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2010 Sage Award Winner


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2010 Winner Tribute Video - Zenda Leather

Finalist Tribute Video - Flexsteel

Finalist Tribute Video - TLS

The American Home Furnishings Alliance (AHFA) announces Zenda Leather is the recipient of the 2010 Sage Award for environmental excellence. The award was presented December 1 during the All-Industry Sustainability Summit in Asheville, N.C.

The Sage Awards were launched by AHFA and Cargill’s BiOH® polyols business unit to seek out and recognize environmental innovators from whom others in the industry can learn. The competition was open to retail, manufacturing and supplier companies in both the furniture and bedding industries.

Zenda Leather was founded in 1890 in Uruguay. Today the company operates 13 plants and commercial offices in Argentina, Mexico, Germany, South Africa and Uruguay. A 50,000-square-foot U.S. distribution center is located in Hickory, N.C.

All of Zenda’s manufacturing facilities hold internationally-recognized ISO 14001 environmental management certifications, said Juan Diego Casaretto, managing director. This certification prescribes controls for all activities that have an impact on the environment, including the use of natural resources, handling and treatment of waste and energy consumption.

Zenda’s Uruguay facility has the largest waste treatment plant of its kind in Latin America. In 2000, the company invested over a half million dollars to expand the plant and double its capacity. It now treats an estimated 2 million liters of water per day. Biological sludge from the plant is used as organic fertilizer for local farmland. An extension to the finishing plant at the same location is used for collecting rainwater that is used in processing the leather hides. The rainwater accounts for 7 percent of the plant’s total water consumption.

In 2006, Zenda began working with researchers from the Uruguayan National Agricultural Research Institute and developed practices to reduce over 3 million kilograms of solid waste per year by producing compost. In 2008, Zenda opened the first private energy plant in Uruguay. The plant transforms waste into energy, eliminating the company’s need to buy power from an outside source for this plant.

Zenda Leather has also invested in developing more eco-friendly products. Based on 10 years of experience making chrome-free leather for the automotive industry, Zenda introduced “Eden” leather to the residential furniture market in 2008. Only natural extracts – no metals – are used in the tanning process for Eden leather.

Several Sage Award judges acknowledged that the leather industry is generally not considered an “environmentally conscious” industry – but they also described Zenda as an “industry transformer.”

The 10 Sage Award judges represented furniture and bedding industry leaders, environmental journalists, sustainability experts and the furniture industry business press. They included Ray Allegrezza, editor-in-chief of Furniture Today; Mary Frye, president of the Home Furnishings Independents Association; Heather Gadonniex, managing partner of MindClick, a San Francisco-based consultancy specializing in sustainable business; and Leslie Guevarra, associate editor for Greener World Media, an online publishing group focused on sustainable business.

Also Susan Inglis, executive director of the Sustainable Furnishings Council; Robyn Griggs Lawrence, editor-in-chief of Natural Home Magazine; Jean Nayar, former editor-in-chief of Woman’s Day Special Interest Magazines and author of “Green Living by Design;” Richard Prisco, professor of industrial design, department of technology, Appalachian State University; Ryan Trainer, president of the International Sleep Products Association; and Steve Walker, assistant director of the Furniture Manufacturing and Management Center at North Carolina State University.

“This raises the bar for all leather manufacturers,” said one judge.

No one from AHFA or 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.

In addition to the custom-carved Sage Award plaque, the Sage winner receives $2,500 from Cargill’s BiOH business unit to be donated to the charitable organization of their choice.

Two finalists in the 2010 competition were also recognized during the Summit in Asheville. They were Flexsteel Industries, Dubuque, Iowa, and TLS by Design, Portand, Ind.

Flexsteel is a manufacturer, designer, importer and marketer of upholstered and wood furniture for the residential, recreational vehicle, office, hospitality and healthcare markets. The company has been in business 117 years.

Flexsteel’s environmental journey began in January 2008 when it implemented EFEC, an environmental management program developed for the residential furniture industry by AHFA. Flexsteel was the first company to implement EFEC at multiple facilities in multiple states simultaneously. In addition to its Iowa plant and headquarters building, it launched EFEC at plants, warehouses and office buildings in California, Georgia, Kentucky, Indiana and Arkansas – seven facilities in all.

As a result of the new practices and policies established during implementation of EFEC, Flexsteel reduced its waste to landfill from 554 tons per quarter in March of 2009 to 114 tons per quarter as of June 2010. Energy consumption has declined every quarter since March 2009. Water consumption and natural gas have also been reduced and the company has increased its use of recycled materials in operations and product development. Several of the Sage Award judges gave the company high marks for the detail with which it is tracking its environmental improvements.

In business only five years, TLS by Design is the youngest and smallest company to be named a finalist in the three years of the Sage Award competition. Located in a small community surrounded by a depressed rural area, TLS is an innovative, family-run business striving to follow an environmentally-responsible path.

Seventy percent of the company’s products are produced and sourced within a 75-mile radius of Portland. When the company’s upholstery source went out of business, TLS hired some of the displaced factory workers and moved them into a nearby pole barn. They outgrew the pole barn in six months, but, instead of building a new facility, they purchased a local factory that had housed brush and broom production for most of the last century. They have repurposed the building section by section, equipping it with materials and machinery purchased at auction, including old bowling alley lanes recycled into a “new” 60-foot long cutting table.

The company and its founders, Elizabeth Updike and her husband, Jeff Day, now have their eyes trained on more eco-friendly products. They are using foam with a percentage of soy-based ingredients. Springs in upholstered products are made of recycled steel purchased from a nearby, fifth generation spring-making firm. They are transitioning to more recycled content where possible. On the case goods side, they source wood from local forests and mills and have completed development of new water-based stains that they are now testing.

The Sage judges noted the tenacity of this small company and commended its efforts to source locally, to repurpose equipment, buildings and materials and to partner with a local, high-end kitchen cabinet company to produce custom case goods. These collaborative efforts set TLS apart and make it an example for other companies in the industry, several judges noted.

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