Sauder Woodworking offers more than 600 items, including more than 30 distinct collections, of RTA furniture for the home office, entertainment, bedroom, kitchen and home organization markets.
Sauder Woodworking offers more than 600 items, including more than 30 distinct collections, of RTA furniture for the home office, entertainment, bedroom, kitchen and home organization markets.

Sauder Woodworking’s proactive and reactive environmental policies have not only saved the company millions of dollars, but have helped it to promote good stewardship within the community.

Haste does not make for waste — particularly at Sauder Woodworking. North America’s largest producer of ready-to-assemble furniture, Sauder machines 1 million square feet of board (3/4-inch basis) and 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 2006 alone, Sauder realized $3.2 million in revenue and savings through its extensive waste management programs.

It is all part of an ongoing campaign by the company to reduce its carbon footprint by using sustainable materials, minimizing waste in the production cycle and by implementing extensive, corporate-wide recycling and reuse programs. Headquartered in Archbold, OH, Sauder’s facilities stretch over 4.5 million square feet of space and include a 1.4 million-square-foot distribution center, a recycling center and a co-generation facility located on the compound.

“[Proactive and reactive] environmental stewardship has been part of our corporate culture for a long time,” says Garrett Tinsman, executive vice president in charge of operations. “Erie Sauder founded the company [back in 1934] on two principles: servanthood and stewardship...It’s what has enabled Sauder to be so successful.”

And successful it is. While other domestic furniture manufacturers are shuttering their production plants due to competition from lower cost imports, Sauder continues to thrive. In 2006, the company achieved total sales of more than $700 million, due in part to its ability to manufacture “lean and green.”

“Our production technology has enabled us to go beyond being just a ‘commodity,’” Tinsman says, referring to the company’s ability to produce RTA furniture with wrapped mouldings, frame doors and other specialty features while maintaining a high level of automation and optimization.

Proactive Approach to Stewardship

Optimization of the manufacturing process, product design and material specification are all part of Sauder’s proactive approach to environmental stewardship. “When we design and engineer a new product, we are keeping in mind [achieving] the optimal yield,” says Dan Sauder, vice president of product and process engineering. “We also have a full-time employee who is continuously looking at our processes to optimize the yield for each part,” he adds.

Other ways in which the company is minimizing material waste and optimizing yield include: lean manufacturing, combination cutting and full bunk utilization.

“We’re also looking at the saw kerfs, the amount of board sized off, and how to better utilize offal,” Tinsman says. For example, he says, even a minor change in the kerf could result in offal that can be reused in another product, such as for trim. “We’re working hard to make sure we’re using as little board as we can.”

Continuous improvement and environmental stewardship have become part of the “culture” of the company. Sauder has a core group of facilitators leading Kaizen events to determine the areas for improvement and the solutions to implement, says Richard Nyce, quality manager.

The group uses the lean manufacturing technique of value stream mapping to analyze the production cycle and assess the best ways to improve the process flow and/or eliminate waste. “We can then transfer the best practices from one building to all over,” Tinsman says.

Every facet of manufacturing is scrutinized, including raw materials usage. The company already has replaced PVC banding in its products with the more environmentally friendly ABS, which can be recycled, Sauder says. 

The company also uses materials with low formaldehyde and low VOC content, such as 100 percent solid or water-based adhesives and finishing materials.

Sauder adds they currently are working with particleboard mills to develop a lightweight, low VOC panel that will meet their products’ requirements for strength and durability, while providing the added benefit of packaging and shipping savings due to the reduced density.

“Packaging [especially] is becoming a bigger part of the product cost,” Tinsman explains.

While Sauder already uses 100 percent, post-consumer recycled material for its corrugated packaging, and 85 percent recycled material in its white boxes, the company continues to look for ways to improve. Currently, Sauder is looking to reduce the amount of stretch wrap used in the production process and is working with a local testing lab “to be able to put on just enough without sacrificing the integrity,” Nyce says. “We want to minimize [our packaging], so as to be as environmentally friendly as we can be.”

One way that the company has found to eliminate packaging is by lapping panels in the stacking process. This enables the bundles to interlock, thus eliminating the need for strapping to hold the bundles together when being moved.

Reactive Strategies Prove Profitable

In addition to using environmentally friendly materials and minimizing waste in the manufacturing process, the company has put together an extensive recycling and reuse program that realized $3.2 million in benefits last year. Of that amount, $700,000 came from the co-generation of power; $50,000 for steam energy; $500,000 from wood waste recycling; $150,000 from additional recycling efforts; $1.7 million was saved through landfill avoidance of wood waste; with another $100,000 saved from landfill avoidance of all other materials.

Inside each of the manufacturing plants, wood waste is removed from the shop floor and taken to a silo, which then transfers the material into a core silo at the co-generation facility. Sifters remove select particle sizes for sale to agricultural and industrial markets — a revenue generator for the company, Tinsman says. The remaining waste goes to the hammermills, which are located under the core silo, for grinding into a fine powder. In the co-generation plant, two boilers and two turbine generators produce energy and steam to provide almost half of Sauder’s needs, says Ben Gurwell, power plant manager. Other benefits include energy capacity credits and external steam sales to nearby companies for lumber drying and Styrofoam expanding.

The power plant runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “[Sauder] produces about 1,700 tons of sawdust per week,” Gurwell says. “Of that, we burn approximately 1,000 tons per week for steam and power.”

After the wood is burned, the exhaust goes through another filtering system in order to keep the particulate emissions at a low level. “The EPA’s limit for opacity is 20 percent,” Gurwell says. “We typically run at 3 percent.”

In addition to its wood waste reuse, Sauder recycles practically all of its non-wood waste, including: corrugated and office paper (approximately 1.4 million pounds per year); stretch wrap film (approximately 375,000 pounds per year); and metal banding/scrap steel (approximately 1.3 million pounds per year).

“Even when we take a machine out of service, we’ll save anything usable and then strip it down for recycling,” Sauder says.

Other items which the company recycles include: computer equipment, light ballasts, flammable liquids and solids, fluorescent bulbs, batteries, used oil, used coolant, aerosol cans, glass, plastic and aluminum bottles/cans, rags, foam inner-pack and even concrete.

“We’ve developed a reputation in the industry as a leader in environmental stewardship,” Tinsman says. “It certainly plays a role in being a preferred supplier. It also makes Sauder the type of place where people want to work."

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