This past year saw many changes affecting the woodworking industry. Associate Publisher Rich Christianson addresses the top five issues in his column this month, including the green movement, the housing crash and CARB.

It is how U.S. woodworking manufacturers deal with these issues that oftentimes determines which companies flourish, and which flounder. In this column, I take a look back at the techniques and philosophies of some of the trendsetting companies we’ve featured in 2007 in order to provide you with examples of what can be done to stay a step ahead of both foreign and domestic competition — while at the same time, providing an environmentally friendly product and workplace environment.

The Sustainable Spotlight

While many woodworking companies have had sustainable policies in place for a number of years, it is only recently that they are being brought to the attention of the public. In several of our issues, we’ve highlighted some of the practices and techniques used by well-known manufacturers.

The first of these to grace our pages in 2007 was Steelcase Inc. It was back in February that Katie Coleman reported on “Steelcase’s business strategies to line the pocketbooks, but not the landfills.” On a mission to reduce its environmental footprint globally by 25% by the year 2012, the company has already reduced: greenhouse emissions by 41%, VOC emissions by 95%, water consumption by 54% and energy consumption by 46%. 

Among the steps the company has taken along the way is the switch to UV finishing, and its materials from a solvent to a water-based system. In fact, the company is among the first in the United States to implement a 100% water-based UV finishing line. Additionally, Steelcase has taken definitive steps to stop using known or suspected carcinogens in its products, including PVC. This follows a 2.5-year-long study, commissioned by Steelcase, to evaluate the risk of all the chemical materials used in its products.

Also making the grade is another contract furniture giant, KI. As detailed in the August issue, KI has worked for more than a decade to reduce its impact on the environment, including: investing more than $750,000 in capital improvements; eliminating solvent-based adhesives for all wood and metal products; and using high solids and UV and powder coating finishing materials. Company-wide, waste- and energy-saving efforts also include a recycling program for batteries, CRTs and computers, and a carpooling incentive program.

Also going above and beyond is our September Trendsetter Sauder Woodworking, whose proactive and reactive environmental policies helped the RTA furniture giant realize $3.2 million in revenue and savings last year. In writing the article, what impressed me the most was the realization that Sauder produces 300 tons of wood waste daily — yet has not taken a load of wood waste to the landfill in more than eight years. In fact, in all my years of visiting woodworking facilities, this was the first company to have its own co-generation facility and recycling center located right on the grounds. Not only is wood waste recycled, which can be used to produce steam and electricity at the co-generation facility, but also all other products, including metals, bulbs and oil. In the production department, Sauder incorporates lean manufacturing techniques, along with Kaizen events to improve the process flow and/or eliminate waste.

Merillat Industries (March Trendsetter) is unusual in that it incorporates lean manufacturing, Six Sigma and Kaizen events into a single system which promotes waste elimination, improved productivity and quality, and process controls. The top 50 leaders at The Masco Builder Cabinet Group are certified as Green or Black Belts and have developed the skills for problem solving, people selection and project execution. To encourage involvement and suggestions from the shop floor, MBCG has made this certification available to all employees at the company’s facilities, as well as to customers and suppliers.

So what is your company doing to improve its environmental footprint? Drop me a line at [email protected] and let me know. I look forward to hearing from you.

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