV stand.)
But, when I got home I sent emails to the furniture manufacturer, Riverside Furniture, based in Arkansas, apparently. Though I’ve never heard of this company before I immediately associated it with its dismal Inland Empire namesake (er, Riverside, CA?), and, naturally, expected nothing but the worse.
Well, good ol’ Riverside (the company and the I.E. city) didn’t disappoint my already low expectations of it/them.
Here’s our email trail, at first they seemed attentive and helpful:
11/23: Me: I just purchased a coffee table and end table from XXXXX that was manufactured by your company. Can you please tell me from where you source your wood products and assure me that your company is not helping deforest the remaining rainforests of our planet for furniture? I would hope that any wood you source for your products is from wholly sustainable and/or reclaimed sources. In this day and age any ethical company should have such important information readily available to consumers on their website. If I am not happy with your company’s sourcing I may return my furniture. Thank you.
11/23: Riverside: XXXX is our customer service rep who handles the XXXX Account. I have copied her on this message.
What is the item number of the coffee table you purchased?
I sent them a photo of my coffee table. And waited for a couple of weeks, but nothing, until I followed up, but then I realized there was a relatively decent (not great) reason, their sourcing guy was traveling. Still, you would think this company wouldn’t need to wait for ONE GUY to return from a trip to tell me their sourcing policy.
12/8: Me: Still waiting on this. I sent a photo of ONE of the items in question. I need to be comfortable that we’re not deforesting the planet for furniture.
12/9: Riverside: XXX I have forwarded your e-mail to our VP of Quality. He has been overseas for about 5 weeks. I hope to hear something soon.
12/11: Riverside’s Sr VP Sales and Product Management: Thank you for your inquiry. The wood you have inquired about is Melia azedarach, commercially known as Mindi but also commonly referred to as white cedar or chinaberry.
12/11: Me: But from WHERE do you source it?
12/14: VP: Mindi is sourced from China.
Well, this China answer did NOT make me feel at all comfortable. Already known for selling their own people and the planet out for their own short term economic needs, China (and other parts of Asia) are pretty back-ass-ward on the environment. How do we know this mindi wood isn’t illegal or causing deforestation of much needed rainforests (for instance, “In Australia, chinaberry is a rainforest canopy species”).
In addition, mindiwood (Melia azedarach), is considered a highly invasive species in the U.S. and is not really cultivated here much anymore.
Well, this fact gave me pause too.
So I wrote them again.
12/14: Me: Getting information from you is like pulling teeth. Why your company is stonewalling me piecemeal on this I’ll never know. But it doesn’t portend good things. Is it sustainable? Are you cutting down rainforest for freaking furniture? Is this legal or illegal wood? A reputable company should stand behind it’s sourcing policies. Why is this so difficult?
But nothing. Crickets. Silence since. And it’s now been over three weeks.
It would seem if a company had ethical wood sourcing policies (like, say, Ethan Allen Furniture, which uses wood from sustainable US-based forests), you’d brag about it and make it part of your marketing plan and slap a link to it on their website. Are you with me, people?!
For example, look what Ethan Allen says on THEIR website:
Ethan Allen’s future depends on healthy, well-managed forests. Our log and lumber director is a professionally trained and experienced forester, and most of Ethan Allen’s lumber requirements are satisfied with native hardwood species, including soft and hard maple, black cherry, ash, and yellow birch. These trees regenerate naturally by seeding and by stump and root sprouts. Because of this natural regeneration, hardwoods do not have to be planted. In fact, the natural regeneration often has to be thinned because it becomes too dense. There is approximately 82% more hardwood stock today than there was in 1952.
Although Ethan Allen owns very little timberland, we encourage our suppliers to use scientifically sound forest management practices on theirs. Much of our lumber comes from lands that are intensively managed by professional foresters on a sustained yield basis. These forest managers create conditions that are favorable for producing the type of high-quality timber we require for our furniture. We work very closely with these suppliers to achieve a climate that provides for a balanced and fully integrated use of the resource. We also work very closely with our suppliers of nonnative species, such as mahogany, to ensure that the lumber we obtain has been legally harvested from properly managed forests
Unlike Ethan Allen, Riverside’s silence and stonewalling on their China mindiwood-sourcing may be loud and telling. Maybe this wood is completely sustainable in well-managed plantions in China. But if so, why not tell us consumers, who paid good money for your furniture?
It’s too late for me to return my purchases, but I feel cheated as a consumer — and as a resident of this planet. Maybe consider other options to Riverside Furniture — at least until they can brag (or at least inform consumers) about their ethical sourcing policy