My guest today is Susan Inglis, Executive Director of Sustainable Furnishings Council. She has over twenty-five years experience working with artisans and in sustainable manufacture in the home furnishings, fashion, and gift industries. We’ll be talking about the Sustainable Furnishings Council and how they support reducing toxics in furniture. Susan has worked in twenty-seven countries on five continents providing services ranging from identifying procedures for insuring the sustainability of a natural resource base to market-led product development and how to access new markets effectively. Susan’s direction of the SFC has gained national attention and brought the organization widespread recognition as the primary source for verified sustainable home furnishings. Susan has spoken on behalf of SFC throughout the U.S. and abroad and has inspired many companies to adopt a sustainable platform for the future. She is the proud recipient of the 2009 WithIt WOW Award for Education. www.sustainablefurnishings.org
TOXIC FREE TALK RADIO
The World of Sustainable Furnishings
Host: Debra Lynn Dadd
Guest: Susan Inglis
Date of Broadcast: July 16, 2014
DEBRA: Hi, I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. And this is Toxic Free Talk Radio where we talk about how to thrive in a toxic world and live toxic free.
You know I listened to this song that at the beginning of the show everyday, “You take what’s wrong, and try to make it right.”
And that’s what we do here on this show. We’re looking at the wrongness of toxic chemicals and consumer products in the world today, and we’re showing you how to make things right in your life so that you’re not exposed to toxic chemicals that could be making you sick.
And I put that word “could” in there, but for the most part, so many people who are having so many illnesses—and even things that you might be suffering from in your own life, in your own health—all these things have relationships to exposures to toxic chemicals.
And this is what we’re working on sorting out in this show, figure out what’s toxic, where it is, and what you can do instead to protect your health and the health of those that you love.
Today is Wednesday, July 16, 2014. And I’m here in Clearwater, Florida. And we have been having thunderstorms all morning—big thunderstorms, lots of rain. So, if this show gets cut off it’s because the power went out. I am crossing my fingers and thinking good thoughts that we’re going to have power for the next hour, and we’re going to have a wonderful show.
Our subject today is Sustainable Furnishings. My guest is Susan Inglis. She’s the Executive Director of the Sustainable Furnishings Council which is an organization of various companies that make various furnishings of different types—the whole furnishings industry, people who are making different things within the furnishing industry. They’ve come together because there are all working in some sustainable way.
And we’re going to talk about what is sustainable furnishing. But also how toxics fit into that, and what different people are doing. We’ve already had some people, some members of the Sustainable Furnishing—I’m not really sure how to get this right, Sustainable Furnishings Council. I wanted to say Association. It’s the Sustainable Furnishings Council.
We had a guest on the owner and founder of Prairie Rugs. We’ve had on Berry Chic from Naturepedic. And I’m sure we’ll have on some other guest from more organizations, more companies from the Sustainable Furnishings Council.
But today we’re going to talk to the Executive Director, Susan Inglis. Hi, Susan.
SUSAN INGLIS: Hello, Debra. Thank you so much for having me on your show.
DEBRA: You’re welcome! It’s my pleasure.
So, Susan has more than 25 years of experience working with artisans and sustainable manufacturer in the home furnishings, fashion, and gift industry.
So Susan, would you tell us how you got interested in these issues of sustainability and how the Sustainable Furnishings Council came to be?
SUSAN INGLIS: Yes, I will tell you the story of how we got to where we are.
I got interested in issues of sustainability just as a matter of my heritage. I was just born and evolved into it. And so, all my life, my family here in North Carolina, we have been interested in making things with our hands. We’ve also been interested in stewardship of our natural environment. So that’s what I was born into.
And when it came time for me to make a living, I started a business working with artisans. And it evolved over the years from a sweater business to a home textiles business to a brokering business.
And that’s what it was, the small business from the mountain was business brokering hand-made when I got word of a plan to have a meeting to talk about the possibility of starting an organization called Sustainable Furnishings Council.
