Environmental and Social Issues
Pollution and Its Effect on the North Carolina Furniture
Environmental Legislation (Federal)
The major pieces of legislation limiting the emissions output of
U.S. furniture manufacturers are the 1990
Clean Air Act Amendments (CAAA.) These regulations require furniture
makers to cut down on both volatile organic compounds and hazardous
air pollutants that come almost solely from the wood finishing methods
used in factories. Though it is difficult to conclude the extent
to which these regulations have affected overall costs and profits
at NC plants, the following is a list of changes and modifications
that many manufacturers have had to install since the legislation
passed (N.C. Division of Pollution Prevention and Environmental
• Enhanced training programs for wood sprayers.
• Improved maintenance for spraying equipment.
• Replacement of certain sprays and solvents with new products.
• Complete replacement of spray equipment.
North Carolina furniture companies that have enacted large-scale
changes in their wood finishing methods since 1990 include Ethan
Allen, Alexvale Furniture,
and Herendon Furniture.
Environmental Legislation (State)
In addition to federal regulations imposed on furniture factory
emissions, the state of North Carolina has also attempted to enact
pollutant restrictions on the industry. Additional N.C. regulations
include air quality tests around factories to see if toxins were
leaving factory grounds. Because of the high costs involved with
conforming to both federal and state restrictions, the 85 biggest
Tar Heel furniture makers in 1999 sought to be exempt from the state’s
stringent air-quality monitoring rules (Muschick, 1999).
Overall, there appear to be positives and negatives associated
with the stricter pollution regulations that have been enacted over
the past decade and a half. Certainly, conforming to more stringent
pollution standards increases production costs for North Carolina
furniture makers. At the same time, it is a good thing that pollution
levels among furniture makers have shown drastic declines since
the 1990 act was enacted. In summation, it is difficult to determine
the degree to which increased costs stemming from environmental
conformity have affected bottom lines in the furniture industry.
To be sure, myriad other factors, including cheaper production of
goods abroad, have had a much larger affect on the livelihood of
North Carolina’s furniture industry than environmental regulations.
The American furniture industry is suffering due to a number of
different problems. However, many of the largest problems seem to
lie overseas, particularly in China. Many furniture manfacturers
in the U.S. are harmed when the Chinese do not engage in fair trade
practices that allow Chinese imports to cost much less than American
The Congressional Furnishings Caucus addressed issues that are
harming the furniture industry. First of all, China has an advantage
due to what some economic experts believe is an undervalued currency.
Secondly, the caucus feels that an antidumping petition would take
away some of the significant advantages held by foreign countries.
Additionally, labeling has been highly effective in encouraging
Americans to buy domestic products. The furniture industry should
have similar regulations. With proper labeling, consumers will have
the ability to choose whether or not they support foreign businesses.
Lastly, the government should offer assistance to furniture companies.
Companies will not continue to grow if few rewards exist. The government
can stimulate the industry by providing manufacturers with additional
benefits (Watt, M.L., et al.).