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Safe and Sustainable: How to Decorate a Baby’s Nursery

Posted by Elizabeth Burton on

Safe and Sustainable: How to Decorate a Baby’s Nursery

From IKEA’s easily toppled dresser to lead- and cadmium-laced wallpaper, stories about unsafe homeware have rattled parents and parents-to-be over the last several years. Lax enforcement and complex supply chains can make it difficult to determine whether products actually comply with safety standards. Furthermore, products sold online are often green-washed. This means that the company selling a product misleads customers about its commitment to sustainability and the environmental impact of its wares. Given the opaqueness of product safety and sustainability in the US -- even those intended for infants and children --, finding the right pieces for a nursery can be incredibly frustrating. Thankfully, in recent years, independent organizations have created standards for ethically made, sustainably sourced and environmentally friendly products. Certifications like Greenguard and Declare ensure products are simultaneously safe for people and for the planet. Luckily, a growing number of companies are joining the fight for environmental justice through transparency. Follow below for a few tips on how to safely decorate a nursery with eco-friendly products from baby safe paint to sustainable nursery furniture. We will also offer a few ways consumers can tell if companies selling such pieces truly are sustainable. 

Consumers More Interested in Sustainable Living Post-Pandemic

 

In her article “Two-Thirds of North Americans Prefer Eco-Friendly Brands, Study Finds” for Barron’s, Dinara Bekmagambetova notes that sustainability is increasingly driving sales across markets. Referencing a 2019 study from IBM and the National Retail Federation, Bekmagambetova writes that “nearly 70% of consumers in the U.S. and Canada think it is important that a brand is sustainable or eco-friendly.” According to data from the same study, “almost 80% of North Americans want to know the origin of the products they buy, and 69% of these consumers would pay a premium for brands.” 

This number might be even higher post-pandemic, writes Katherine Latham in a recent article for BBC News. Latham references a late 2020 study conducted by data analytics company Kantar. Kantar’s study found that sustainability is now “more of a concern for consumers than before the outbreak” of coronavirus. Given consumers’ growing interest in sustainable living and eco consciousness, the risk of encountering companies and brands that “greenwash” is also on the rise.

How to Avoid Greenwashing When Decorating Your Baby’s Nursery

In lieu of strictly enforced regulations and international certifications, consumers must determine for themselves which products and brands are truly sustainable. To help consumers do so, a number of NGOs and government agencies have assembled a list of resources. In their 2019 post “How Do You Know if It’s Really ‘Green?’” for the Consumer Federation of America, writers from the Montgomery County Maryland Office of Consumer Protection offer their advice. Tracy D. Rezvani and Catherine Yazhuk write that there are several preliminary “indicators of greenwashing that consumers should look out for.” Yazhuk and Rezvani identify “hidden trade-offs,” “lack of proof,” “vagueness or puffery,” “false certification,” “irrelevant claims or information” and “fibbing” and the six indicators to keep an eye on. 

Greenwashing companies might also offer zero certifications on their website, instead using buzzwords like “sustainable” and “clean” without any actual proof. On the other hand, they might also post fake certifications. Rezvani and Yazhuk write that suspicious consumers can verify most green certifications through websites like the Ecolabel Index or Green America.

Greenwashers Capitalize on Increasing E-Commerce Engagement and Growing Interest in Sustainability

Greenwashing became a particular concern during the COVID-19 pandemic because so many consumers were purchasing goods solely online. Greenwashing has since run rampant in e-commerce. Everything from travel to home decor has been affected. According to a 2020 study conducted by the European Commission, 42% of “green” e-commerce sites examined by the EC made claims about sustainability that were “false, deceptive, and potentially an unfair commercial practice under EU law.” Writing for Reuters, Kate Abnet quotes a release from the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets. According to the ACM, such businesses often use “‘terms such as ecological, organic, and environmentally friendly...without substantiation.’” Though the ACM “can fine businesses that make false or misleading sustainability claims,” not all government agencies worldwide hold such power.

Identifying Hidden Trade-Offs

In her article “How To Spot Greenwashing” for Earth 911, Gemma Alexander writes that hidden trade-offs represents the most common type of greenwashing. According to Alexander, a 2007 study found that “the hidden trade-off…[applies] to 57% of green marketing claims.” Rezvani and Yazhuk elaborate in their article “How Do You Know if It’s Really ‘Green?’” for the Consumer Federation of America. They note that greenwashing brands will often emphasize “specific environmental issues...at the expense of another issue.” An example of this is bragging about their products’ biodegradability while dumping toxic waste near water sources. 

Truly sustainable companies that negatively impact the environment in some way -- either through production, shipping or other services -- will find ways to offset these negatives. They might purchase carbon offsets or contribute in some other way. Some companies place this prerogative on the consumer -- offering the option to buy offsets during checkout. Others will take the initiative themselves, while many will engage in a combination of both. Learn more about companies purchasing carbon offsets to support sustainable operation here

Checking Third-Party Certifications

Writing for Earth 911, Gemma Alexander writes that “if you read the fine print on the packaging or visit the product website, you will not be able to find proof of 26% of environmental claims made on packaging or in advertisements.” Independent, third-party certifications can lessen the research burden on consumers. Lola Mendez elaborates in her article “Greenwashing Is Real—Here’s How to Avoid It” for Architectural Digest. Mendez recommends that consumers “look for unbiased third-party assessments, labels, and awards such as Fairtrade, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Safer Choice, GreenSeal, GREENGUARD, SEAL, OEKO-TEX standard, and Global Organic Textile Standard.” 

