14471 Wed, 05/14/2008 - 2:57pm
By Nancy Meyer
NEW YORK–The home furnishings industry is reducing its carbon footprint and going green in creative ways.
As the collective consciousness raises about the impact businesses, products and individuals have on the environment, consumers are choosing more green products than ever before. The surge in demand for eco-friendly goods has sent ripple effects throughout the home.
Because the loss of trees is a critical environmental issue, wood products are a highly visible target in sustainability efforts. Furniture makers are using responsibly harvested woods and even reclaimed woods in their designs. While certain companies were founded on the principle of sustainable design, such as Four Hands, Maria Yee, Palecek and Padma’s Plantations, many more mainstream players have added renewable bamboo, rattan and materials to their lines. Further, the Sustainable Furniture Council was launched two years ago out of efforts to bolster support for this movement.
A recent example is French Heritage’s Paris Loft collection made from 100 percent reclaimed teak, introduced at the High Point Market.
Eco-friendly practices in tabletop center mainly on the glass and plastic categories.
Several companies have recently introduced recycled glassware lines, including such large brands as Lenox, Bormioli Rocco and Luigi Bormioli, as well as smaller companies such as Riverside Designs, Fire & Light and the Green Glass Company.
Riverside Designs has been making glass dinnerware out of post-industrial, pre-consumer glass since its founding in 1996. The family-owned business grew out of an effort “to make a difference beautifully,” said Cassandra Ott, creative director. It manufactures using only recycled or sustainable materials, uses recycled shipping materials and operates out of a LEED-certified building in Pittsburgh. It is best known for its Sea Glass collection of dinnerware, which now comes in 12 shapes and 14 colors.
Lenox has joined the green movement with a new collection of recycled glass beverageware called Renew, which it launched at the New York spring tabletop show last month. Following the eco-trend, the company went out in search of “better” recycled stemware, according to Sherri Crisenbery, vice president, Lenox brand, marketing. Traditional recycled glassware tends to look thick, clumsy and filled with bubbles, Crisenbery said, not something Lenox wanted to attach its name to. So it found a Spanish factory to manufacture the line. The glass is blown into molds, which eliminates most bubbles, and the resulting thin, blue-green stemware meets the company’s brand specifications.
Twenty-five percent of all glassware manufactured by Anchor Hocking is made from recycled glass. In addition, the company, which has changed its corporate theme to “Raise a Glass to Planet Earth,” has redesigned its packaging to reduce its environmental footprint and has formed new partnerships with packaging suppliers committed to the environment. It prints all of its marketing materials and its business cards on recycled paper.
Last year, Zak Designs launched Confetti, a serveware collection made from recycled melamine, and the line has since expanded, said Irv Zakheim, president and chief executive officer.
Some housewares companies have green practices as their mission statement.
For example, Fagor America, a wholly owned subsidiary of Fagor Electrodomesticos in Spain, not only offers consumers energy-saving appliances and cookware, but incorporates earth-friendly methods in its manufacturing processes as well.
“Fagor understands that energy and resource conservation are major concerns for consumers,” said Patricio Barriga, president. Its company initiative supports environmental preservation “through ultra-efficient products that consume less and save money, and friendly manufacturing practices and distribution to preserve the environment and save energy.”
Nearly all of Umbra’s stylish trash cans are now degradable, according to Les Mandelbaum, president. The company uses an additive that helps the plastic degrade in the landfill when it mixes with other elements in the earth. With its smaller cans, in its Garbini collection, it uses corn-based polymers.
For its wood frames, Umbra strives to use plantation-grown woods, restored or reclaimed wood. It has also reconsidered its packing materials, reducing Styrofoam packing by 65 percent. Retailers love clamshell packaging, according to Mandelbaum, but the PVC used to make it is controversial. Umbra has replaced it with a different type of plastic that is clear and does not contain chlorine, but which is rigid and expensive.
Most importantly to Mandelbaum, the company is careful to avoid any complaints of green-washing by thoroughly investigating all its source materials to ensure that its environmentally friendly claims are valid.
For some, like the sleep products segment, going green is a matter of healthier lifestyle choices.
“Today’s natural specialty-sleep bedding fights allergies and reactions, allows for sounder sleep, resulting in better health,” said Dale Read, president of the Specialty Sleep Association. “Renewable sources such as soy, bamboo, cotton, feather wool and other resources for foams, fillers, fibers, quilting and tickings can provide better sleep and offer long-term sourcing that helps—as opposed to hurting—the world.”
Consumers are also demanding that prices for some eco-friendly goods come more into line with their less “green” counterparts, said Beth Mack, chief merchandising officer for Hollander Home Fashions.
“The female consumer identifies with environmental causes and is more willing to provide a greener home for the family. That being said, she is not willing to pay more for the product,” Mack said. Hollander’s Natural Elements/Earth Essentials bed pillows using non-dyed, non-bleached cotton fabrics alongside recycled polyester fiberfill, retail between $9.99 and $19.99, which is in line with standard bed pillows, she pointed out.
“We are planning to expand our product line to add natural-filled products, which will enhance the eco-story,” Mack said.
The issue of being green is a tricky one for the rug industry as a good deal of its handmade wool product has been all-natural for generations. With consumers’ eco-consciousness consistently on the rise, many rug companies needed only to look within their existing assortment and create a new label to call out the rugs’ natural attributes. Importers and manufacturers such as Momeni, Nourison and Ebisons Harounian Imports are just a few that have designated specific collections as being green and have gone to great lengths in merchandising such products to explain precisely what sets them apart and elevates them to green status.
But the environmental effects on this industry are not just visible in the products made from natural materials. Even large carpet manufacturing companies are finding ways to be as kind to the planet as possible.
Shaw, for example, now functions with the goal of its products being “cradle to cradle” and has instituted a system that finds the company’s own employees heading out to consumers’ homes to pick up carpet that is no longer wanted and haul it back to Shaw’s plant to be recycled into new carpet. And Milliken has been operating with a holistic approach to the environment for more than a century. As early as 1900, Milliken was reusing packaging and textiles materials in operations and the company introduced its official Environmental Policy in 1990. It has since reduced its environmental footprint by 85 percent via a variety of business practices, including the planting of more than one million trees each year, approximately 90 trees for each of its employees.
— David Gill, Andrea Lillo, Jennifer Quail and Allison Zisko contributed to this report.