Consumers expect eco-friendly options
Marc Barnes -- Casual Living, 1/7/2011 1:48:16 AM
IT MAY not be easy being green but, increasingly, customers are expecting it and producers and importers in the outdoor living segment are delivering it.
Industry observers say that in addition to helping protect the environment for future generations, being green can mean that you use less, meaning that you spend less, thus increasing your margin. It also means you have positioned your business on the leading edge of consumer demand, which means you have effectively increased your marketability.
While some are entering the market for the first time, others are expanding or building on a long record. Trex is perhaps the most recent example. Long the nation's largest manufacturer of wood-alternative decking, railing and trim products, Trex has entered into a licensing agreement with Poly-Wood Inc. to develop and market a new line of outdoor furnishings.
The Trex Outdoor Furniture collection will include 26 designs across four different product lines - and will be made from more than 90% recycled content.
Meanwhile, Turning House Furniture is showcasing a new home accents line. American-made of vintage wood, metal and materials reclaimed from old buildings, the line is a partnership between Turning House and Vintage Building Products.
The two companies have collaborated on ways to produce higher yields from reclaimed wood - and the new line will include wrought iron sconces combined with oak from Amish barns, tables made of salvaged telegraph poles and mirrors framed in a variety of hardwoods.
Jay Weber, vice president of North American operations for ScanCom International, said his firm sources eucalyptus from Brazil that's certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and teak from government regulated plantation sources in Indonesia. One of ScanCom's offerings, a rectangular table made of recycled teak debuted at the recent Casual Market in Chicago and won an industry design award.
"We operate under standards very similar to OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) standards," Weber said. "Any major retailer like Target or Wal-Mart or Costco does factory audits for safety and proper age (of workers). We operate on only the strictest employment terms and we pay more than what the typical government regulation wage is."
Jensen Leisure Furniture has long kept sustainability as a core value, said Robert Simeone, chief forester for the company. It sources 100% of its wood from FSCcertified harvesters and its hardware from suppliers who adhere to a strict code of conduct which forbids child labor and discrimination against women.
"We have never sold a single bench until FSC certified everything," Simeone said. "From day one, it has been a green product. Our whole business model was built upon doing things sustainably."
Jensen Leisure won a Design Excellence Award in the wood category at the Casual Market for its Topaz Stackable Chair. Working with Ciani Design, Jensen took home the Lillian B. Winchester Best of Show award for the chair.
Wally Stryk, owner of Asian Art Imports, said his firm gets most of its raw materials from Thailand from two main sources - recycled wood from old buildings and stumps that are left over when land is developed. From those, Asian Art builds tables, stools and wall art, sometimes deciding on a design on the spot based on what's available.
Stryk said he decided to move his production from India to northern Thailand because of differences he found in the culture and especially in how workers were treated, as compared to India and China.
"It really starts with awareness, because if people are cognizant and if you couple that awareness with a practical way of making more money, then that is what will work," Stryk said. "Take recycling, for example. If you are able to get more people to recycle and they have a means of selling it, then that will work."
Thus, the scraps left over from making stools, along with the dried vines gained from a construction site and some adhesive, might find new life as a room divider, a wall hanging or a small sculpture.
Mark Phillips of The Phillips Collection uses similar finds in his Origins collection - and purposefully applies a high-end design to it.
"Our whole position on sustainability and recycling is that nothing is going to work on a commercial basis unless it is gorgeous," Phillips said.
In addition to using plantation-grown teak, Phillips takes roots and stumps from abandoned trees and uses them to make console tables and coffee tables.
Some leaders within the industry have lent their voices to the environmental movement. For example, Kathy Juckett, CEO of Telescope Casual Furniture, serves as a member of New York State Wood Products Development Council, which encourages and supports the practice of forestry and manufacture of wood products.
"Forest products link value-added manufacturing and processing with environmental good sense because the industry serves as a steward of New York's forests," Juckett said. "Proper forestry yields clean water and air, removes greenhouse gases and prevents or mitigates natural disasters like floods and wildfires."
For some, green products are an extension of their personal beliefs.
Johnny West, an avid surfer who has long been concerned with the effects of pollution on the world's oceans, said he founded Maku Furniture five years ago out of a desire to live an eco-friendly lifestyle. When West began searching for all-natural outdoor furniture, he could find none, so he reasoned that others were probably looking for the same thing and began his own company.
The furniture uses 100% of recycled raw materials and a minimum of 50% of recycled material in hardware and packaging. From his manufacturing plant in Indonesia, the small scraps are turned into candle holders and the sawdust is sold as bedding for local livestock.
In addition, Maku recently expanded into online retail at EcoShop, where people can find recycled and eco-friendly household items from baby bottles to jewelry.
"There is so much greenwashing going on, people see it as the next trend or the next bandwagon to jump on," West said.
"But it should start with your lifestyle. We have a large garden and we grow our own fruits and vegetables and we believe in consumer- supported agriculture personally."
Shannon Davis, co-owner and creative director of Selamat Designs, said her firm started out green 20 years ago when founder Vera Brown noticed that the Indonesian furniture factory was using mahogany to fuel its kilns. She felt that such beautiful wood should be better used. Brown promptly turned the waste pieces into a line of accessories.
More recently, Selamat began using plantation-grown teak, also sourced from Indonesia, along with high-grade aluminum and synthetics, chosen specifically so they don't break down quickly and need replacement.
"We like to make things that fit into a multitude of environments," Davis said.
"They ride out the peaks and valleys of what is trendy in the design market and people can hold onto them for a long time."
At Outdoor Lifestyle, Business Development Manager Virginia Hamilton said the company manufactures all its products in an environmentally responsible manner. That includes using recycled aluminum and assembling its furniture in the U.S., thus cutting down on the environmental impact of importing ready-made pieces.
Within its manufacturing process, Outdoor Lifestyle's plant produces almost zero waste. All packaging is made of recycled materials. Within business operations, the plant recycles office waste, has retrofitted many light fixtures and has put an emphasis on less business travel.
Other manufacturers have introduced products that, in and of themselves, can help consumers protect the environment.
Courtney Salas, a public relations manager for Cal Spas, points out that the firm's Cal Flame grills use commercial-grade cast stainless steel burners which use less fuel, and thus, release fewer toxins into the environment; and its fireplaces reduce emissions in burning wood by 25%.
Crystal Wohle, brand manager for Duraflame Stax Logs, said her company's products are ideal for outdoor fire pits and fireplaces because they are made of 100% sawdust and nut shells with a vegetable-based wax, which burn 80% cleaner than a wood fire. The product also emits 50% less emissions than a wood fire and 70% less emissions than gas logs.
At Mariachi Rugs, President and Owner Amy Kimmich has found a market niche in Mad Mats, outdoor rugs that are made wholly of recycled materials and Sweep Dreams, brooms that are handmade of bamboo and sorghum.
We would love your feedback!