We were brokering a lot into the home furnishings industries at that time, so I was interested to hear about this. I knew that it would be good for my business and right up my alley. So, I went to that meeting at the showroom of Jerry Cooklin, who is the founder of Sustainable Furnishings Council. He is Peruvian. He was manufacturing furniture in Peru and showing it and selling it out of his showroom in Half Point, North Carolina where there is a major furniture market twice a year.
Jerry called a meeting at his showroom to talk about forming this organization. I’ve heard about it and showed up.
And he told us how he had had an epiphany himself and spent the last several years greening up his operations which involved making very careful choices about the wood he was using, and the processes he was using to make his furniture.
He knew that even greening up his own operation was just having a small impact compared to what the whole industry could do, so he made an effort to bring the conversation to the industry.
I got involved then. And we incorporated some six months later and have been growing ever since.
I hasten to mention that my little business from the mountain working with artisans does still exist, but it’s quite limited because since September of 2006, I’ve spent more and more time working with Sustainable Furnishings Council.
DEBRA: Yes. Well, it was in 2006 that Sustainable Furnishings Council started?
SUSAN INGLIS: Yeah.
DEBRA: So, you’ve been around for eight years?
SUSAN INGLIS: That’s right. We were fully incorporated very early in 2007. And as you said, our members are companies that are involved in the home furnishings industry in various ways. That includes companies that supply materials used in making furnishings (that would be things like wood, fabric, and foam, et cetera) companies that make furnishings products (furniture, accessories, lighting, rug, et cetera), companies that sell these things in stores and interior design firms that specificy these things in projects or homes and offices.
So, that’s an overview of the kinds of companies that are involved in the home furnishings industry in our organization.
DEBRA: So, you really help people representing each different phase of the life cycle, so to speak, of furniture.
SUSAN INGLIS: Exactly.
DEBRA: …from the materials itself all the way to the people that the consumer would have contact with in order to purchase these.
SUSAN INGLIS: Exactly.
DEBRA: I think that this is so great. Because so many times—I say this over and over but, it bears repeating over and over—so many times the problem for consumers is that they go to a retailer, and the retailer doesn’t know anything about the materials or where this product has come from. All they’re doing is selling it.
And so, this is a really good opportunity for your members to meet each other, and get involved with the whole cycle of it, and to be able to then say to a consumer, “I know about this product.”
SUSAN INGLIS: Exactly, you’re exactly right. And we do find that the sales staff in stores are some of the most eager ones for the kind of information we, as an organization, can share with them. We do a lot of educating of industry players. And those retail sales staff, and those interior designers really want the information they need for talking to consumers.
DEBRA: How many members do you have?
SUSAN INGLIS: Right now, we’ve got between—let’s see, I should’ve listed that up Debra. We’ve got over 350 member companies right now. Our membership has hovered between 300 and 400 for the last several years. When we incorporated, there were 40 odd companies that threw their names into the hat to get started with us. And by the end of that first year, we had 100 companies involved. And now it’s hovering between 300 and 400.
DEBRA: What a great accomplishment! We’re going to take a break.
SUSAN INGLIS: Thank you.
DEBRA: We’re going to take a break. And when we come back, we’re going to find out more about the Sustainable Furnishings Council and its members. And how furnishings are sustainable or not.
I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. This is Toxic Free Talk Radio. And my guest today is Susan Inglis from the Sustainable Furnishings Council. And their website is SustainableFrusnishings.org. And we’ll be right back.
= COMMERCIAL BREAK =
DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. And my guest today is Susan Inglis from the Sustainable Furnishings Council. And that’s SustainableFurnishings.org.
Susan, how do companies qualify for being part of the council?
SUSAN INGLIS: We have a simple and important requirement for membership. A company must make their own public and verifiable commitment to sustainability. And they must make a commitment to transparency. And they must make a commitment to continuous improvement.
Now, the first thing you and your listeners will notice is that word “sustainability”. It’s an umbrella term. It’s a big word, and it’s covers a lot. There are many topics that fall under that sustainability umbrella. And our members’ commitment vary.
So, some members are more focused on matters of reducing toxic input. Some are focused more on matters of preserving natural resources, on energy use production, et cetera.
