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Furnishings Execs Urge Transparency for Green Claims

ASHVILLE, N.C. - If you can't prove it, don't call it "green" or "eco-friendly" or any similar term. That was the underlying theme of the two-day American Home Furnishings Association Sustainability Summit here earlier this month.
     While the three previous AHFA annual summits for home furnishings executives had also dealt with this concept, this year's summit speakers emphasized the critical importance of total sustainability transparency today to combat greenwashing misinformation. Several encouraged attendees to initiate programs throughout their entire company from selecting raw materials to production methods to final assembly that clearly demonstrate and can prove the levels of sustainability commitment they have achieved.
     This proveable transparency should appear online, should be thoroughly detailed to a company's vendors and their suppliers, so they, in turn, can explain it to their ultimate customers- consumers and the public. Where applicable in promotional materials and even on hangtags, a company's commitment should cite not only its sustainability claims but also how these claims have been certified by reputable third party sources.
     As evidence of the importance of complete transparency of its environmental commitment, Ernesta Ballard, senior vp, corporate affairs, Weyerhaeuser, outlined details of the company's program. "You just can't say it, you must be able to prove it," she declared, terming it a "greenwashing antidote," adding, "Sustainability is the new viability for corporations like ours."
     She warned home furnishings executives they must go beyond just standard profit reports to show certified transparency in their total commitment from raw materials through waste and recycling programs and make certain their customers understand it themselves and can then explain it to their customers.
     Acknowledging achieving certifiable transparency in a company's sustainability commitment is complex to initiate and properly oversee, she encouraged companies to include participation from all employees, suppliers, vendors, as well as the community/ communities in which they operate.
     Ballard and other speakers emphasized sustainability commitment and transparency is becoming more critical in business, as governmental and industry rules, regulations and guidelines become more focused on discouraging unsubstantiated greenwashing claims in the marketplace. Consumers are demanding it as well, all agreed.
     In addition to Weyerhaeuser, other case studies underscoring the same detailed commitment to sustainability were presented by Rod Miller, La-Z-Boy Inc. director of environmental affairs; Kevin Boyle, Century Furniture Industries plant manager case goods facility; Meagan Hubbard, Bassett Furniture Industries store planning project manager.
     Because of the importance of company-wide sustainability commitment and resulting transparency programs, Oren (sp) Jaffe, founder/managing partner, Sustainable Supply Network Consulting Group, urged all home furnishings executive s to come together as an industry to share sustainability programs, especially in defining what sustainability means to their own company.
     He also encouraged companies to include a Code of Conduct in their sustainability program commitment, as a guide for their vendors, suppliers, as well as their stockholders and the public in general.
     Also addressing the critical nature and corporate impact of a total sustainability transparency commitment were Paul Hepperla, vp product strategy, Verisae, who discussed how to establish creditable carbon footprints.; Dina Dunn, North American representative, International Oeko-Tex Assn, who outlined the complexities of certifying leather to meet environmental/ social performance standards.; Steve Linton, sustainable technologies director, Deltec Homes, who noted his companies' circular-shaped homes "have 78% less waste than conventional homes"; Brock Landry, chairman, government division chairman, Venable LLP., who listed FTC Green Marketing updated guideline home furnishings executives should include in their commitment plans.

BY MARILYN NASON

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