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Environmental and Social Issues

Pollution and Its Effect on the North Carolina Furniture Industry

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 Assistance, 1992):

• 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).

Conclusion

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.

Social Issues

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 products.

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.).

 



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