So, all of these things falls under the sustainability umbrella, and they are all important to us as an organization, and they’re all interrelated. But the point of focus of different member companies varies. And that’s fine with us as an organization.
Our premise is that the planet is in enough trouble. And our health is suffering sufficiently that every company has to start wherever they are and go forward.
Grab an oar and go. We want to support progress and implementing more and more best practices.
DEBRA: I totally agree with that. Because I think that as somebody who has been looking for and cataloging products for more than 30 years, I know that if I were to just take only the one—wait, let me just start over with that sentence.
There was a point I started out looking at toxics. And about 20 years ago, 1990-1987—I started in 1982 with toxics. In 1987 I decided, “Oh, my God! There’s an environment out there. And there’s a lot more that’s wrong with products than just toxics.”
SUSAN INGLIS: Exaclty.
DEBRA: And this was before Earth Day 1990. I had a little newsletter called the Earthwise Consumer that started to try to look at green issues before it was even called green.
And what I found was that—what ended happening was after many years, several years ago, I went back to just focusing on toxics because the issue of evaluating a product for sustainability is so multifaceted that if you were to try to find a product that is completely 100% sustainable in every facet, you would have a very short list.
SUSAN INGLIS: That’s right, that’s right.
DEBRA: And so, I decided for myself that what I was going to do was just focus on toxics because that’s where I started.
And if I could just find products that were not toxic, that that was a very important thing to do.
And in fact, nobody else is really doing that. There are a lot of organizations that are doing some pieces of that. But I’m the only one that I know of where I’m taking that idea of having something be not toxic and spreading it to all the consumer products.
SUSAN INGLIS: That’s really exciting, Debra.
DEBRA: Thank you. I’m very excited. Thank you. But I want to say that what you’re doing—I want to first of all, commend you for doing it and tell the listeners that I know how hard it is because I tried to do it for so many years. And that in the realm of sustainability, you really need to acknowledge that there are many facets, and everything from conserving resources, to being non-toxic, to the renewability, or non-renewability—
It’s so many things. What’s the energy is. What’s the water used? How much energy is used in the transportation of the material from where it’s going to (where it’s manufactured) to where it’s sold. It’s just a huge, huge thing.
And so, I know from looking at—I haven’t looked at every single business in your list yet because it’s hundreds. But I know from looking through this that some of your businesses qualify because they’ve reduced their energy use or some because of using organic or renewable materials and some because they’re less toxic.
And so, when people are looking through for furniture and all kinds of furnishings on your site, they need to figure out what is most important to them.
SUSAN INGLIS: That’s right.
DEBRA: And I know my listeners are going to be looking for the ones that are least toxic, but they’re going to find some that are energy efficient and might be toxic.
SUSAN INGLIS: That’s right.
DEBRA: And that’s just the nature of what this is.
SUSAN INGLIS: That’s right, that’s right. Now, all of our member companies fill what’s called our best practices agreement.
One of the first things we did as an organization was to sit down and suss out what our best practices for sustainability in our industry.
And this covers a whole range of things—things about energy use production, things about reducing toxic input, things about making careful choices in materials and processes, etc. So we have this list of best practices. And each of our member companies go through the list, and indicate which practices they are implementing now, which practices they are not implementing, and which practices are not pertinent to their businesses and which practices they’re in the process of implementing this year. And then, they update that every year.
So, when you or your listeners go to our website looking for furniture, you can use the finder to find manufacturers. And say you’re looking for dining room furniture, you’ll click on “dining room,” and up will come these little thumbnail pictures showing you the dining room furniture made by various members of our organization. And you’ll see the one that you like best, and you’ll click on that company, and you’ll see their best practices.
DEBRA: Okay, great.
SUSAN INGLIS: You’re going to see one little image of their furniture. But that’s enough to show you whether it’s your style.
And then, you go to their website and learn more.
DEBRA: We need to go to break. But during the break, I’m going to go to your website and do just that. You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio.
I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. And my guest today is Susan Inglis from the Sustainable Furnishings Council. And we’ll talk more about sustainable furnishings when we come back.
