Wednesday, September 05, 2007


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Soy what?
Filed under: Forest Stewardship Council, Green home, Furnishings, Sustainable Forest Certification, Soy
5:24 pm - September 4, 2007

Ingenious entrepreneurs have found many a use for the almighty soybean: fuel for cars, clothing fiber, plastics. Now, it's being added to sofa cushions. Hickory Springs Manufacturing, a polyurethane-foam manufacturer in North Carolina, has started manufacturing Preserve, a soy-based foam that mixes conventional polyurethane with 20-percent soy.

Traditional polyurethane (PU) is made with toluene diisocyanate, a chemical that contributes to air pollution and is a possible carcinogen, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Unfortunately, PU foam is ubiquitous in the furniture industry, and despite the increased use of natural-fiber upholstery and well-managed wood frames, few manufacturers have found an affordable alternative to this petroleum-based fill, which has really only been around since the 1950s. Eco-furniture purists use latex or wool and organic cotton fills, which are the easiest materials on the environment but not as easy your wallet. Preserve could possibly bridge that divide if Hickory Springs could find a way to reduce the odor of the soy foam, which the company says is the primary reason for not using more than 20 percent at a time. They say they're working on it and have plans to gradually increase the percentage of soy.

Currently, you can find Preserve foam in all Norwalk Furniture, which has also switched to 100-percent recycled steel springs and coils ( Norwalk manufactures custom-made furniture, so if you're interested, ask them to use an organic-cotton or hemp upholstery. For options, see "Untreated Upholstery Fabrics."

It's also used in Natural Lee (, a line put out by Lee Industries that uses the soy foam along with recycled-polyester back and throw pillows, 60-percent recycled-steel coils, water-based stains and wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. (A trade-supported certification, SFI has been criticized for lax standards and a lack of regulation on clearcutting. You can read more about them in GG#96 and GG#115). Natural Lee's Lockport Chair is available at Crate & Barrel ($1,099;

While Preserve has some real potential, you might want to hold out for foam that contains less PU and more soybeans. For more info, see

© The Green Guide, 2007

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