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Norman Christopher: Furniture Industry Supply Chain Sustainability

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The Furniture Industry – Modeling Sustainable Supply Chain Management Best Practices!

Recently, Ethical Corp released a new whitepaper and report on the top sustainable supply chain management trends for 2015-2016. (1) The report was determined from surveys obtained from 415 global supply chain management professionals from around the world. These professionals covered many sectors including B2B and B2C markets. There were several major takeaways from this report that focused on three major areas, including most significant opportunities and issues, as well as the main drivers and change forces.

  • First, industry collaboration and trustful working relationships represented the most significant opportunity with 25% of all respondents, followed by the circular economy with 16% of all respondents. Creating greater customer awareness was the third most significant opportunity, at 11%.
  • The most significant issue was traceability and environmental issues, with nearly 30% of all respondents. Another major concern was eliminating unsustainable raw material purchasing throughout the supply chain.
  • The main driver determined was trying to eliminate or reduce supply chain risks, with over 30% of all respondents, followed by concerns for brand image and reputation, and finding supply chain opportunities.

Let’s briefly look at the furniture industry and the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association in West Michigan, and how they are modeling sustainable supply chain management best practices.

  • BIFMA is a not-for-profit organization that was formed in 1973, and is the spokesperson for commercial office furniture. In conjunction with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), BIFMA and its members have developed over 20 product safety and performance standards and guidelines, including the well-known ANSI/BIFMA e3 Furniture Sustainability Standard that focuses on environmentally preferable furniture. The e3 standard is an open source platform that has been mutually developed in collaboration and partnership with governmental, academic, industry, and not-for-profit organizational sector input. A guidance manual and Excel TRACI spreadsheet is available for the development of individual furniture product credits. To date, 1,024 furniture and accessory products have been level 3 certified, 2,717 products level 2 certified, and 3,229 level 1 certified.

Many of the leading furniture companies including Haworth, Herman Miller, Steelcase and others are now learning more about the Circular Economy through the work of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. A new book by Ken Webster entitled The Circular Economy – A Wealth of Flows, describes the attributes of this economy, including one in which waste is the new source of raw materials.

  • BIFMA and its members continue to work for elimination of chemicals of concern in the manufacturing process. Chemical compounds identified as hazardous materials, endocrine disrupters, and carcinogens by the EPA and other authoritative bodies are targeted for removal from commercial furniture. One of the first BIFMA efforts in this area was to minimize VOC emissions, such as toluene and formaldehyde. Now a standard chemical identity, assessment and protocol has been developed. Some of the current chemicals of concern include PVC, dyes, chromium, phthalate, and flame retardant compounds. All of these efforts speak to the growing demand for sustainable and green chemistry now being developed by the chemical industry.
  • The furniture industry is also focused on reducing risk within the supply chain. The primary concern for environmental risk comes first, which is evidenced by the use and exposure within the supply chain for these hazardous materials and chemicals. Tier 1,2, and 3 suppliers within the furniture industry are all working together to identify the specific use and quantity of these chemicals and materials of concern within the overall industry supply chain of commercial and institutional furniture. Additionally, BIFMA members are developing Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) that consist of summarized Life Cycle assessment information in specific impact categories, such as global warming. (2)

Overall, BIFMA is a great example of an industry trade association that exemplifies collaborations, partnerships, and trustful working relationships. They have raised the bar regarding standards and certifications, seek continuous improvement within the industry supply chain, and apply sustainable development best practices in their work.

Norman Christopher is Director of the Office of Sustainability Practices at Grand Valley State University.  He is the author of the book Sustainability Demystified.

Sources:

  • Top Sustainable Supply Chain Management Trends for 2015-2016 – Ethical Corp.
  • EPDs Will Change How We Build – But Slowly, Building Green August 2015