= COMMERCIAL BREAK =
DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. And my guest today is Susan Inglis. She’s the Executive Director of the Sustainable Furnishings Council. It’s a group of businesses that are moving in the direction of becoming more sustainable. They have over 300 members. And you can go there and find some furnishing type products that are less toxic and have other environmental benefits.
Susan, I was just playing around with your website during the break. I can’t seem to get back to the homepage—oh, wait, here we go. It’s not the fault of your website, it’s my browser. But anyway—
SUSAN INGLIS: It may be the storms you’re suffering.
DEBRA: It may be. It’s just I switched to a new browser. And there are things that I like about it, and things that I don’t like about it. But anyway…
So, I did see on your homepage—which I can’t seem to get back to—over on the right—I just want to tell everybody so that everybody knows where to go—over on the right there’s a box—I can’t look at it right now—but it’s says “Materials.”
SUSAN INGLIS: That’s right.
DEBRA: Yeah! And that’s where you need to click. There are four categories of materials. Tell us what they are.
SUSAN INGLIS: They are find materials, find manufactures, find stores, and find designers. It is on the right hand side of the homepage at SustainableFurnishings.org.
When you click on “Find Manufacturers,” for instance, you have a little box where you can find the kind of product that you want. And so you might click on “dining room.” And then you would see all the companies that make dining room furniture.
DEBRA: Right. Wow! I’m really having technical problems here because I’m not able to open any websites.
SUSAN INGLIS: Oh, dear.
DEBRA: It’s not just yours. Jeez!
SUSAN INGLIS: That’s frustrating. And we’re so dependent on those things.
DEBRA: I know!
SUSAN INGLIS: I’ll tell your listeners something else about what they’ll see there. They will see images of the Sustainable Furnishings Council members seal. All our members are qualified to use the members seal in their marketing and advertising. And if they are good enough, we recognize them as exemplary.
So, when you were looking at the list of companies—for instance the list of manufacturers that make dining room furniture—you’ll see that some of them have a silver members seal.
DEBRA: I noticed that.
SUSAN INGLIS: Yeah! So, that means the company has qualified by proving certain things to us. And those requirements that we have include requirement for showing that they are not overly polluting the indoor air. There are requirement for limit on VOC’s or volatile organic compounds.
And in furnishings, there are volatile organic compounds in finishes and in glues. I mean, we’re all familiar with that new product smell, right?
DEBRA: Right, right.
SUSAN INGLIS: And if you walk into a furniture store, you will smell that smell. And it will be the volatilizing of the chemicals used in finishes on fabrics and on wood surfaces or other surfaces.
So we require that these VOCs are limited. And of course, we ideally want there to be no VOCs. But as we were saying earlier in the hour, there are some cases where it’s nigh impossible to get rid of toxins in the world we’re in these days.
DEBRA: Sometimes, yes.
Now, I want to ask you, do you have a minimum requirement for—everyone has to meet a minimum requirement? Or is that one of the options for an aspect that they can choose?
SUSAN INGLIS: The minimum requirement is transparency. All companies must be willing to tell consumers exactly the chemicals that they are using, exactly what the chemical input are. They have to be willing to be transparent about it. But it is the transparency that is the minimum requirement.
Now, for being recognized as exemplary, there are more specific requirements that are specifically for limiting VOCs. And those are akin to what Green Guard Certification certifies.
So if you’re familiar—two things for your listeners. Look for Green Guard Certification. And if you’re familiar with that certification, you know it is a surface certification. So it’s only certifying what volatile organic compounds are coming off the surface of the item. And there’s various certification at various levels.
DEBRA: Right, right.
I think that’s an important point to know about the disclosure because that is also one of the problems that consumers run into. They contact a manufacturer or a retailer, they want to know what’s in the product. Either people don’t know or they refuse to tell them.
So, at the very least we know that if we contact one of your manufacturers, or source, or designers, that we’re going to be able to get the information so that we can make an informed choice.
SUSAN INGLIS: That’s right. And you’re right, that’s a very big deal.
DEBRA: It is. A very big deal.
SUSAN INGLIS: Most often, I think, retail sales staff, for instance, they have no idea. So that you ask the sales person in your local store and they say, “I don’t know.” It is true, they don’t know. And it’s going to be hard for them to push the question up the chain to find out the answers. There’s just way too many industry players, individuals who do not know.
