Wellborn Cabinet Inc. is among the companies whose cabinetry is certified under the KCMA Environmental Stewardship Program (ESP).
Wellborn Cabinet Inc. is among the companies whose cabinetry is certified under the KCMA Environmental Stewardship Program (ESP).

It is a seal of sustainability. Display of the Environmental Stewardship Program (ESP) label on cabinets assures consumers that the products they purchase meet stringent requirements for environmental responsibility.

The program’s achievements are well-documented. Developed by the Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Assn., the ESP voluntary certification program is a benchmark for cabinets under the National Association of Home Builders’ Green Building Standard, the only ANSI-recognized green building standard in the United States. Some cabinets bearing the ESP label may also help gain LEED credits.

The KCMA ESP is a holistic approach to environmental stewardship that incorporates both the manufacturing process and the finished product. It encourages sustainable forestry practices, recycling energy-efficiency, low emissions and community involvement,” said KCMA Executive Vice President Dick Titus.

Modeled after the long-standing ANSI/KCMA A161.1 performance standard, the ESP continues to be a work in process. Launched in 2006, the certification program has been revised four times to adapt to changes in government requirements and advances in technology. In January 2012, the program was amended to reflect the following:

• All particleboard, MDF and hardwood plywood, manufactured or purchased, must be claimed under the program and 100 percent of each product must comply with current CARB ATCM formaldehyde emission limits.

• A new category added in Product Resources Management allows for points to be earned for the purchase of certified sourced hardwood and softwood lumber. In order to claim the points, invoice verification is required from the supplier indicating the product came from a certified sustainable forest.

• Manufacturers can earn double points for the purchase of lumber and plywood that have chain-of-custody certification. Submission of the invoices is necessary for the verification.

“KCMA was proactive in encouraging industry-wide compliance with the CARB regulations by strengthening the ESP requirements well before the federal Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act was passed. The law goes into effect in 2013. The federal regulation will require CARB emission levels for composite wood (hardwood plywood, particleboard and MDF) for the entire U.S.,” Titus said.

According to Titus, ESP distinguishes itself from other green programs, such as LEED, in that it is audited annually by Architectural Testing, an independent third-party environmental auditing firm. “No other program has such a feature,” Titus said. And, he added, “Unlike LEED, the ESP does not reduce competition, increase prices, or support creation of monopoly power. Also, unlike LEED, ESP has received no grants from the government to finance its program. ESP is strictly a voluntary program funded entirely by participating companies.”

Since its launch, the ESP voluntary certification program has been well received in the market and by cabinetmakers of all sizes. A few years ago, the program was expanded to offer certification to cabinet suppliers able to meet the requirements of ESP. Currently, 115 companies and brands are ESP certified. Suppliers Conestoga Wood Specialties, Meridian Products and VT Industries, a decorative laminate fabricator, also are ESP certified.

ESP certification is awarded annually to companies that meet requirements in the following five categories: Air Quality, Product Resource Management, Process Resource Management, Environmental Stewardship and Community Relations. Eighty points out of a possible 105 are required for certification in the program. (For more information on ESP certification, see page 6 in this section. A complete listing of the individual category requirements, along with an application form for the ESP, can be found at GreenCabinetSource.org.)

“Companies (or brands) are certified by earning points for practices that protect the environment in the areas of improving air quality by limiting formaldehyde emissions from their cabinets; protecting forests by recycling fiber materials; by purchasing lumber and composite wood from recognized sustainable forestry programs; tracking and reducing process wastes and establishing recycling programs in their operations; and being good citizens by involvement in their communities and complying with local environmental regulations,” Titus said.

Sustainability Reinforced

Many manufacturers also noted the program’s certification reinforces their position as a sustainable manufacturer.

Certified since January 2007, Kitchen Kompact says ESP’s holistic approach to sustainable manufacturing has contributed to its overall environmental efforts. “Kitchen Kompact has shown a big interest in sustainable manufacturing well before the introduction of the KCMA ESP program,” said John Gahm, plant manager. “We believe that it is our responsibility to limit the environmental impact that the company has on our community, as well as promote the importance of sustainable manufacturing”

Representatives from Wellborn Cabinet Inc., Masco Corp. and Wood-Mode Inc., also among the first companies to be ESP certified, noted too that while their companies have long been involved in environmental initiatives, participating in ESP is a way to demonstrate their continued commitment. ESP certified since 2007, “Wood-Mode Inc. began sustainable manufacturing in 1950 on a small scale and has expanded on those principles as the company has grown,” commented Carl Webb, plant engineering manager.

“In order to meet the certification requirements for ESP we had to change purchasing specifications for MDF and particleboard to meet formaldehyde emission levels and recycled content criteria. Recordkeeping procedures also had to be modified to track incoming panels to provide the necessary paper trail for certification,” he said.

