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The GreenSpec review team has been debating the relative environmental merits of steel cabinets as compared to other alternatives. (GreenSpec is reserved for the very top green products — and within that top few percent, those products that rise above the rest.) Generally speaking, the up-side is that steel cabinets don't support mold; are low- or zero-VOC (depending on finish, principally); are long-lasting; almost always have some amount of recycled content; and have good end-of-life recyclability. All of these things can also be true of cabinets made from wood and other materials. In special purpose applications such as sterile and particle-free environments, metal may be the most appropriate solution. Thin steel — including things like metal studs and roofing — is typically produced in basic oxygen furnaces, which are more polluting than the electric arc furnaces used for heavy steel. And while heavy steel typically has a very high percentage of recycled content, light steel only contains up to 30% recycled content (i.e., 70% or more virgin steel). How does this stack up against sustainably harvested wood or ag-fiber? Steel cabinets are sometimes fitted with non-steel faces, such as wood or thermofoil-laminated MDF, which alters the equation. Is the wood from certified sources? How is it finished? Is the MDF high VOC? And what is thermofoil? (It's PVC.) Certainly there are stinky, poorly-made, environmentally catastrophic wood cabinets available just about everywhere. But how does steel stack up against the best wood cabinets? And among steel cabinets, are there any that are substantively "better" than others? So far, we haven't pinned it all down. Any thoughts?

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1 Mark, You raise some vary val posted by David Summer on 03/10/2008 at 06:33 am

Mark, You raise some vary valid points regarding the steel and its actual percentage of recycled content. The biggest factor for me is that it is a zero on the replenishment scale. Like oil, once the ore is harvested, there will not be any more growing. I personally prefer cabinets manufactured from post harvest agricultural materials like MicroStrand wheat board. It's annually renewed and manufactured from the chafe (leftovers) of the wheat harvest, so it is not diverting food from our tables like many of the other bio products. David Summerdavid@kitchenvillage.com

2 While steel does have an impa posted by Jenel Marunde on 04/14/2008 at 02:13 pm

While steel does have an impact on the CO2 emissions into the atmosphere, it is also the most recycled material in the world. According to the American Iron and Steel Institute, the US steel industry as a whole is actually a leader in energy efficiencies at this time. The steel industry is also currently investing millions of dollars into the CO2 breakthrough program, which is research aimed at developing future steel making processes that will emit little to no CO2.

Steel cabinets are a great solution for high demand environments when other cabinet sources cannot stand up to a particular sector of the housing market. They are also a contributing factor to the indoor air quality, emitting little VOC's.

Food for thought....!

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