"How can I make sure kitchen and bathroom cabinetry is green and sustainable?" - this comes up a lot but it's not a short answer. I'll cover some of the basics here, but I thoroughly recommend you do lots of research and dig deep if you're wanting to install environmentally friendly, sustainable cabinetry. There are plenty of pit-falls.
There are three areas to pay attention to when you are about to invest in new cabinetry. The components (doors, drawer fronts, boxes), finishes - paint and stains (inc glue), and distribution.
Energy Efficiency, Resources Efficiency, and Indoor Environmental Quality are vital considerations for true sustainable design. Next year I hope to do a Building Biology course as I am really interested in indoor environmental quality and the impact that toxins inside the home have on our families... but that's a discussion for another day!!
Shop local wherever possible! If you can find a cabinetmaker close to home, it cuts down shipping distances and energy consumed in delivering the cabinets, as well as the carbon footprint. Based on your location, the best way to obtain energy efficient cabinets is to work with a local cabinetmaker that is willing to construct cabinets from resource efficient components. You might need to specify exactly what you want to use, they may not necessarily be across all the options, but I find that most seem to be interested to know more and come along for the ride.
Another important part of energy efficiency to consider is the manufacturing process itself. Look into how the cabinetmaker is being energy efficient - are they using process by-products? Does their machinery automatically shut down when not in use? How do they extract dust - do they have extraction hood (which saves energy used for extraction). Do they have solar panels? Some will have a documented energy conservation program to minimise energy consumption however from experience with smaller, local operators, this may not be the case. You may find it needs to be a bit of a compromise if you can't get everything you want locally, unfortunately this is a growing market and isn't as mainstream as it should be.... yet.
Resource Efficiency - choose a Cabinetmaker which uses sustainably harvested wood products such as Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified woods. The FSC is an independent, non-governmental, not for profit organisation which promotes the responsible management of the world’s forests. Request Australian-made and give preference for timber from Australian trees - Alpine Ash, Tassie Oak or Messmate are a few but a long list can be found here https://au.fsc.org/en-au/buy-fsc-certified/certified-timber-from-australia (note, not all are suitable for cabinetry)
Other commonly used resource efficient cabinet materials include:
• Plywood products such as http://www.australply.com.au/products/standard/austral-natural-bb
• MDF products sourced from local plantations and without formaldehyde, a known carcinogen
• Particleboard products which do not use added urea formaldehyde, a known carcinogen.
Indoor Environmental Quality is all about the finishes, paints, stains, and glues used in cabinet manufacturing as they can have a considerable impact on both indoor and outdoor air quality. Try and use manufacturers who control their production emissions, to ensure that outdoor air quality is not being compromised. No VOC finishes, stains, paints, glues are available and will give you peace of mind that once your cabinetry is installed at home, the indoor air quality will not be compromised by off-gassing.
If you can obtain documentation from your cabinetmaker that their cabinets meet these requirements, you can be safe in the knowledge that you are investing in quality, local, green cabinetry which will not off-gas and adversely affect you and your family. Winning!!