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  • Laurie Rudd

How Green is our industry?

Look for answers in consumer interests

Colorful Poly-Wood Chairs
Poly-Wood resin gaining interest.

By its very nature, the casual industry should be in the forefront of efforts to maintain and monitor the livability of outdoor spaces.

Whatever terminology is used for environmental initiatives — whether green, sustainable, eco-friendly or socially conscious — all should be, and with a closer look many are, available throughout the casual world’s products and resource materials. While many entities are embracing the concept, challenges do remain in the green scheme of things not only in the processes, resources and measurements but also in education of the casual consumer.

The Green Scene

Many green initiatives gaining exposure and experiencing success in the furniture industry are being driven by global consciousness of manufacturers and retailer requests, most often through contract sources.

Children in the forest
Environmental policies include social aspects of reforestation.

For companies involved in green initiatives, organizations such as the American Home Furnishings Alliance have created numerous programs to assist, measure and govern their efforts. AHFA formed Enhancing Furniture’s Environmental Culture in 1999 to help its membership develop and maintain proactive environmental programs. That membership includes the International Casual Furnishings Association. AHFA also created Sustainability by Design as a roadmap for furniture companies to create a corporate culture of conservation and environmental stewardship.

Through those and other groups such as Sustainable Furniture Council, Forest Stewardship Council or trees4trees, companies not only learn about creating green products and reducing the environment footprint of products but also receive certification.

“Our efforts are market-based and common sense solutions,” said Bill Perdue, AHFA environmental standards director. “When there are measurable goals, companies are able to realize economic justification for being involved in environmental stewardship.”

“We have been involved in the production of recycled and reclaimed products for years because it is the right thing to do,” said Chris Bruning, vice president of Groovystuff, based in Dallas.

Companies making serious strides in sustainability have found it can encompass every phase of their operation and their resource supply chain.

“We are not only creating our product from renewable resource,” said Mark Schmidt, president of Domus Designs, Santa Barbara, Calif. “There is also a social component when we recruit Indonesian landowners and educate them on planting and care of trees, and ultimately maximize our impact on the environment as a whole.”

Making Eco-efforts

Throughout the casual industry there is evidence of companies answering the call of eco-friendly products. With such marketing mantras as “The green choice” or “Sustaining our Natural Resources” or “Built on Sustainability,” retailers can locate products from major casual furniture manufacturers to accessory suppliers. Green products, however measured, are available for casual retailers to explore.

“We introduced several sustainable products including FSC wood director chairs and polymer seating,” said Chris Ellis, Telescope Casual customer service manager. “All were very well-accepted, and the polymer was the recipient of a Design Excellence Award.” For Telescope, the creation of sustainable products was the result of a Dealer Focus Committee that formulated suggestions for product development.

Poly-Wood, based in Syracuse, Ind., has long been acknowledged as a leader in recycled outdoor products. “We recognized the importance of recycling when we first started in 1990,” said Mark Phillabaum, sales and marketing, Poly-Wood. “We have grown since that time and within the last years, have felt a renewed interest in recycled products.”

In the wood furniture category, several companies are deeply involved in green initiatives and produce eco-friendly furniture or recycled component furniture.

In the contract arena, Global Surroundings of Fountain Hills, Ariz., debuted an eco-friendly reclaimed teak furniture line at the September HD Boutique Expo. “Consumers today are conscious of the products they utilize at high-end resorts, hotels and restaurants,” said Jay Jackson, owner, Global Surroundings. “This market (contract) is clearly asking for sustainable furnishings with cutting edge design.” Jackson’s designs also incorporate the 100% recycled all-weather woven resin, available from such suppliers as Viro.

The Casual Conscious

Reclaimed teak rocker by Groovystuff
Reclaimed teak rocker by Groovystuff

With the availability of green products, casual retailers have the means to provide consumers with eco-friendly choices, but a lack of consumer desire has been found to exist.

“Consumers are just not asking for green products,” said Bruce Aronson, owner, The Pool and Patio Center, Metairie, La. “If there is any area of the country that has felt the effects of climate changes, it is ours; but I have had only two instances of requests for eco-friendly products and one of those was a contract customer.”

Similar sentiments were expressed from a northern retailer. “I like to have product that can answer requests for green, but the actual sale is made because the product, like Seaside Casual, is maintenance-free more so than its recycled construction,” said George Smyrinos, owner of Coastal Design, Northfield, N.J.

The environmental component of a product may be the reason it is featured on a national television show; but the subsequent sale may not be for the same reason. “We carry Poly-Wood as they were on HGTV and customers have come in asking for it,” said Audrey and Harvey Tobman, owners of Swim and Style of Longwood, Fla. “However, the maintenance-free aspect was the reason they bought. Other than that, we do not carry specifically green products.”

During the recent sustainability seminar at the Casual Market, panelists stated that a preliminary shift in consciousness is occurring in indoor furnishings and should be gaining interest in the outdoor arena. There is a status associated with owning green products; however, often considered to come at a higher cost.

“With greater demand, volume will increase, and green products could become available at the same cost as other products,” said AHFA’s Perdue. The need for education and training for consumers and retailers alike was suggested as a method for heightened popularity as well as confidence in the quality of eco-friendly products.

Trainable in Sustainable

Although the green message can be found just about anywhere, the casual consumer needs educating on the benefits as they apply to backyard furnishings.

“Education of our sales personnel with regard to green and why the product is better is needed so they then can educate the customers,” Aronson said. “We look to manufacturers for education about their eco-products.”

Manufacturers involved in green initiatives are working to provide training materials for their retailers to share with customers, although more is needed.

O.W. Lee, a casual furniture manufacturer located in Ontario, Calif., has produced a brochure titled “Sustaining Our Natural Resources” for distribution to retailers and their customers that outlines all their efforts regarding “making a world of real difference.”

Other manufacturers, such as Domus Designs, provide hang tags and posters to customers to denote reforestation efforts involved with the production of their products. Web sites from various manufacturers provide training information for retailers about their products and the environmentally-friendly processes involved in the production.

“When manufacturers are committed to a green program, they can save money and then will be able to spend more in education of the public,” Perdue said.

The secret is continuing the awareness of the positive affects any initiatives make on the environment. Henrik Anderson of Mulia Perkasa, manufacturers of FSC-certified wood products, feels the green story is a hard sell in America. “The Europeans get it,” Anderson said. “With our limited land and resources, we better see that it (green efforts) makes a difference and they get behind it.”

The casual industry is just beginning to become aware of its place in the promotion of environmentally friendly products and practices. With innovation, planning, conservation, cooperation and diligence, strides will continue to be made to more actively participate in the stewardship of the outdoors that we all embrace.

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