Hickory Chair Company of Hickory, N.C., was named the first recipient of the Sage Award by the American Home Furnishings Alliance and Cargill’s BiOH® polyols business unit yesterday at an awards reception held during the 2008 Sustainability Summit.
The award recognizes companies that are environmental leaders while also serving as strong contributors to their local community and remaining a profitable business. Judges in the competition cited Hickory Chair for its efforts to involve employees at every level in environmental stewardship and social responsibility. “The education, engagement and inclusion of employees in continuous improvement is impressive,” one judge noted. “They were able to show the impact of the environmental changes that have been implemented. They’ve been strategic, but broad in their approach.”
Jay Reardon, president of Hickory Chair, acknowledged his 570 employees in accepting the award and said the only “unlimited resource” within his company is the brainpower of its workers.
“At Hickory Chair, we have something called EDGE – Employees Dedicated to Growth and Excellence,” he explained. This continual improvement program results in hundreds of actionable ideas for environmental and operational enhancements every year.
In 2008, employees have implemented 1,100 improvements at the 97-year-old company. Most dealt with better machine utilization, reduced energy consumption, process improvements that eliminated rework or wasted materials, elimination of non-value added operations and improved productivity. Specifically, after reducing its landfill waste by 178 tons in 2007, the company anticipates another 125-ton reduction in 2008. A wood grinder has improved use of wood scrap as boiler fuel and resulted in a $450,000 savings in fuel oil expenses. Recycling programs now reuse, repurpose, recycle or reclaim the following waste streams: cardboard, fabric, leather, plastic, string, aluminum cans, plastic drink bottles, paper, metal, wood, cotton, ink toner, electronic equipment, fluorescent lamps, batteries, pallets, packaging materials, tooling, foam and equipment containing mercury.
Hickory Chair has implemented these and many more effective environmental programs and practices while growing its profitability. No plant closings have been necessary in the past five years. Prices have been held for over five years while employees have still received raises and bonuses, Reardon said.
Hickory Chair was awarded a $2,500 check from Cargill’s BiOH® polyols business unit to be donated to the charity of the company’s choice.
Company names were removed from the 14 Sage Award entries before they were forwarded to 10 judges representing various industry organizations, environmental and charitable organizations, and both the trade and consumer press. The entries were then evaluated based on each company’s sustainability efforts, their social or community involvement and, finally, their business success. Judges did not know the names of the 14 companies that entered until last month, when the three finalists in the 2008 program were announced.
“This award was not designed to try and find the ‘greenest’ product or even the ‘greenest’ company in our industry,” said AHFA CEO Andy Counts in announcing the winner. “Rather, it was designed to discover companies whose leadership illuminates a pathway toward improvement that others can follow.”
In addition to Hickory Chair, finalists for the 2008 Award included Cisco Brothers of Los Angeles and Valley Forge Fabrics of Pompano Beach, Fla. All three companies were honored in a video tribute sponsored by Cargill that highlighted their outstanding environmental accomplishments.
The panel of 10 Sage Award judges included: Ray Allegrezza, Editor-in-Chief of Furniture/Today; Seth Bauer, Vice President, Editorial Director of National Geographic’s Green Guide; Derick Belden, Executive Editor of Southern Living Magazine; Steve DeHaan, Executive Vice President of the National Home Furnishings Association; Richard Doyle, President of the International Sleep Products Association; Daphne Hewitt, Project Manager for the Rainforest Alliance TREES Program; Susan Inglis, Executive Director of the Sustainable Furnishings Council; Bill Perdue, Vice President of Environment, Health and Safety, for the American Home Furnishings Alliance; Leanne Powell, Manager of National Corporate Leadership for United Way of America; and Powell Slaughter, Senior Editor for Home Furnishings Business.