Having already in place a conservation program since 2001, and then expanding it with “Tomorrow’s Thinking Today” in 2004, it was only natural that Masco Corp. was one of the first companies to be ESP certified, said Bob Terhune, vice president of operations. With ISO 14001 certification also under its belt for cabinet brands Quality Cabinets, Merillat and KraftMaid, Terhune said Masco was “well ahead of what was required” for ESP certification.

Since becoming ESP certified, the Wellborn plant became Forest Stewardship (FSC) Council Chain of Custody certified three years ago, and chain of custody certified under Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) for a year, said Kevin O’Neill, general manager.

As part of the procedure in obtaining — and maintaining — ESP certification, O’Neill said purchase record management procedures, document retention and certification archives were upgraded to ensure validation of certification criteria. “The most significant change is in the area of CARB particleboard, MDF and plywood materials certification and management. This involved an extensive materials and inventory control process changes to ensure compliance with both Phase 1 and Phase 2,” he said. “The phase out of non-certified inventory in each phase required a significant investment in capital, systems and resources to manage the material separation, rework, scrap and disposal.”

Gahm added, “In order for Kitchen Kompact to be successful at sustainable manufacturing we needed to take a close look at all of the processes of our operation and see where improvement could be made. The company not only found ways to turn its hardwood scrap into alternate energy sources, it also reduced waste in other areas, including the installation of a cardboard compactor. Kitchen Kompact also converted its panel products to meet CARB regulations.

Benefits of Certification

Although sustainable certification is not without a price, the benefits appear to far outweigh any detriments.

“The benefits are two-fold,” said O’Neill. “The first relates to the satisfaction that our company has consistently achieved a credible and measurable environmental standard which, in a world of subjective, immeasurable and highly selective/biased environmental ‘standards’, ESP is the only true end-to-end manufacturing standard that encompasses all aspects of environmental stewardship – from suppliers through operations to the delivery of products to consumers.

“Secondly, in a world of unfounded environmental claims, falsehoods and distorted information motivated by activist organizations, our company can communicate a clear, credible, understandable, comprehensive and measurable program to dealers and consumers that makes sense out of all the miscommunication that permeates our industry,” O’Neill continued.

Both Gahm and Terhune also noted that green certification can offer a competitive edge when dealing with inquiries from customers. “ESP has become well known in the housing and kitchen cabinet industry and it appears to be an expected requirement for knowledgeable customers and consumers,” Terhune said.

Added Webb, “The ESP certification enables us to demonstrate that we manufacture a green product, and in a responsible manner. We are using the ESP certification to promote the sustainable practices we have been following for years, i.e., reusing wood scrap to produce steam for building heat and to operate our dry kilns.”

Promotion Efforts

The KCMA has undertaken promotion of the ESP through the revamped Web site GreenCabinetSource.org, with new features including blogs and tweets, to help direct visitors to information. Along with help from public relations firm Gibbs & Soell, Titus said, KCMA has spread the word about the environmental program in consumer publications, at trade shows and industry-related events.

Companies too, are working to promote the value of the ESP to environmentally minded consumers, through websites, advertising efforts, on literature and packaging. “Most importantly, we promote ESP in phone conversations and face-to-face contact with our current customers as well as potential customers,” Gahm said.

In addition, Terhune said Masco promotes the ESP certification on its brand websites.

Webb also added, “We are promoting ESP by creating information bulletins and displays to inform consumers that our cabinetry meets or exceeds the ESP certification criteria. ESP information was added to Wood-Mode’s consumer Website as well as links to the KCMA Website on the program. Wood-Mode sales representatives are trained on ESP certification, the benefits of the program and how they can promote ESP to salespeople.”

Said O’Neill, “We have had the privilege to participate in a program that enabled our industry to make measurable steps toward adopting true, realistic environmental initiatives across the significant majority of manufacturers, thus having a greater collective overall impact to our environment, in this country, than any other program in the market. It is an outstanding example on what an industry can accomplish on their own versus the perspective of those who believe we need to rely exclusively on government mandated programs.”


With almost 350 members, the Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Assn. is a voluntary, non-profit trade association that represents cabinet manufacturers, decorative laminate product fabricators and suppliers to the industry. Active membership is limited to manufacturers of cabinets and fabricators of decorative laminate products, with 51 percent of their direct costs occurring in North America. Suppliers to the industry are considered as associate members. Both active and associate members are represented on the board of directors and are actively involved in KCMA activities. The association recently celebrated its 57th anniversary.

For more information about the KCMA click here or visit kcma.org. You can also contact the KCMA by phone at (703) 264-1690, FAX: (703) 620-6530 or via e-mail at info@kcma.org.


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