In case you’ve been hiding under a rock, or completely missed reading a magazine or newspaper in the past months, “green” is in vogue right now. Consumers are asking for it. Retailers are demanding it.

But do they really know what they want?

I took a quick poll the other day, asking people in and around town what popped into their minds when they heard the word “green.” Not surprisingly, while phrases like “saving the planet” and “reducing global warming” came up, very few people associated the term green with the woodworking industry and its efforts in proactive and reactive environmental stewardship.

“Consumers may ask for it, but part of the problem we’re running into is that they don’t really know what they mean by ‘green,’” commented one residential furniture manufacturer recently. “Another problem we’re running into is that a company might earn more LEED points if they buy a solid-wood board or product from China, that happens to be from FSC certified wood, than if they had it made here using composite wood, which is a recyclable product."

“There needs to be a way to measure the total environmental footprint. Basically, you produce more greenhouse gas to get a ‘certified’ product imported here, than if you just produced it domestically, with sustainable materials,” he said.

That is the crux facing many domestic furniture manufacturers who advocate environmental stewardship practices within their shops, yet have a hard time relaying that message back to consumers.

Part of it comes down to promotion. Even the best-known companies oftentimes fail to publicize their achievements in environmental stewardship.

A perfect example is this month’s Trendsetter, Sauder Woodworking (page 36). I’ve known about the company for ages. I have Sauder furniture in my home. But until recently, I was completely unaware of the proactive and reactive steps the company takes to reduce its environmental footprint. Specifically:

• Despite producing 300 tons of wood waste daily from its machining operations, Sauder has not taken a load of wood waste to the landfill in more than eight years.

• A portion of the wood waste is sold to agricultural and industrial markets. The remaining waste is processed at the on-site co-generation facility, which produces electricity and steam for almost half of Sauder’s needs. Other benefits realized include energy capacity credits and external steam sales to nearby companies.

• In addition, Sauder recycles practically all of its non-wood waste, including packaging, paper, metal, glass, plastic and cement.

Astoundingly, Sauder has realized $3.2 million in benefits from its recycling and reuse programs. According to Garrett Tinsman, executive vice president in charge of operations, the company expects to see similar returns for the coming year.

Sauder is but one example. Previous Trendsetters, including Steelcase, Merillat and KI, also have distinguished themselves through their environmental practices. The focus now is to promote their efforts to the general public.

A Common Goal

Industry associations are doing their part to help manufacturers promote their “green” products. The Composite Panel Assn., Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturer’s Assn. and Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Assn. are among those with third-party certification or voluntary standards programs.

The CPA’s Environmentally Preferable Product Downstream Program helps consumers identify environmentally responsible products containing at least 50 percent CPA EPPS 2-06 certified composite wood. To date, more than a half-dozen companies are participating in the EPP Downstream Program, while almost four-dozen companies are in the EPP certification program.

The KCMA’s Environmental Stewardship Program provides cabinet manufacturers with tangible ways to demonstrate sound environmental management and sustainable practices through a rigorous compliance review. In order to qualify for ESP certification, participants must accumulate points in the areas of air quality, resource management, environmental stewardship and community relations. An estimated 60 plants and brands have met the certification requirements, with more on the way. 

And most recently, BIFMA announced it has hired Sustainable Research Group to spearhead the development of an International Sustainable Assessment Standard for the the manufacture of environmentally friendly furniture. BIFMA already has voluntary guidelines for office furniture companies desiring to become more sustainable, and has had its Furniture Emissions Standards approved by the U.S. Green Building Council as a third alternative for LEED-CI EQ 4.5 credit for low-emitting furniture.

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