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SFC highlights innovations in sustainability

Mitchell Gold discussedMitchell Gold discussed initiatives in sustainability taken by his company, Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams.
Topics ranging from emotional sustainability to innovations and success stories were shared at the Sustainable Furnishings Council's Innovations in Sustainable Furnishings forum in North Carolina last month.
     A number of industry luminaries, including Mitchell Gold of Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, Phillips Collection's Jason Phillips, Hilary Pope of Carolina Mattress Guild, and Mark Hord of E.J. Victor spoke on a number of sustainability topics.
     Keynote speaker Jonathan Chapman spoke on the topic of emotional sustainability, or the practice of designing product that will remain meaningful, as well as functional, for years.
     "We tend to think of durability in physical terms; how long does stuff last. Will it break, will it fracture, those sorts of things," Chapman said. "There's another side of the debate, people: Why do we keep some things and not other things? The ground is full of things that still work. Why do we throw things away that still work? How can we design products that people want to hold onto?"
     Chapman called discarded items that are still functional "orphaned objects." He said the reason objects become orphaned revolves around the reflection of their owners over time.
     "The self, our concept of self and our identity and the things we aspire to, is consistently evolving. The stuff we surround ourselves with, they stay pretty frozen in time. They don't evolve much," Chapman said. "It's only a matter of time before it becomes a stale reminder of who I thought I used to be. At that moment, we want to separate from that theme to our new, updated values. You can stick that label on every human-product divorce."
     Chapman cited examples of product that evolves, including a chair that can be customized to fit every stage of life, from infant to adult.
     As part of his presentation, Gold showed two photos of the Los Angeles skyline: one from years ago when the city was smoggy; the other with a more current viewpoint with less smog due to a conscientious effort by Angelinos.
     "It doesn't take a lot of people to make change. If you have a loud, smart, articulate group in that 50%, we can make progress," Gold told the gathering.
     Gold detailed a number of initiatives his company had undertaken over the years, including using water-based foam, turning off the lights in the company at lunchtime and ordering furniture frames based on need.
     "Our wood frames, I used to go crazy over this; we would discontinue a style and have frames left. The frames were all constructed, and we had to take them to a landfill, and we had to pay to take them there," Gold said. "We came up with a way to work with our frame suppliers.
     Instead of having to buy 50 built frames in the past, we can call up and say we need six of this, 18 of that, etc. and the following week we have it in the factory. We were able to make it less expensive."
     Robin Wilson, CEO of Robin Wilson Home, spoke about how companies that implement sustainable practices can brand themselves.
    "Sustainability is defined in many ways. The key for business is does your brand guide the consumer in your direction or in a direction because of the story," Wilson said. "Are the words you're using giving people a true understanding of what they need to know? You need to give people bragging points if they're buying from you."
     In the afternoon, a panel discussion featuring Hord, Pope and Phillips went over sustainable practices in their companies.
     Hord showed off a broken down chair in pieces to demonstrate where and how sustainable materials are used and talked about how E.J. Victor uses sustainable plantation mahogany, European beech and teak lumber and wood from sustainable Appalachian forests.
     Pope said CMG treats its materials like ingredients and uses organic cotton, bamboo and yarn made of recycled plastic bottles.
     "We're getting greener because our customers are seeking out greener products," she said. "We haven't changed our price points or done anything drastically different. Consumers and retailers are responding."
     Phillips noted that a number of the Phillips Collection's items are repurposed, including rims from oil barrels and wood that wouldn't provide good yield for the lumber industry.
    "It feels good to do the right thing. It's not about profit," he said. "You can make the green choice; it's nominally more expensive. You don't have to communicate it; it's your price and it's a beautiful product."
     For more on this sustainability forum, see the High Point Market daily editions of Home Accents Today.

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