14484 Wed, 05/14/2008 - 3:11pm
MONTEVALLO, Ala.–It’s a lot easier being green than Kermit the Frog would have us believe.
So says Summer Classics, a top designer and manufacturer of outdoor furniture, which has launched the first stage of its companywide Green Initiative of environmentally friendly business practices.
The following case study of Summer Classics’ processes could provide other vendors and retailers with ideas of ways to reduce their carbon footprint while maintaining company morale.
Bew White, company founder and president, sought input from all areas of the company, in order to get buy-in and increase the sense of teamwork. This wasn’t difficult, as the company culture is “one that admires the outdoors and values nature,” he said.
The result of eight months of planning and infrastructure implementation, Summer Classics’ Green Initiative is spearheaded by this Green Team, which consists of eight associates from its customer service, quality control, finance, operations, public relations, product design and contract divisions.
“The continuing mission of our Green Team is to investigate and evaluate ways Summer Classics can become a better corporate steward of the environment,” White said.
Notably, one of the Green Team’s first objectives was to have certain profitable recycling initiatives pay for the more costly ones, in order to insure a complete program. The Green Team partnered with the University of Alabama to learn how to begin and maintain a holistic, companywide recycling program. After much research, a strategic partnership has been made with American Recycling of Alabama. An employee-recycling center has been set up in the distribution center and cushion plant in Montevallo, where materials are separated and sent off for recycling.
Summer Classics will collect cardboard, paper, plastics, resins, glass, aluminum cans, wrought and cast aluminum, batteries, cushion foam and fiber, and fluorescent bulbs for recycling. Meanwhile, any ink, toner, eyeglasses and cell phones will be collected for donation to charitable organizations. In addition to efforts in its manufacturing operations, the 13 Summer Classics retail stores are also recycling box cardboard and paper, which is made into Coronet towels and tissues by SCA Tissue. The company estimates that every ton of paper recycled equals approximately 22 trees that are saved.
Product and energy consumption were other areas targeted for improvement. Summer Classics, Summer Classics Contract and Summer Classics Retail Stores have converted all of the cardboard, paper and most office supplies to at least 30 percent post-consumer recycled material. Summer Classics has stopped purchasing any Styrofoam office supplies, which when burned give off chlorine gas. Programmable thermostats and skylights have been installed to lower energy use, and carpooling groups are encouraged in order to reduce employees’ energy consumption.
The manufacture of Summer Classics’ furniture itself provides numerous environmental benefits to the community. Summer Classics has spent the past four years investing in new technologies like its N-dura resin, NT-1 pre-wash and hybrid acrylic paint finishes to improve the lasting quality of its furniture. Also, the durability of Summer Classic’s furniture contributes to conservation efforts, White pointed out.
“Making sustainable or heirloom-quality furniture results in far less waste, as opposed to the price-based disposable furniture offered by big-box retailers,” he said.
“Summer Classics has been developing lines like the Resort Collections, which offer a longer-lasting and better-looking alternative to ‘sling’ or stretched-fabric products, which have a reputation for high breakage,” White said. “Our Ocean collections are developed for the harshest salt and UV environments like Arizona and Florida and are guaranteed not to have any noticeable fading or cracking for five years.”
Even prior to the Green Team’s recent efforts, Summer Classics worked with its partner international manufacturing plants to ensure they implemented environmentally friendly processes into their production. These efforts include recycling of pre-consumer aluminum; use of powder-coat paint systems that reclaim a large amount of powder with relatively low waste; installation of a new, cold-water cleaning system in the newest plant and reuse of resin wicker production scrap through melting down and feeding scrap back to resin manufacturers to reduce waste. The factories use reforested teak, with better respect for wildlife environment than plantation-grown teak, which is clear-cut. Old trees are cut and young trees left to grow, White pointed out.
Additional measures include the use of longer-lasting pre-consumer resins and paint developed exclusively for Summer Classics; burning of sawdust for energy, with scrap used for seat inserts, teak tiles and dowels; and filling cushions with resin-based polyester fiber. Waste is sent back to the factory, ground and reused. Fabric scrap is used for boxing, binding, straps and swatches.
Also, suppliers are using less petroleum-based packaging and more made from recyclable paper. Most new packaging uses no Styrofoam, White said.
Going forward, Summer Classics’ Green Team will meet quarterly to investigate ways Summer Classics can be a better steward of the environment. New topics on the agenda include recycling initiatives in the community and local universities, new internal operating logistics to lower energy use, and implementing new technologies like replacing current rest room paper towel dispensers with the ExtremeAir hand dryer,, which uses 80 percent less electricity than conventional dryers. — Nancy Meyer