Green Cabinets: When Wood is Good

CabinetsSo you’re building or remodeling green, and you’re trying to decide what to do about the cabinets.

Scanning the requirements for various green building programs, you seem to have two choices. First, you can try to find cabinets made with Forest Stewardship Council certified wood from companies like Neil Kelly Cabinets. But if the company is not local, the packaging and shipping of these products may cut into their green-ness. Or you could try out agrifiber based cabinets, like Humabuilt Wheatcore Cabinets, which have arisen due to the demand for green cabinets.

Unfortunately, when faced with these choices, many before you have given up on the idea of green cabinets and gone for possibly cheaper, more convenient plain old wood cabinets from their nearby kitchen and bath dealer. If you find yourself in the same boat, chances are there’s a lesser known green option waiting for you there. Many large cabinet manufacturers across the country are certified as members of an extensive green program called KCMA-ESP.

The Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association developed their Environmental Stewardship Program in 2006 to encourage cabinet makers to be more energy efficient and environmentally friendly in their manufacturing process. Included in the program are requirements to increase air quality by lowering the presence of formaldehyde, increasing energy efficiency in the manufacturing process, following recycling practices, and furthering community relations through local programs and charities.

Nearly 100 companies have jumped at the opportunity to join other green-minded companies in the KCMA-ESP program, like Quality Cabinets, which has turned its cabinet manufacturing into a zero-waste process. Quality Cabinets converted 50,000 tons of wood byproduct into fuel for facilities, eliminating 5,000 waste containers and decreasing their reliance on coal and natural gas. Every year, 16,000 tons of sawdust are converted into filler for pet bedding. Most impressively, they’ve reduced CO2 emissions by 350 tons a year, the equivalent of removing 58 cars from the freeways.

Despite the efforts of companies like Quality, members of the KCMA-ESP often find themselves on the outside looking in when it comes to green building programs. Although they are made from wood, the original renewable resource, the cabinets themselves are not considered green. Green building programs like LEED can only recognize final products, not the process of creating them, as green. Until major cabinet manufacturers remove all added urea-formaldehyde from their cabinets – something that Quality Cabinets has been researching and testing – they will not qualify for LEED credits.

If your goal is to build or remodel green, a cabinet in which the manufacturing process was held to strict green standards may be as important to you as one that is made from recycled materials. These are green cabinets that you don’t need to look very far to find.

What has been your experience with green cabinets or KCMA-ESP?

Photo by Lynn Davis

(Disclosure: Joel is the director of RSI Green for RSI Kitchen & Bath in St. Louis, MO, which sells the above mentioned Humabuilt Wheatcore Cabinets and Quality Cabinets.)