Achieving Environmental Excellence
Environmental awards rain down on Stanley Furniture's Martinsville, VA, plant.
By Hannah Miller
Four years ago, Stanley Furniture Co. embarked on an ambitious plan to reduce hazardous pollutants and cut waste of all kinds at the state-of-the-art, $17 million plant it had just opened in Martinsville, VA.
The company's environmental efforts have been rewarded not only by a sharp drop in VOCs and thousands of dollars saved yearly through recycling, but with the receipt of several major awards for environmental protection from state and federal agencies. The most recent was the 2004 Environmental Excellence Award - Gold, presented by Virginia Gov. Mark Warner and the state's manufacturing association. Also this year, the American Furniture Manufacturers Assn., recently re-christened the American Home Furnishings Alliance, honored Stanley with its 2004 Environmental Excellence Award.
These awards followed on the heels of two earlier awards for the Martinsville plant. Stanley became the first furniture manufacturer to earn the E3 (Exemplary Environmental Enterprise) award, the highest-level status in Virginia's Environmental Excellence program. Stanley also was recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's National Environmental Performance Track program. The performance track program identifies some 300 companies nationally whose environmental efforts have exceeded what was required of them.
Dave Maddox, Stanley's director of engineering, served on an AFMA committee in the '90s that surveyed members' environmental practices and created voluntary guidelines for an environmental management system. In 2000, Stanley, which makes bedroom, dining, occasional, home office and home entertainment furniture, became the first AFMA member to put the plan into practice.
Maddox, who has been with publicly owned Stanley for 27 years, was R&D director until 1996, when he became director of environmental engineering. In December 2004, he was promoted to director of engineering, which includes responsibility for environmental management.
Wood & Wood Products asked him to retrace the environmental journey of the company, which had $260.6 million in 2003 sales and employs more than 2,600 workers at four plants in Virginia and North Carolina.
The perception of the general public and the regulatory agencies is that we're an old industry. We may be backward in some of their minds even though we're technologically advanced. In the early GÃÆ?ÃÆÃÂ¿90s, a lot of environmental regulations started taking effect. We really needed to tell the public we were a good and responsible industry.
We decided we would try to develop an environmental management system uniquely available for use by the furniture industry, something everybody could adopt without that much trouble that would bring a lot of uniformity to the industry. This was a way for us to tell the regulatory community, along with the general public, that we did not mind regulation. This is a way of being proactive rather than reactive.
"Once we developed a management system, we needed to see if it would work. Having a new facility gave us the opportunity to do some things we might not have been able to do in an ingrained facility.
"The environmental system has 11 distinct elements. One of those elements must be an impact analysis that looks at all aspects of environmental impact, from the generation of hazardous waste and air emissions to storm water and general waste. Based on that analysis, the facility must come up with goals to try to better overall environmental performance.
What's the first thing Stanley did?
We started a recycling program in earnest. We got all our employees involved in that. It was a way we felt they could understand a part of what this EFEC was about. They were stakeholders.
We went through the entire plant. We turned over every trash can in the plant. We found out what kind of things each department was throwing away. We made it a game - a challenge. Employees were told, "We don't need to be throwing away things like that." We segregated all of our cardboard, paper, plastic, metal and wood. We told our vendors, "Instead of sending 40 different boxes, why not put everything in two large boxes."
There were a lot of creative ideas to come out of it. You don't want to leave anybody out because you don't know where the next gem of information is going to come from.
A lot of people associate environmental compliance with being expensive. What we wanted to do was make this program as cost effective as we could. Recycling appeared to be a way we could generate bottom-line savings that would give management impetus to continue this.
Our savings from recycling were a little bit north of $45,000 in 2003 and 2004 is ahead of that. We didn't make a lot of money on recycled goods, but we did reduce our costs of taking things to the landfill. When the plant opened, we were generating 6.2 tons of general solid waste per $1 million of production. In 2003, that ratio was reduced to 2.9 tons per $1 million of production."
What was next on the agenda?
As we got into the program, we got more sophisticated in what we were trying to reduce. From recycling, we moved into our finishing room and looked at the amounts of VOCs, hazardous waste and hazardous air pollutants we were generating.
We went back to our suppliers and asked them if they could find ways of reducing the amount of VOCs and hazardous material by substituting other chemicals. They were able to reformulate some of the products we were using and, at the same time, they were more sensitive to the environmental aspects when they presented new products to us.
We looked at our product line and sought ways to reduce the amount of finishing materials we use, such as taking advantage of bulk storage, reducing the amount of waste generated when we purge our spray lines or clean our guns.
We did not change the coverage on a case, which would change the look. Instead, we changed the way we got there. If we applied six different stains, each time we changed color, we had to clean the lines and incurred waste. We installed multiple lines so changeover frequency is not so great. We took advantage of bulk storage so that we're now dealing with a larger quantity instead of a lot of small quantities, which required changeover. We made sure that people were mindful that they not be wasteful.
Finishing material suppliers were requested to substitute more environmentally friendly chemistry, particularly acetone, as a replacement for certain HAPs and VOCs. Certain formulations were less difficult than others. Nevertheless, it was a mandatory requirement that the suppliers maintain the integrity, quality and look of the finish.
Over the first two years of the program, 2000 and 2001, we went from 7.4 tons of VOCs per $1 million of production to 6.4 tons. We reduced the VOC emissions by almost 14 percent. We're on track in 2004 to either equal or better the past performance.
Our society requires that certain environmental standards, for the common good of the public, have to be followed. The problem with that is when you have free trade, the countries you're trading with may not have the same set of standards. The regulatory burden or cost on the industry is definitely a contributor to a market disadvantage.
We have to be make the best with the cards that are dealt and compete through innovation. I think the governments in these developing countries will, in the end, be compelled to do what is right. For example, when they dirty their water, they'll have to find clean water somewhere - either buy it from other countries or clean it up themselves. They will have the same challenges we had in this country in the GÃÆ?ÃÆÃÂ¿40s and GÃÆ?ÃÆÃÂ¿50s, when we became aware that we were harming our environment.
The pilot at Martinsville has shown that the association's EFEC is something we want to take to the rest of our divisions. We're now changing their internal environmental management systems to accommodate it. We plan to make the whole company EFEC certified. I believe this proposition is paying off. I believe that's the difference you get in being proactive instead of reactive."
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