They should try to “purchase home goods from companies that have met stringent environmental and social sustainability criteria to earn B Corporation Certification.” Products sold in the Living Deep marketplace all meet sustainability standards. These include Declare Certified, Global Organic Textile Standards, Microbiome Friendly Certified and more.

7 Tips to Safely Decorate a Baby’s Nursery

#1 Opt for Non-Toxic Products from Paint to Pillows

 

To create a safe and sustainable nursery, opt for non-toxic products in every corner of the room. Non-toxic products that do not off-gas harmful chemicals -- either during application, use or at other points in their lifetimes -- are essential. This is particularly true of children’s spaces as exposure to volatile organic compounds and other indoor air pollutants can be more damaging to the young. In her article “VOCs: The Hidden Danger for Your Growing Child” for Molekule’s blog, contributing writer Catherine Poslusny explains. Poslusny writes that “children are especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of VOC exposure because their developing organs and internal structures process pollutants differently than adult bodies.”

Because children breathe more quickly than adults, they take in “more air (including any VOCs therein) relative to their body weight than adults do.” This increased exposure to surrounding air combines with the ways in which children “explore and experience the world.” Because small children crawl on the floor and pop toys and corners of furniture into their mouths, they are more likely than adults to be exposed “to higher levels of VOCs.” Sadly, children who are exposed to higher concentrations of volatile organic compounds “may also be more likely to develop asthma, allergic rhinitis and eczema than children who have had less VOC exposure.” Learn more about the ways in which chemicals affect children differently by reading this resource from the Minnesota Department of Health

How to Limit VOC Exposure in Your Eco Friendly Nursery

 

To limit exposure to volatile organic compounds and improve indoor air quality, avoid plastics and flame retardants, increase ventilation and search for products labeled “VOC free” and “non toxic.” In her article “The Types of Plastics Families Should Avoid” for The New York Times, Alice Callahan writes that “there’s significant evidence that exposures to two types of chemicals found in plastics — phthalates and bisphenols — can affect health.” This is especially true if exposure to these chemicals “occurs in the womb or during early childhood.” Thus, families should avoid older pliable plastic toys, should never heat plastic and should reduce their use or consumption of plastic containers. Thankfully, new toys made in the US should not pose a problem. Quoting Dr. Kim Harley, Callahan notes that “‘phthalates used to be in soft plastic toys, but they were banned in 2008 from toys in the United States.’”

As such, “‘new plastic toys shouldn’t have phthalates in them.’” Despite this, parents might choose to keep plastic toys away from babies under a year old as they “want to put everything in their mouth.” As for decorating a nursery, stay away from acrid-smelling paints, wallpapers, pastes and finishes. We recommend ECOS Paints’ line of Non-Toxic Lullaby Paints. According to their profile on Living Deep’s marketplace, ECOS Paints’ “Lullaby nursery-safe paints were specially designed without the harsh chemicals found in conventional paints.” Each of these paints is non-toxic and zero-VOC paint, making it perfect for “cribs, play areas, or bedrooms.” If you do choose to use paints containing VOCs, be sure to complete all painting and wallpapering at least eight weeks before welcoming your baby into their nursery. This way, the paints are less likely to impact indoor air quality as significantly as they would directly after application.

#2 Purchase Cribs Made After 2011

 

Though purchasing or borrowing vintage and antique furniture is both on-trend and sustainable, it is not always the safest choice for children’s spaces. This is particularly true of furniture intended for children under a year old as they often suck on each and every surface they can access. Older cribs, changing stations and even rocking chairs may have been coated with unsafe materials or might feature unsafe construction elements. In her article “Want a safe nursery? Here are the latest recommendations” for The Washington Post, Elisabeth Leamy explains why parents should avoid cribs made before 2011. 

Leamy writes that “you should purchase a crib made after June 2011, when new safety standards became mandatory.” Leamy warns that “this is no time for hand-me-downs” and the new standards “are all meant to prevent suffocation deaths.” According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the June 2011 rules “prohibit the manufacture or sale of traditional drop-side rail cribs, strengthen crib slats and mattress supports, improve the quality of hardware and require more rigorous testing.”

#3 Take a Minimalist Approach

 

Not only is a minimalist aesthetic calming and centering, but it is also safer for babies and healthier for the environment. Quoting Ann Marie Buerkle in her article “Want a safe nursery? Here are the latest recommendations” for The Washington Post, Elisabeth Leamy explains the safety aspect of minimalist nursery design. Buerkle -- who is the acting chairwoman of the CPSC -- tells Leamy that nurseries should not include “‘pillows, blankets, extra padding or other soft bedding.’” Sadly, almost half “‘of the infant crib deaths … reported to CPSC each year are suffocations caused by placing infants to sleep on top of pillows, thick quilts and/or overcrowding in the baby’s sleeping space.’” As such, these types of baby products and baby gear should be avoided.

