Furniture Brands International Builds a Sustainable Culture
Nancy Powell Radlauer, PowellReviews@aol.com
Changing a corporate culture is tough! And David Stout, director of environmental compliance for Furniture Brands International, will attest to it. He was charged with helping 8,000 employees at Furniture Brands International (FBI) change the way they thought about environmental responsibility. Stout was among several American Home Furnishings Alliance members at AHFA’s 2012 Sustainability Summit who discussed company efforts to create a culture change.
In 2009, FBI began the companywide efforts with one of its brand that already had established a sustainable culture, Hickory Chair. FBI adopted the manufacture’s EDGE program, Employees Dedicated to Growth and Excellence, which is designed to improve production and competitiveness and relies on in part on employee suggestions. Furniture Brands also centralized its environmental management under one department, responsible for corporate environmental reporting, environmental training programs and compliance audits.
Stout met with AHFA officials in 2010 as the company was developing an environmental strategy. Furniture Brands now has more than 20 facilities that are working with the AHFA’s EFEC, or Enhancing Furniture’s Environmental Culture, program to decrease waste and energy usage.
There challenges are great but the work is paying off. The company’s Thomasville Furniture plant in Lenoir, N.C., for example, will reduce its electric bill this year by $250,000 from the 2010 level. “What was my biggest challenge very soon became my biggest success story. They were the first Furniture Brands location other than Hickory Chair to get their EFEC registration,” Stout stated.
Stout recalled that at an early meeting to reduce waste in Lenoir, he was approached by an agitated Hickory Chair executive. “He said: ‘Today is the first time in five years I’ve taken a plastic drink bottle and thrown it in a regular trash can, because you don’t have recycling containers here.’ That bothered him. Stout thought “You’ve got a challenge ahead of you because those dudes down at Hickory Chair, they think different than the rest of us. Their culture had changed.”
Stout created an EFEC manual for the FBI companies, then let the companies figure out on their own how reduce waste. The program was successful because it empowered plant employees, he said. And the corporate environmental culture started to change!
Conservative estimates are that FBI facilities have decreased landfill waste by half, water usage by 25% and electrical use by 10%. And the plants are cleaner. “It’s amazing how contagious a sustainable program can be when you get the people empowered!”