In my presentations to the industry on the climate-positive benefits of composite wood, I share how Marriott worked with a company called MindClick to reimagine their framework for specifying sustainable and healthy products and materials. Partnering with vendors to validate the integrity of the process saves thousands of design hours, delights guests, and pleases boardrooms that are increasingly focused on environmental and social corporate governance (ESG) reports.
I always get more questions than I can answer about what this might mean for the furniture industry, so I’ve invited JoAnna Abrams, President and CEO of MindClick, and Andy O’Hare, President of the Composite Panel Association, to put things into perspective.
You’re probably familiar with the CPA, so here’s a bit of background on Abrams and MindClick. MindClick’s Sustainability Assessment Program (MSAP) is a method for:
• “Greening the global supply chains” of leaders like Marriott – and brands, owners, and operators in the hospitality, retail, healthcare, multifamily and other sectors – in alignment with their ESG initiatives;
• Rating the environmental and social impact performance of manufacturers and their products – embodied carbon, waste reduction and water conservation, material sourcing, health impact, fair labor practices and human rights DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion), and circularity.
• Auditing/verifying claims through review of documentation, ecolabels, impact statements and certifications for products in categories as diverse as electronics, furniture and wallcoverings;
• Helping manufacturers ‘package’ and promote their leadership in alignment with ESG goals;
• Converting complex product impact data into ‘good, better, best’ ratings and easy-to-use analytics and decision tools for designers and buyers, and
• Supporting ESG reporting and marketing promotions efforts of brands, owners, and operators as a result of their purchasing choices.
MindClick’s analytics and decision tools are helping design teams make apples-to-apples comparisons of competing products that might otherwise have entirely different sets of certifications, making it impossible for design teams to decipher. In Marriott’s case, MindClick’s program informs the company’s marketing for specific locations, to which guests have responded with a 150-percent higher satisfaction and loyalty rate. And hospitality developers are using MindClick’s reporting and analytics to meet the financial reporting requirements of their asset owners including real estate investment trusts (REITs).
Which brings us to the ESG discussion, and why it’s so important for furniture producers to understand that they have the best sustainability story there is.
Powerful, science-based story
It’s all based on third-party and CPA research that shows composite wood panels sequester enough naturally captured carbon to more than offset carbon released, from forestry to factory to furniture production and use, says Abrams.
“It’s really important that companies working with composite wood understand they have an incredible story to tell around the carbon stored or embedded in their products, and their ability to sequester carbon,” says Abrams. “That’s a very big deal, for investors, for consumers, for the planet. No other material does this. And nobody knows this!”
“Right now there aren’t actually any certifications for embodied or sequestered carbon, so companies try to rely on their environmental product declarations (EPDs), which are impossible for the layman to absorb,” she explains. “Furniture manufacturers, with the help of their material suppliers, have an incredible advantage if they commit to putting the carbon-sequestration story front-and-center when educating designers, and when creating their own ESG statements. The CPA has the science, but it’s each manufacturer’s responsibility to tell the story.”
The science Abrams is referring to is:
1. A white paper on LCA reports of MDF, particleboard and hardboard, commissioned by the CPA and published in 2019;
2. “A Report on Climate Perspectives of CPA Panels,” which studies the positive impacts of carbon sequestration in composite wood panels; and,
3. EPDs for particleboard, MDF and hardboard, sponsored by the CPA and verified by Underwriters Laboratories.
“The challenge is, how can we reduce this to something that people can understand? I mean, this is pretty geeky stuff,” says the CPA’s O’Hare. “Even though it’s been done very thoughtfully, and very comprehensively, it’s still difficult to make the leap from a UL-approved EPD to what it actually means for a particular product — climate impact, for example.”
“We’ve got the tools necessary to engage in this debate,” he says, “but there must be some homogeneity and an understanding of what the concepts that make up an ESG statement really mean, for the shareholder and for the community at large. That’s not the case right now.”
SEC updating reporting requirements
O’Hare says proposed climate-disclosure rule changes expected soon from the SEC are intended to reduce the amount of “greenwashing” taking place, to help investors make more informed decisions. This is good news for the wood-based furniture industry for many reasons, not the least of which is research showing that every 4x8 sheet of particleboard sequesters 40 lbs. of naturally captured carbon, and every sheet of MDF stores at least 43 lbs. Again, that is more than enough to offset all of the carbon released in the production and use of these materials. No other material has a climate-positive story even half this powerful.
“These are the kinds of science-based details that really bring composite wood’s story to life,” says Abrams. “The SEC rule changes require quantitative data. Eco labels and certifications aren’t enough on their own anymore. There has to be underlying data that can be audited by the accounting firms to support transparency and reporting requirements.”
“And when it comes to getting in front of the bankers with your ESG story, I can’t emphasize enough that an alphabet soup of certifications doesn’t cut it unless they’re used to support a narrative that puts your products and their benefits – whether it’s furniture panels or installed millwork or fixtures – into a real-world context,” Abrams says.
“You’re still going to need to be able to verify any claim that’s being made, of course, so we follow global practices as to what that criteria look like,” she says. “It can be in the form of declarations, eco label certifications, declarations, etcetera. And everything needs a signature from senior leadership of these manufacturers.
“We built the MindClick system to withstand this kind of scrutiny. So, if you’re working with us, you’ve got that assurance that your customers will know that the information they’re going to get will stand up.”
All hands on deck
While the new changes in ESG reporting requirements target publicly traded companies, these companies will be turning to their suppliers to fill in product and reporting details. This is why getting the entire furniture industry value chain on the same page is the only way to stay in front of this issue.
“I believe that MindClick’s approach is thoughtful and thorough, and designed to provide designers and architects the ultimate material specifiers with decisions that have integrity, which is a good thing,” says O’Hare. “The new SEC rule will go a long way toward making greenwashing disappear, and this can only benefit companies that build with composite wood.”
In addition to connecting property owners and developers with vendors that help further their sustainability goals through MSAP, MindClick has created a designer-facing platform called Design for Health [DesignforHealth.mindclick.com], a “digital studio for healthy interiors” where visitors can find MSAP-audited vendors’ products used in various real-world projects. For more information please visit enrollinmsap.com and CompositePanel.org.
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