From a sustainability perspective, having less stuff in an eco friendly nursery means buying less stuff, which in turn means less stuff ends up in a landfill after the baby has grown. In her article “7 Ways To Create A Sustainable Nursery” for GreenMatters, Jody Allard writes that “despite what the baby product industry would have you believe, you don't need a lot of gear to care for one small baby.” As such, new parents should try to “resist the impulse to stock up too much before [the] baby arrives.” Wherever possible, choose durable pieces that can transition with your child. For instance, products like the Climbing Rocking Set and the Foldable Triangle / Wooden Climbing Frame from Wiwiurka are beautiful pieces that boast non-toxic, sustainable materials. Not only are they stunning as decor pieces, but children can grow with them and enjoy both indoors and out. 

#4 Avoid Timely Trends

 

Next up in our list of tips for creating an eco friendly nursery is to avoid timely trends and focus instead on proper research and scientific evidence. As mentioned above, new parents might be tempted to pile on decor items -- particularly squishy stuffed animals and lovely hand-knitted blankets. However, following the Nordic hygge trend or the gallery wall trend might not be safest for your baby. As Melissa Greer writes in her article “8 unsafe nursery trends that influencers post way too often” for Today’s Parent, “by prizing style over sleep safety” some nurseries can “actually [be] dangerous for babies.” 

Quoting sleep consultant Alanna McGinn, Greer notes that parents trying to create an Instagram perfect nursery “‘are forgoing safe sleep spaces and including obvious sleep hazards all for a pretty picture.’” Parents would do well to avoid trends like which could put their children at risk. These include sleep pods and loungers, “shelving over the crib,” crib bumpers, blankets in the bassinet and canopies.

#5 Check Certifications

The fifth step on our list of tips for creating an eco friendly space for your baby is to check sustainability and safety certifications on all items. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, “all durable infant or toddler products, regardless of type, must currently meet certain children’s product safety requirements.” These include limitations on “lead in surface coatings, lead content [and]  phthalate content (in certain circumstances).” They also require “mandatory testing at a CPSC-accepted laboratory, certification, registration cards, and tracking labels and other markings.” To this end, parents should also check products for recalls. 

From a safety perspective, it is important to recognize that products marketed specifically towards infants and children have different standards than those marketed towards adults.  Products intended for adult use might need to be researched more thoroughly because they could harm children. For sustainable products, look for certifications specific to the type of product you are looking for. For example, if you are looking for a wooden crib, search for products with Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification. Keep in mind that some certifications are overarching, like the Declare Certification. The Declare Certification applies to most homeware, furniture and furnishings that meet its criteria. Also search for products in marketplaces that are transparent about their sourcing. Living Deep, for example, requires sustainability transparency from each of its brands. Bamboozle, for instance, only creates products that are 100% Biodegradable.

#6 Install and Use Products According to Instructions

Next, be sure to install and use all products exactly according to their listed instructions. From assembling a piece to dismantling and properly disposing of it, following instructions ensures safety and sustainability in your nursery. As Grace Smith writes in her article “Six products that can be dangerous if you don't follow instructions” for Choice, “the warnings and instructions on baby products are important in helping parents anticipate and prevent accidents.” For example, “manuals for baby rockers usually say they should never be used without parental supervision or as a sleep surface.” One misstep that could have colossal consequences is ignoring the instructions for cribs -- which Smith refers to as “cots” in her article. Quoting children's product expert Antonio Bonacruz, Smith writes that neglecting to “follow the assembly instructions for cots [could mean creating] hazards on an otherwise well-designed, safe product.” 

In addition to following use and assembly instructions, parents should also check recalls of significant items. In her article for Choice, Smith notes that baby product recalls have skyrocketed in Australia over the last ten years. Though this is not the case in the US -- recalls have largely declined in the US since 2007 --, parents should still check if they are concerned. They can read recent baby product recalls on the Safe Kids Worldwide website here. For example, according to Safe Kids, in January 2021 “CB2 recalled its Junction Tall Chests and Low Dressers because they are unstable if not anchored to a wall, posing tip-over and entrapment hazards to children.”

#7 Avoid Resource-Intensive Materials

Though there are many other ways in which to create a sustainable nursery and design a safe space, avoiding resource-intensive materials is last on our list. Staying away from unethically sourced cotton and other materials ensures a safer, more sustainable space for everyone. In her article “6 Eco-Friendly Nursery Essentials For Sustainable Nesting” for The Good Trade, Kassia Binkowski recommends “prioritiz[ing] organic sheets without any flame retardants or chemicals” in your nursery. She writes that “cotton is one of the most resource-intensive crops on the planet, so prioritizing organic cotton is a means by which to protect not only your child but also the environment.” Consider Avocado's Organic Crib Mattress, which is handmade with certified organic cotton, wool, and latex." Checking sustainability certifications for each baby brand should offer clarity on every company’s product sourcing practices. 


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