Sustainability: Not Just Another Marketing Initiative
The Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturer's Assn. (BIFMA) International's voluntary Sustainability Guidelines, released in March, are the industry's first attempt to define sustainability. Mark LaCroix, the chairman of BIFMA's sustainability subcommittee and the divisional vice president of Interface Fabrics, comments on the guidelines' creation and future.
By Katie Coleman
"Sustainability" is a loaded word.
But over the last four years, the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers' Assn. (BIFMA) International has attempted to define it anyway.
In the office furniture industry's first official stab at outlining sustainability or sustainable development, BIFMA - which represents 92 regular members and 55 supplier members - released "Sustainability Guidelines for Office Furniture Manufacturers and Suppliers."
In a March 10 news release about the document, BIFMA officials said the voluntary guidelines are meant as a "roadmap for any office furniture [company] desiring to become ... more sustainable" and "as an add-on to a company's existing environmental management system."
In the guide, "sustainable practices" are basically defined as industry efforts to achieve development goals in the "triple bottom line" of economic vitality, ecological integrity and social equity (see BIFMA's Glossary sidebar for more).
In addition to its glossary, the guide features a sample "top executive commitment form,"
Mark LaCroix, the chairman of BIFMA's sustainability subcommittee that worked to create the document, comments on the guidelines and the industry's sustainability issues.
LaCroix, also the divisional vice president of Interface Fabrics in Grand Rapids, MI, joined eight other BIFMA members from throughout the furniture industry to develop the voluntary guidelines.
Wood & Wood Products: Why now? What was the impetus for creating the sustainability guidelines?
LaCroix: All companies have much to learn about sustainability. It is my belief that we still don't know much more than what we originally knew about this complex issue. I'm fortunate to work for a company in which the very first person to understand and commit to sustainability was our founder, Ray Anderson. The guidelines will serve to strengthen our commitment to build a company that does well (in a pure business sense) by doing good. The guidelines will also help us identify like-minded customer and supplier partners that are interested in pursuing the same goals.
About the Guidelines
W&WP: The guidelines emphasize a three-pronged definition of the sustainability you seek - economic, environmental and social. Why is that? Where did that idea come from? Do you think most companies are or will be able to treat those three aspects equally?
LaCroix: We are not recommending or favoring one environmental management system over another. ISO 14001 is probably the best-known environmental management system, so we used it as an example. What is important is that a company has an environmental management system, even if it's home grown. During the development of the guidelines, we often referred to them as a "snap on" to an environmental management system incorporating triple bottom line thinking into a traditional EMS system. An EMS is important because it helps set up a system of measurement.
LaCroix: The first and last elements are more specific because the first documents the commitment and the last documents performance against that commitment. The middle represents the actual guideline. As a trade association, we wanted to avoid being prescriptive while at the same time giving our membership a compass of sorts, showing them which way is north with regard to sustainability.
W&WP: Do you think there is anything in these guidelines that will surprise your members?
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