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Hickory Chair Furniture Company Achieves Sustainable By Design Certification

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Hickory Chair Furniture Company reached another milestone on its environmental stewardship journey when it achieved Sustainable by Design certification from the American Home Furnishings Alliance (AHFA) this week. Hickory Chair has been making measurable environmental improvements at its Hickory, N.C., manufacturing facility since 1997, when the company instituted its EDGE continuous improvement initiative. EDGE stands for “Employees Dedicated to Growth and Excellence.” “Through EDGE, our initial goal was to recycle and repurpose all of our waste materials,” explains Hickory Chair President Jay Reardon. “As we made great progress in our recycling and repurposing efforts, we realized that we needed to design the waste out of the process from the beginning.” In 2008, Hickory Chair entered AHFA’s voluntary environmental management program. Called EFEC for “Enhancing Furniture’s Environmental Culture,” the program requires companies to adopt a culture of environmental stewardship. To complete the program, companies must show: Improvements in their management of resources and raw materials; Reductions in energy and water consumption; and, Reductions in waste disposal and associated costs. Donna Musick, Hickory Chair’s environmental coordinator, says the company’s improvements fell into three key areas: better machine utilization, which reduced energy consumption; process improvements, which eliminated additional work and wasted materials; and eliminating non-value added operations, which improved productivity and reduced energy and materials usage. Hickory Chair’s achievements in these areas, as well as its success in involving employees at every level in environmental stewardship and social responsibility, helped the company earn its EFEC registration in September 2008. Three months later the company was awarded the industry’s first Sage Award. The program, which is sponsored by AHFA and Cargill’s BiOH polyols business unit, recognizes home furnishings companies that are environmental leaders. Next the company took on Sustainable by Design certification. To pass its SBD audit, Hickory Chair was required to conduct a rigorous evaluation of its corporate environmental footprint, as well as its global climate impact. For each key area on a checklist, Hickory Chair established numerical goals and a system for evaluating annual achievement and establishing new goals. These key areas include: Supply chain management, including assisting suppliers worldwide in the development and implementation of sustainability programs; Energy conservation, water conservation, recycling and solid/hazardous waste minimization; Use of low VOC/low HAP coatings, certified lumber, low-emitting UF resins; Greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprint. As Hickory Chair worked its way through the checklist in 2009, employees implemented hundreds of improvements at the 99-year-old company. Some were large improvements; many were small. The company reduced its landfill waste by 178 tons in 2007 and another 125 tons in 2008. Those reductions continued in 2009. A wood grinder purchased in 2008 has improved use of wood scrap as boiler fuel and resulted in a $450,000 savings in fuel oil expenses during its first year of operation. “Hickory Chair has implemented these and many more effective environmental programs and practices while growing its profitability,” says Reardon, who adds that the company has only increased prices once in the past eight years, despite initiating these programs. “We believe people care about where and how furnishings for their homes are made. In addition, we feel that there is a growing interest in companies who are trying to reduce their environmental footprint.” This week Hickory Chair’s documentation of all its systems and measures was audited by the Sustainable by Design Board of Examiners. The company will be subject to an annual maintenance audit in order to maintain its SBD certification. “Today we celebrate the countless employee ideas, as well as their dedication to reducing our environmental footprint, while creating one-of-a-kind pieces that are hand-crafted to become tomorrow’s antiques.” In addition to Hickory Chair, C.R. Laine, Kincaid Furniture, American Drew and Lea Industries have all achieved Sustainable by Design certification. The American Home Furnishings Alliance, based in High Point, N.C., is the largest association of home furnishings companies in the world and represents more than 230 leading furniture manufacturers and distributors, plus about 160 suppliers to the furniture industry worldwide.

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