Sustainability is a culture at National Office Furniture. Not only is the contract furniture manufacturer registered with an ISO 14001 Environmental Management System, certified under the BIFMA level® standard for product sustainability, as well as Chain-of-Custody certified under the Forest Stewardship Council, but its casegoods and table manufacturing facility in Santa Claus, IN, was recently named Indiana’s first LEED®-certified office furniture plant.

Headquartered in Jasper, IN, National Office Furniture is a brand unit of Kimball International Inc. The Santa Claus location is the seventh National Office Furniture facility to earn a LEED green building rating. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is the green building rating system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council.

According to Mendy Claridge, director of Sustainability, LEED AP ID+C, the company’s environmental commitment is part of its corporate framework. It includes: Product Stewardship, Environmental Preservation, Green Building Development, Regulatory Compliance, Social Accountability and Economic Responsibility. “Within the Green Building Development focus, we have committed to adhering to LEED standards throughout our facility network including new construction, major renovations and existing buildings. As the Santa Claus facility progressed in its sustainability performance, we were ready to take the next step and apply for a LEED-Certification. Our continuous improvement culture and having a strategy in place that has corporate responsibility woven throughout the initiatives led us to pursuing implementations at Santa Claus that would help us achieve a LEED building rating,” she says.

After an 18-month period during which National’s Santa Claus plant implemented new processes, Claridge now says, “Santa Claus is a near-zero waste facility as it recycles or reuses 97.2 percent of its waste.” As an example, she cites more than 5.5 million pounds of materials recycled by the facility in 2011, resulting in a landfill cost avoidance of $330,000; National Office Furniture as a whole last year recycled more than 13.5 million pounds of material — saving the company more than $810,000 through landfill cost avoidance.

Sustainable Manufacturing

National’s long-term environmental commitment also is evident throughout its manufacturing process. The company uses a Design for the Environment approach including life-cycle assessments, Claridge says. It has been ISO 14001 and FSC Chain-of-Custody certified since 2008, and BIFMA level certified since 2009.

Approximately 6,500 SKUs are produced at the Santa Claus facility. Casegoods account for 80 to 85 percent of product sales, with tables the remaining 15 to 20 percent; there is a three-week lead time to ship. Both laminated and veneered products are produced at the plant, which has 359 employees; National employs approximately 1,200 people company-wide.

Inside the 342,320-square-foot Santa Claus facility, laminated panels are cut-to-size on a CNC panel saw, which has the capability for cutting several stacked sheets at a time. The company uses CNC machining centers for horizontal and vertical routing, boring and drilling applications, with edgebanders and foilers in the plant for applying edge treatments.

Fasteners, drawer slides and other hardware used in the laminated casegoods are installed in the assembly area. Doors and drawers are added as needed, and a final quality control check is performed prior to being packed in a fan-fold box and shipped.

It is a similar process for manufacturing veneered components. Various sizes, thicknesses and species of veneered panels are shipped to the facility and cut-to-size on the panel saw, which has the capability to cut multiple parts from one panel. Edge treatments are applied and CNC machining centers are used for routing, drilling and other processes; National has specific machines for horizontal and vertical processing.

The flat panels are sanded, assembled, then sanded again as needed, prior to finishing, final assembly, inspection and shipping.

As part of its commitment to sustainable manufacturing, National recently implemented UV finishing technology at its Santa Claus and Fordsville, KY, facilities. The company uses IntegraClear™, a proprietary, water-based UV finishing technology on the wood products.

“All our wood casegoods and tables are finished with IntegraClear, which is cured via ultraviolet light versus heated ovens that traditional finishes require,” Claridge says. “IntegraClear offers a virtually VOC-free finish with incredible durability and clarity. It helps our veneer casegoods and tables achieve indoor air quality certifications, such as SCS Indoor Advantage™ Gold.”

In addition to improvements in finishing, National has made a number of other investments for optimal lean and sustainable manufacturing. These include a new panel saw, edgebanders and material handling equipment. The company also is in the process of adding return conveyors to its edgebanders, which will lead to productivity gains.

National also has invested in smaller, right-sized feed-through CNCs for all three value streams for better accuracy and future growth capacity.

Capital investments also were made at the Fordsville manufacturing plant including two powered conveyors “that will eliminate the wasted motion of our employees pushing/pulling units downstream” Claridge says, and two return conveyors on the edgebanding line.

National’s continuous improvement culture also encourages the sharing of ideas to focus on value-added activities.

The company says it will continue to look for ways in which to improve its productivity, profitability and sustainability. “Sustainability is not simply a product feature; it’s built into the product from the beginning by the choices we make in sourcing, production and distribution,” Claridge says. “We pursue third-party certification of our products and facilities, providing customers and the community the assurance that National is a responsible manufacturer. We completed the Carbon Disclosure Project and released our fourth annual Corporate Social Responsibility report as part of our commitment to transparency. Plus, we have received great feedback from the community and our customers regarding our efforts. Our partners and customers appreciate the fact that sustainability is part of the value they get when they choose National.”

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