Some of the home furnishings industry’s key manufacturers, retailers and sustainability leaders, including several members of the Sustainable Furniture Council, attended a lively panel discussion about sustainability practices yesterday at the Sands Expo Center.
Representatives from leading retailers joined Mike Italiano of Market Transformation to Sustainability and the U.S. Green Building Council in an open discussion about sustainability practices in the industry. Steve Freeman of Room & Board, a Minneapolis-based furniture retailer, joined Amy Chender of New York-based ABC Home to represent retailers on the panel.
Everyone taking part in the discussion agreed there are two fronts where sustainability practices are being addressed. The first is with consumers, as those who care about green practices show their support with their pocketbooks. “Consumers support sustainable products and say products that damage the environment should not be in stores,” said Italiano. As that support becomes more mainstream, retailers are being called to not only create more sustainable products, but make them affordable. “We are in a race. We need to reach the consumer,” said Gerry Cooklin of South Cone and the Sustainable Furniture Council from the audience.
On the other front of the sustainability issue are vendors who supply retailers with products and materials—vendors who are embracing green practices less quickly.
Both retailers on the panel said they work closely with their manufacturer partners and suppliers on various sustainability standards, in some cases making this a condition of doing business. ABC Home has a “good wood” program and shares with vendor partners packets explaining sustainability. Yet Chender said several years ago when her company approached suppliers about its good wood program, some balked or did not give the initiative much attention.
But that is changing. “The vendor community is starting to take green much more seriously because of its growing importance to their customers,” she said.
At the same time consumers demand more sustainable furniture, they’ve become skeptical of manufacturers claims of being eco-friendly—sometimes with good reason. Italiano spoke about exaggerated green claims and “greenwashing,” or the misleading, inaccurate and unlawful depiction of products as environmentally responsible. Due to the proliferation of greenwashing, a large percentage of consumers are questioning green claims.
At ABC Home, Chender said her team is looking carefully at marketing materials to guard against bold statements that can be viewed with skepticism by consumers inundated with the wave of green marketing. “There is a fine line between stating where you are at and making exaggerated claims,” she said.
Freeman, of retailer Room & Board, agreed. “The customer today is very smart. There are many sources for them to find out about you,” he said. “By being transparent, you avoid the potential pitfall of losing credibility. Make sure you are honest with your customer.”
Freeman said sustainability has been a part of Room & Board’s business strategy for a long time, and sustainability and smart practices are common threads in the stores, through the catalog and online. It limits the number of catalogs it prints, and those it does are done on FSC-certified paper. “We do not scream sustainability, but we do talk about it,” Freeman said, adding that the company is still striving to improve its product mix and practices related to sustainability. “You can be profitable and be sustainable,” he said.
ABC Home’s Chender said the very fact that the retailer has a director of social responsibility on staff speaks volumes to the priority on smart sustainability practices. “We are a big small company and we are seeing a paradigm shift,” she said, adding, “You don’t need to be perfect to make steps in the direction of change.”
In addition to working closely with vendors to ensure a large percentage of ABC Home’s merchandise mix meets sustainability standards, Chender said the company also focuses on being globally minded. The month of February, for example, was dedicated to celebrating the culture of India with events and displays. For Earth Day, ABC Home did a dynamic “shades of green” display of various green furnishings. “This visually depicted to the customers that you can be green at different levels,” Chender said.
The panelists shared tips for attendees wanting to “go green,” including suggestions on FSC- certified wood and paper along with eco-friendly inks and paper. They also spoke about steps in partnering with suppliers in an intelligent way. The more retailers asking suppliers about sustainable practices, the better it is for all, they said.
All of the panelists encouraged the attendees not to dive headfirst into green waters. “Do not venture in too quickly,” Freeman said. “And be aware that there is a cost to it. Take steps to increase the percentage of your FSC-certified product and focus on your suppliers.”
Italiano encouraged attendees to look into resources available in the industry. “The climate is right,” he said. “People want to make the shift and suppliers are eager to do it. It’s not as daunting as it might seem.”
Freeman added his support of the Sustainable Furniture Council. “Room & Board strives to apply manufacturing and business principles that are environmentally responsible and ethical and we see the Sustainable Furniture Council as a great opportunity to further such practices throughout our industry and put more players on the same page,” he said.
Retailers attending the seminar also had a chance to check out more than 15,000 square feet of sustainable home furnishings product in the Living Green Pavilion portion of the trade show, as well as the Greenhouse Gallery. This inaugural Living Green Pavilion is in addition to the many other environmentally conscious manufacturers with permanent showrooms in World Market Center’s Buildings A and B who are also showing new products and evolving their sustainable product lines and practices. In all, there are more than 35 manufacturers showing at Las Vegas Market this week who are committed to sustainable products and practices.
Editor's Note: If you are interested in getting more information on Sustainable Furniture Marketing, read the excellent three part FURNITURE WORLD series posted to the Marketing Management Article Archive on the furninfo.com website.
The semi-annual Las Vegas Market is the world’s fastest-growing trade show for home furnishings currently spanning 3.8 million square feet of showrooms/exhibits and featuring 1,300 companies and lines. World Market Center will soon boast the greatest depth and breadth of furniture-related products compared to any other market center and will be the world’s largest trade fair complex when fully built out to 12 million square feet in 2013.
The Las Vegas Market continues through August 3, 2007 at World Market Center’s Buildings A and B, the Pavilions; the temporaries are featured at Sands Expo & Convention Center.
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