Being green is harder than it seems. Industry leaders from California to Vermont recently converged on Greensboro, N.C., for a standing-room-only conference presented by the American Home Furnishings Alliance (AHFA) on "What It Means to Be Green A Market Based Strategy".

And while the conference did not offer any easy answers, it did show that becoming officially "green" is a vexing question for the industry, and there is a high level of interest and commitment to finding a green standard on which everyone from suppliers and manufacturers to consumers can agree.

Many voices and concerns

Susan Inglis, executive director of the recently created Sustainable Furniture Council, led off the conference by speaking about the SFC's upcoming public advertising and in-store tagging program for consumers to identify retailers and products that exceed SFC's threshold sustainability standards. Inglis also expressed her concern about manufacturers using wood that does not have a legal chain of command.

Rick Hilton, green building specialist for the Rainforest Alliance, echoed Inglis' concern about illegal logging. Rainforest Alliance is home to SmartWood, which is accredited by the Forest Stewardship Council. Hilton made a special point of warning attendees to watch out for organizations specifically some based in Europe that are competing with the FSC for credibility.

While Hilton noted that retailers such as Ikea and Wal-Mart are requiring FSC certified wood in their building products, one audience member expressed concern that this could be costly for the industry, noting that his company is currently assessed a 30 percent upcharge by overseas suppliers for FSC-certified furniture.

The LEED view

Linda Sorrento, director of LEED for commercial interiors at the U.S. Green Building Council, spoke to the group about two USGBC residential programs, LEED for Homes and Regreen. In regard to new construction, Sorrento observed that in 2005, 2 percent of building starts, or $7.6 billion, were green. However, that number is anticipated to be 10 percent, or $60 billion, by 2010.

Of particular interest to the audience was Regreen, which is being developed in tandem with the American Society of Interior Designers. Regreen is a residential remodeling program based upon sustainable design and construction principles and includes three major components: Best Practice Guidelines for use by residential design and construction professionals; Learning programs to support the use of the guidelines and accelerate the adoption of green practices; and print and electronic resources for professionals and consumers. The guidelines are currently slated to be released in March 2008.

The Herman Miller way

Diane Bunse, environmental specialist for the Herman Miller group, spoke about the company's history in the green movement. Regarded by many as one of the greenest companies in the world, Bunse traced the company's green emphasis back to its founding, and elaborated on a number of examples when the company used creative solutions to stay green.

Herman Miller is becoming a 100 percent sustainable company, with a goal of producing no waste at all by 2020. Currently the company is at about the 65 percent point.

Bunse noted that upon close analysis, cost vs. savings of going green for Herman Miller was about $1 to $1.

AHFA certification

The AHFA unveiled its new green certification program at the conference, called Sustainable by Design. The program is an effort to assist the industry in fending off charges of "greenwashing," when companies claim to be environmentally friendly but do little or nothing to back up the claim.

To receive the AHFA Sustainable by Design label, a company must become certified by EFEC (Enhancing Furniture's Environmental Culture), and complete a punchlist that covers items relating to minimization of environmental footprint, supply chain management and global climate change.

Rounding out the day were presentations by Martin Flaherty, CEO of Atlanta-based Pencil Box Inc., who spoke about the complexities of life cycle assessment, and Clive Davies, chief, the Environmental Protection Agency's Design for the Environment (DFE) program, who spoke about the DFE's Green Design Flame Retardants project.

Bill Perdue, vice president of environment, health and safety for the AHFA, said he was "very pleased" with the turnout at the conference.

"I think the turnout is indicative that this is a very important issue to our industry," he said.

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