North America’s leading producer of ready-to-assemble furniture, Sauder Woodworking, was named the winner of the home furnishings industry’s prestigious Sage Award for environmental excellence today.
Based in Archbold, Ohio, the 77-year-old, family-run operation reports nearly $450 million in annual sales and employs more than 2,000 workers in over 5 million square feet of highly efficient manufacturing space. From the company’s Depression-era beginning, when its frugal founder sought to make use of the “leftovers” from his small custom cabinet and church pew business, to today’s high tech sustainability initiatives, Sauder has maintained environmental stewardship as a core value.
In 1934, 30-year-old Erie Sauder had a family, a mortgage, a few homemade tools and an eighth-grade education. With help from his wife, Leona, he started a woodworking business in a small barn behind his home. The company initially made items needed by local farmers, from chicken crates to cabinets. Not wanting to waste the scraps, Sauder began crafting small, inexpensive tables. In 1951, he introduced a new concept – a table that could be shipped in a flat-pack and assembled at home – and the ready-to-assemble (RTA) furniture industry was born. Over the next several decades, Sauder’s line of RTA furniture grew and eventually eclipsed the cabinet and church pew business.
Erie Sauder’s commitment to “stewardship” of resources proved an important foundation for weathering the 1980s, when environmental regulation transformed American industry. In 1993, still well ahead of the “sustainability movement,” Sauder installed the largest wood-fired, co-generation system in the industry to address the growing volume of wood dust and wood residuals. Since that time, the co-generation plant has consumed an average of 250 tons of wood waste each day to generate four megawatts of power from green, renewable wood fiber. In addition, since the system began operation, Sauder has not taken a single load of wood waste to the landfill.
Sauder has calculated its carbon footprint since 2008 and began reporting these figures to the Carbon Disclosure Project in 2009. Since the 2008 baseline, the company’s domestic operating division has reduced its overall carbon footprint by nearly 32 percent.
In 2011, the company launched two large-scale process improvements to further reduce its carbon footprint: a $1.5 million effort to convert the lighting in 4 million square feet of space to energy efficient fluorescent fixtures and a $1.7 million project to install new technology on 22 dust collection systems.
The new equipment automatically optimizes air flow in the dust collection system to minimize energy use. When complete, these two projects will reduce Sauder’s carbon footprint an additional 27 percent.
Sauder also designs its products and selects the raw component materials to build those products based on its commitment to sustainability.
- Over 95 percent of the wood fiber used to produce the wood components of Sauder furniture comes from post-industrial or post-consumer recycled wood.
- All engineered wood components meet or exceed California’s formaldehyde emissions limits – the most stringent in the world.
- The composite wood panels used in Sauder furniture use up to 95 percent of the wood resource, compared to an average of 60 to 65 percent that is used when constructing solid wood furniture.
- Back panels are constructed using 100 percent post-consumer recycled material.
- All coatings and adhesives are either water based or are 100 percent solids. None are solvent based.
The Sage Awards were launched in 2008 by the American Home Furnishings Alliance (AHFA) and Cargill’s BiOH® polyols business to seek out and spotlight environmental innovators from whom others in the home furnishings and bedding industries can learn. The competition is open to retail, manufacturing and supplier companies in both the furniture and bedding industries.
Sauder received its award at the Opening Day Press Breakfast for the High Point Market in High Point, N.C. The High Point Market is the largest exhibition of residential furniture in the world. Two finalists were also named at today’s event: Crypton Super Fabrics and Leggett & Platt Consumer Products.
Crypton Super Fabrics, based in West Bloomfield, Mich., created an environmentally friendly, patented fabric system with an integrated moisture barrier. These high performance fabrics are produced in a “green” manufacturing facility in Kings Mountain, N.C., that leverages best practices and manufacturing technologies to consume less water and energy, emit less pollution and reduce the use of packaging materials.
Leggett & Platt Home Furniture Components, based in Carthage, Mo., has been producing furniture components for over 125 years and sells its engineered products to over 1,500 furniture makers worldwide. All 13 of the company’s Home Furniture Components facilities in six states are implementing AHFA’s EFEC environmental management system. Since beginning the efforts in 2008, the 13 facilities have realized significant reductions in energy and water use, and have reduced raw material, waste and packaging use. The company’s efforts at its No-Sag facility in Kendalville, Indiana, earned the plant a Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence this year.
The Sage Award winner receives $2,500 to be donated to the environmental cause or charitable organization of their choice. In addition, the winner and both finalists will be featured in a customized video that spotlights their environmental achievements. The videos will be presented February 22 at the 2012 Furniture Industry Sustainability Summit in Raleigh, N.C., and also will be featured on the Sage Award website (www.SageAward.org) for a year.
The Sage Award winner and finalists were selected by a diverse panel of eight judges representing furniture and bedding industry leaders, environmental journalists, sustainability experts and the furniture industry business press. They included Sharron Bradley, executive director of the Western Home Furnishings Association (WHFA), an affiliate of the National Home Furnishings Association; sustainability expert Heather Gadonniex, who this year joined Underwriters Laboratories (UL) as the organization’s new Environmental Product Declaration program manager; and Leslie Guevarra, an associate editor for Greener World Media who has more than 20 years of news experience, including work at the San Francisco Chronicle, where she was a deputy managing editor. Greener World Media is an online publishing group focused on sustainable business.
Also Jessica Kellner, editor-in-chief of Natural Home Magazine, an authority on sustainable home design and materials, earth-friendly décor and natural lifestyles; Jean Nayar, former editor-in-chief of Woman’s Day Special Interest Magazines and author of “Green Living by Design;” Ryan Trainer, president of the International Sleep Products Association; Powell Slaughter, editor at Home Furnishings Business; and Steve Walker, assistant director of the Furniture Manufacturing and Management Center at North Carolina State University.
No one from AHFA nor Cargill participates in the Sage Award judging. Results were tabulated by Ken Smith, managing partner of Smith Leonard, a High Point-based accounting firm. The entries were evaluated based on each company’s sustainability efforts, social or community involvement and their business success.