The American Home Furnishings Alliance presented Zenda Leather with the 2010 Sage Award for environmental excellence Dec. 1 during the All-Industry Sustainability Summit in Asheville, N.C. Flexsteel Industries and TLS by Design also were recognized as finalists.
AHFA and Cargill's BiOH polyols business unit launched the Sage Awards to seek out and recognize environmental innovators from whom others in the industry can learn. The competition is open to retail, manufacturing and supplier companies in both the furniture and bedding industries.
All of Zenda's manufacturing facilities hold internationally recognized ISO 14001 environmental management certifications, said Juan Diego Casaretto, managing director. This certification prescribes controls for all activities that have an impact on the environment, including the use of natural resources, handling and treatment of waste and energy consumption.
Zenda's Uruguay facility has the largest waste treatment plant of its kind in Latin America, according to the company. In 2000, the company invested over a half million dollars to expand the plant and double its capacity. It now treats an estimated 2 million liters of water per day. Biological sludge from the plant is used as organic fertilizer for local farmland. An extension to the finishing plant at the same location is used for collecting rainwater that is used in processing the leather hides. The rainwater accounts for 7 percent of the plant's total water consumption.
Zenda Leather was founded in 1890 in Uruguay. Today the company operates 13 plants and commercial offices in Argentina, Mexico, Germany, South Africa and Uruguay. A 50,000-square-foot U.S. distribution center is located in Hickory, N.C.
Several Sage Award judges acknowledged that the leather industry is generally not considered an "environmentally conscious" industry and described Zenda as an "industry transformer."
The 10 Sage Award judges represented furniture and bedding industry leaders, environmental journalists, sustainability experts and the furniture industry business press. AHFA and Cargill do not participate in the judging.
In addition to a plaque, the Sage winner receives $2,500 from Cargill's BiOH business unit to be donated to the charitable organization of its choice.
Flexsteel's environmental journey began in January 2008 when it implemented EFEC, an environmental management program developed for the residential furniture industry by AHFA. Flexsteel was the first company to implement EFEC at multiple facilities in multiple states simultaneously. In addition to its Dubuque, Iowa, plant and headquarters building, it launched EFEC at plants, warehouses and office buildings in California, Georgia, Kentucky, Indiana and Arkansas – seven facilities in all.
As a result of the new practices and policies established during implementation of EFEC, Flexsteel reduced its waste to landfill from 554 tons per quarter in March of 2009 to 114 tons per quarter as of June. Energy consumption has declined every quarter since March 2009. Water consumption and natural gas have also been reduced and the company has increased its use of recycled materials in operations and product development. Several of the Sage Award judges gave the company high marks for the detail with which it is tracking its environmental improvements.
In business only five years, TLS by Design is the youngest and smallest company to be named a finalist in the three years of the Sage Award competition. Located in a small community surrounded by a depressed rural area, TLS is a family-run business striving to follow an environmentally responsible path.
Seventy percent of the company's products are produced and sourced within a 75-mile radius of Portland, Ind., where it's based. When the company's upholstery source went out of business, TLS hired some of the displaced factory workers and moved them into a nearby pole barn. They outgrew the pole barn in six months, but, instead of building a new facility, they purchased a local factory that had housed brush and broom production for most of the last century.
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