As home furnishings companies emerge from recession-minded thinking, they are refining and sometimes redefining their operating, merchandising and marketing strategies to deliver the financial results they need to survive, according to Jackie Hirschhaut, president of American Home Furnishings Alliance (AHFA). To remain competitive, many are taking into account a fourth type of corporate strategy: sustainability.
Weaving Sustainability into the Corporate Fabric: Competing in the Global Marketplace is the theme for the 2010 All-Industry Sustainability Summit slated December 1-2 in Asheville, N.C.
The Summit will bring together a cross section of decision-makers and thought-leaders from manufacturing, retail and supplier companies for the industry's premier sustainability program. For the third year, the Summit is sponsored by AHFA in partnership with Cargill's BiOH® polyols business unit. Companies do not need to be AHFA members to attend.
"The government, the public and corporate stakeholders are beginning to demand more environmental information from companies," explains Bill Perdue, AHFA vice president of environment, health, safety and standards. "Gathering meaningful data and presenting it in a sensible, comprehensible way is a challenge. The Summit will spotlight companies with successful sustainability policies and practices and provide a roadmap for others to follow."
Kicking off the two-day Summit is Ernesta Ballard, senior vice president of corporate affairs for Weyerhaeuser, an organization that creates sustainable solutions for companies. Ballard will discuss her company's internal and external sustainability reporting and describe how financial, social and environmental elements are woven into the company's annual sustainability report.
She is followed on the agenda by Suzanne Shelton of The Shelton Group, a Knoxville, Tenn.-based agency that specializes in motivating mainstream consumers to make sustainable choices. Custom research commissioned by AHFA and conducted by The Shelton Group revealed that consumers understand and value some environmental attributes over others when it comes to home furnishings purchases. Shelton will explain how that research can translate into messages that resonate with today's consumers.
The December 1 agenda also will include an update on marketing eco-friendly home furnishings, including an overview of the Federal Trade Commission's newly released "Green Guides." The guides include a set of rules covering what claims a company can and can't make and what kind of substantiation and declaimers are required for specific types of marketing messages. The FTC rules apply to both retail and manufacturing marketing messages.
Following a panel discussion featuring several leading suppliers, Summit attendees will welcome special guest Jack Cecil to the podium. Cecil, president of Biltmore Farms Inc., is the grandson of George Vanderbilt, builder of the Biltmore Estate.
Biltmore Farms Inc. is a developer of residential, office, hotel and retail properties, including the 42-acre Biltmore Park Town Square, a development that blends recreation destinations with homes and premier office space.
"It's all about creating a community, communities like we knew as children, where families can work, shop and recreate without leaving their neighborhood," explains Cecil, who conceived the development. A short walk within Biltmore Park Town Square connects visitors to shops, restaurants, cafes and gathering spots, health clubs and a range of businesses and employers. The development was chosen by the U.S. Green Building Council to participate in the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Neighborhood Development pilot program. The purpose of LEED-ND is to study how developments can reduce sprawl, encourage healthy living, protect the environment and reduce dependence on automobiles.
The Summit's opening day will conclude with a reception honoring finalists in the third annual Sage Award competition, a program co-sponsored by AHFA and Cargill's BiOH polyols. The award recognizes excellence in the home furnishings and bedding industries through sustainable business practices, social responsibility and profitable growth. Two finalists and the 2010 Sage Award winner will be announced at the reception.
Day two of the Summit opens with a presentation on "Social Accountability 101." The social dimension of environmental performance is an outgrowth of global manufacturing and the impact companies have on the social systems within which they operate. Like other areas of sustainability reporting, social accountability is a new concept for many home furnishings companies. Oren Jaffe, director of social responsibility for BlueMap Inc., will outline the elements in a solid social responsibility policy and explain the concept of a social accountability audit.
Jaffe is followed by Paul Hepperla, vice president of sustainability at Verisae, which recently created a "Carbon Calculator" customized for the home furnishings industry. The online tool helps companies measure their carbon footprint and track improvements. Hepperla will explain how to use the calculator and highlight its significance.
Thursday's program also will spotlight successful sustainability programs and practices within leading home furnishings companies, including La-Z-Boy Inc., Century and Bassett. The Summit concludes with an introduction to a new software platform designed to help furniture companies track key environmental measures.
Registration for the two-day meeting is $325 for AHFA members and $500 for non-members and can be completed online at www.ahfa.us. Simply click on EVENTS, then scroll down to 2010 Sustainability Summit.