Six ‘green’ HFA members earn high scores from Sustainable Furnishings Council

Sarah Paxton and Andy Thornton are co-owners of LaDiff in Richmond, Va.

The difference at LaDiff

Andy Thornton, founder 39 years ago and co-owner of LaDiff in Richmond, Va., opened a lamp that arrived recently and recycled all the packaging, throwing just one thing into the trash – a twist tie.

“We’re not into disposability,” he said. “There’s only so much that Mother Earth can take. It’s becoming so much worse, plastic being the biggest culprit. We’re going to choke the world with the stuff we dispose of.”

La Diff is one of six Home Furnishings Association members among 21 companies to earn the top ranking on the 2019 Wood Furniture Scorecard released by the Sustainable Furnishings Council and National Wildlife Federation Aug. 15. Fellow HFA members sharing the highest tier were City Furniture of Tamarac, Fla.; Circle Furniture of Acton, Mass.; RC Willey of Salt Lake City, Utah; Room & Board of Golden City, Minn.; and Sklar Furnishings of Boca Raton, Fla.

Points were awarded to furniture companies based on their responsible wood sourcing practices and other actions to promote sustainability.

Recycling isn’t just a business priority for Thornton and his wife, LaDiff president and co-owner Sarah Paxton. It’s how they live. Over the years, they’ve reclaimed wood from their own home – butternut, walnut, oak, yellow pine – and used it in their store. “We recycled a ton of it,” Thornton said. The store itself occupies a historic building, which they carefully restored, using lumber from fallen trees on their property, as well as old barns and factories that a friend takes down.

“It’s an inherent way of looking at life,” he said, adding: “I really like the process of rethinking and recycling.”

That doesn’t mean it’s easy.

“It’s a challenge for a store selling mostly new furniture,” Thornton said. Using suppliers who follow responsible sourcing practices, and offering quality products that will last for generations, minimizes waste over the long term.

Customers seem to approve. LaDiff “was voted Best Local Furniture Store by the readers of Style Weekly seven times over eight years and Best Richmond Furniture Store by readers of R·Home Magazine every year 2000-2019,” according to the Sustainable Furnishings Council.

At Circle Furniture, green is the only way

For Peggy Burns, running a green business isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the only thing.

“We care about the planet and saving it for future generations,” she said.

Burns is “Queen Bee” of Circle Furniture, which is based in Acton, Mass., and has five other stores in the state. Her response to the Sustainable Furnishings Council score?

“We’re thrilled.  It’s something we’ve worked at for a long time.”

For example, Circle Furniture years ago installed solar panels on the roof of its warehouse in Acton to provide electricity for the facility.

Circle sells wood furniture made by New England manufacturers from trees harvested in the northeastern U.S., Burns said. The forests are responsibly managed, so they truly are a renewable resource, Burns added. She and others from her family-owned business, including her husband, Richard Tubman, and his brother, Harold Tubman, regularly visit factories, such as Copeland Furniture’s in Vermont, to ensure quality and strengthen relationships.

“Nothing against China or overseas, but that’s not going to happen for us,” Burns said.

Circle was a founding member of the Sustainable Furnishings Council in 2006 but was promoting sustainability long before then, Burns said. Many of the company’s green practices, such as generating solar power, end up saving money, but most Circle customers don’t mind paying more for the highest quality wood products that will last for generations, she added.

 ‘The greenest furniture company’

City Furniture trucks fuel up on compressed natural gas

City Furniture is another founding member of the SFC, which says on its scorecard that City “has good reason to call itself the greenest furniture company in the United States.” Those reasons include 240,000 square feet of LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design)-certified showroom space, extensive use of LED (light-emitting diode) interior and exterior lighting, a trucking fleet that runs almost entirely on compressed natural gas, its own recycling center and a new collection of Forest Stewardship Council-certified reclaimed wood furniture.

RC Willey cares about raw materials

RC Willey says it prefers to source FSC-certified wood furniture as it becomes available. The company also is committed to avoiding wood from unacceptable sources, including:

  • Illegally harvested or traded timber.
  • Timber harvested in violation of traditional or civil rights.
  • Timber harvested from areas where 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.

‘Terrific supply chain stewardship’

Room & Board corporate employees planted trees near Cold Spring, Minn., for The Nature Conservancy last spring

Room & Board sums up its commitment to sustainability in a minute-long YouTube video posted a few months ago. But there’s so much more to say.

“Room & Board works closely with everyone along its supply chain to mitigate costs and create better value,” the Sustainable Furnishings Council says. “Having deep relationships throughout the supply chain makes a big difference. Employees and sales staff are also very knowledgeable and capable of tracing the source of a given piece of furniture. That’s terrific supply chain stewardship and wonderful customer service.

“Urban wood and salvaged sources are an up-and-coming area that is largely untapped and a great way to sequester carbon. Room & Board partners with the U.S. Department of Agriculture U.S. Forest Service in its urban woods work. Eager to spread the knowledge it gained on reclaiming and reusing urban salvage, Room & Board also partners with the Forest Service in offering the Urban Wood Academy, a workshop on building regional wood economies that support the U.S. wood industry.”

Sustainable practices are good for business

Sklar Furnishings founders, Pat and Rick Howard

Sklar Furnishings, founded by Pat and Rick Howard in 2002, was the Home Furnishings Association’s 2018 Retailer of the Year for businesses with less than $10 million in sales. It stands out by putting sustainability at the very heart of its principles.

“In a time where consumers are becoming savvy and more socially aware about the consequences of their purchasing habits, the responsibility lies with businesses like ours to provide ethical products,” Sklar declared in a June blog post on its website. It also wrote:

“Sklar continually seek ways to reduce energy consumption on our showroom floor. We have replaced all light bulbs with LED lighting, while also ensuring all lights and technical equipment are turned off at the end of each day. Recycling bins have been added to our showroom and offices, putting a further emphasis on customers and staff to recycle paper and plastic.

“Our business manages primary materials and services in a more sustainable direction. Efforts are now in place to affiliate with furniture vendors and companies who manufacture furniture in a sustainable way. When acquiring new vendors, we always investigate on how the furniture is made and what materials it contains, while also abiding by SFC’s (Sustainable Furnishings Council) guidelines on the ‘What’s it made of?’ initiative. 

“Most recently, we have started to educate and promote the promise of sustainability with our new Green Committee. This group was assembled to generate new ideas and ways to conserve energy and resources.

“Sklar provide all kinds of info for staff regarding places to donate personal items. As well as being partners with Habitat, we also donate products we can’t sell in the showroom and people reuse them. Nothing goes to waste!”

Beyond that, Sklar may have expressed the views of all six HFA members honored by the Sustainable Furnishings Council with this:

“In essence, we believe the sustainable practices channeled throughout our business operations will result in a greater chance of long-term success. Sklar will be less dependent on natural resources and have more ways to deal with rising costs due to climate change. Becoming an industry leader in sustainability may also encourage similar businesses and vendors to follow suit, all leading to a prosperous future for generations to come.” 

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