Peggy Burns and Andrew Tepperman make it as plain as they can. They deeply care, even passionately, about sustainability in the home furnishings industry.
Customers can see that in videos posted on their websites.
“We only work with partners who really align with our mission of sustainability,” says Burns, co-owner of Acton, Mass.-based Circle Furniture. “We visit the factories, we get to know the people who are working there. We watch how they make their furniture, how they adhere to the sustainability codes, how they repurpose, reuse.”
“At Tepperman’s, we’re trying to create a sustainable legacy for the future,” says Tepperman, president of the Windsor, Ont., Canada-based chain of furniture stores. “Are we going to move the needle with global warming? Probably not, but I think one of our big goals is to be a leader with sustainability.”
They are earning recognition as leaders. When the Sustainable Furnishings Council released its annual Wood Furniture Scorecard during the High Point Market, Circle Furniture was listed among 13 retailers in the “highest score” category. Circle raised its ranking by several positions from 2019.
Seven HFA members post high scores
Tepperman’s, taking part for the first time, was in a second group of 13 businesses with “high scores.” Also in that tier were fellow Home Furnishings Association members City Furniture, LaDiff, RC Willey, HOM Furniture and Sklar Furnishings.
SFC scored more than 90 participating retailers on their wood sourcing policies, practices and performance, as well as other factors. All the HFA members earning strong rankings have adopted a code of responsibility that not only includes product sourcing but recycling, energy efficiency and environmental stewardship.
Some of their initiatives are highly creative. For example, Tepperman’s this summer planted a 2,750-square-foot pollinator garden at its London, Ont., location. It has five other Ontario stores.
Suppliers must meet standards for sustainability
Circle Furniture, with six stores and an outlet in Massachusetts, sources most of its wood furniture from New England manufacturers, which helps it support the local and regional economies. The focus is on craftsmanship and quality.
“We’re not interested in selling cheap, disposable furniture,” Burns says. “We’re interested in the best quality at the best price that’s going to last in your home.”
Increasingly over time, sustainability matters to customers, according to Burns. They ask questions, and they also learn about the subject on their own. “Customers are doing a lot more research before they come to your store,” she says.
Staying true to its values wins many customers but can also compel Circle to make sacrifices, Burns acknowledges. That’s been especially true this year, when producers have found it difficult to meet demand. Circle could use more suppliers, Burns says, “but we have to say no to some” if they don’t meet Circle’s criteria for sustainability.
The Massachusetts retailer also shows a strong preference for regional manufacturers, even over West Coast suppliers that do measure up to its standards. Doing so saves fuel and transportation costs, holding down prices.
Sustainability statements express commitments
Circle and Tepperman’s post similar statements expressing their commitment to avoiding wood products from unacceptable sources, including:
- Illegally harvested timber.
- Timber harvested in violation of traditional or civil rights.
- Timber harvested from areas in which high conservation values are threatened by poor forest management.
- Timber harvested from areas being converted from forests to plantations or non-forest use.
- Timber from forests in which genetically modified trees are planted.
Circle carries upholstered furniture featuring cushions and pillows made from recycled materials and draws energy for its warehouse, offices and some showrooms from solar panels.
Tepperman’s boasts of at least as many initiatives. They include thermoplastic polyolefin (TPO) membrane roofing systems that keep buildings cooler in summer by reflecting heat, complimentary electric recharging stations for customers, aggressive recycling programs and, whenever possible, offering products made from reclaimed or recycled materials. As Minnesota-based HOM Furniture has done at many of its facilities, Tepperman’s has begun retrofitting rooftop HVAC controls with technology that can help cut energy bills by 25 percent to 50 percent – even during those long, cold winters.
Local recognition for corporate responsibility
The London, Ont., Chamber of Commerce took note of these achievements when it recently gave Tepperman’s its Corporate Social Responsibility Award. Andrew Tepperman thinks the pollinator garden actually was the “tipping point” that won the award. And if it blooms with wildflowers and bees next spring, he says there’s a larger plot next to the Windsor headquarters that will become the next pollinator garden.
He credits the idea to one of the master’s of environmentalism students Tepperman’s brought in and told to “go to it. Anything’s on the table. Tell me how to improve the world,” Andrew Tepperman recounts. Staff members are empowered in the same way and come up with many of the company’s green initiatives. He’s also picked up ideas from fellow HFA member City Furniture in Florida – another SFC high scorer.
While green policies can be good for business – “a certain demographic of consumer really likes this stuff,” Tepperman says – he insists that’s not the main motivation. It really is about responsibility. Take recycling. Tepperman suspected that some of the plastics they were sending for recycling were going into landfills instead, so “we put boots on the ground to see, ‘What are you doing with our stuff?'” The answer was what he feared, so a new recycler had to be found. “It kills us when plastic goes into the landfill,” he says.
Old mattresses go to a recycler in Chicago, and used furniture and appliances go to Habitat for Humanity for re-use or recycling. Whether it’s packaging, water, heat, metal, fuel or anything else, Tepperman’s does everything it can to reduce waste.
Other members describe green initiatives
Other SFC high scorers express their commitment to sustainability on their websites as well:
City Furniture Green Page
RC Willey Go Green
Sklar Furnishings Sustainability
HOM Furniture Green Initiatives
HOM Furniture works directly with numerous furniture suppliers to reduce overall wood waste while crafting more sustainable products, according to Kyle Johansen, its director of merchandising.
“We look to realize this through the active increase of reclaimed wood, recycled wood and wood alternatives while working to eliminate the use of unacceptable sources and our reliance on virgin woods,” Johansen added. “Sustainability is an incredibly important movement in the world, and at HOM Furniture we wanted to show our commitment by joining the Sustainable Furnishings Council.”
Johansen said that HOM’s membership allows the company to work and network with other like-minded organizations in the furniture industry to improve products, reduce the company’s carbon footprint “and grow the awareness of this movement to our customers.”
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