DEBRA: But that’s part of the transformation that’s going on in all industries right now—just for people to be finding out and for people at the beginning of the chain to be disclosing and sending that information up the line, so that everybody knows all along what’s going on, how it’s being manufactured, what are the problems.
And some people don’t like to talk about what their problems are. (I’m going to say this quickly because we’re coming up on break.) But some people don’t like to say what are the problems. But it’s by saying, “This is the truth about what’s going on about our products” that then maybe they can get information. Maybe one of their customers would know how to fix the problem how to do it less toxically.
SUSAN INGLIS: That’s right.
DEBRA: If they would just be open, then all kinds of discussion can happen. And it’s keeping everything secret that keeps it from moving forward. So, bravo to you for doing that with this organization.
We need to go to break. This is Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. My guest today is Susan Inglis, Executive Director of the Sustainable Furnishings Council. And they are at SustainableFurnishings.org. We’ll be right back.
= COMMERCIAL BREAK =
DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. And my guest today is Susan Inglis, Executive Director of Sustainable Furnishings Council. And their website is SustainableFursnishing.org.
Susan, we’re in the last segment now. These hours go—it sounds such a long period of time, but it goes by so fast. Id’ like to make sure that you have an opportunity to say anything that you’d like to say even if I haven’t asked a question. So, is there anything we haven’t covered that you’d like to talk about?
SUSAN INGLIS: Yes. Well, I would like to be sure your listeners know that when their shopping for furnishings, just like when they’re shopping for other products, they can ask questions that insure that the products they buy, the way they spend their money, lines up with their values.
People are always going to be buying furniture based on whatever their taste is and whatever their budget is. So all of us are going to buy the kinds of products we like the look and feel off, at the price we can afford. But know that we can also get these things with an alignment with the values that we hold.
So, when we are very concerned about removing toxins in the entire supply chain, whether a toxic input makes it all the way to your living room or not, if you want to be sure that there are no toxins in the supply chain, just start asking questions.
That’s the main thing I want your listeners to know, just start asking questions.
DEBRA: Well, I totally agree with that since I’ve been asking questions for more than 30 years.
SUSAN INGLIS: Yes, yes.
DEBRA: But the problem—I’ll just say this again—the biggest problem is that when people ask questions—me and other consumers because I hear this over and over again—is that it’s pretty frustrating trying to get answers. And so, the more your organization can do to get more answers for the customers then that’s—I mean starting with disclosure is really important. And I do think that that’s important.
And for some of us—go ahead.
SUSAN INGLIS: I’ll just interrupt you, Debra, to say that we do have a very good resource section on our website. It is one of the sections that we are continuously improving so it’s going to be easier and easier to use. But it’s there now with lots of good resources. So I encourage consumers, your listeners, to make use of that resource section.
I also want to encourage your listeners to be in touch with their congressmen and let them know that they are concerned about toxins in their consumer products and things that come in to their homes because we do not have, at this time, good legislation for insuring a reduction of toxic chemical input.
DEBRA: That’s exactly right. And many of my guests bring this up. And I am totally in support of getting better legislation.
It’s something that we definitely need.
I started doing the work that I’m doing so many years ago because, at the time, there was no information about toxics in consumer products. In fact, I realized the other day that I actually wrote the very first book on toxic chemicals in consumer products.
SUSAN INGLIS: Good for you!
DEBRA: It was published back in 1984. I actually self-published the book in 1982. But the first published book on the subject was in 1984, and I wrote it.
SUSAN INGLIS: Good for you, Debra.
DEBRA: Thank you, thank you.
SUSAN INGLIS: That is so important. Good for you.
DEBRA: And so, there was just no information at all.
And so the point here is that we live in a world where it’s all up to the consumer right now to be evaluating all these products, and all these toxic chemicals. And it’s because we live in a world where consumer products are not safe, for the most part, and there are no laws that say they have to be safe for health or they shouldn’t be on the market.
And people think that the government is protecting us. They are not.
SUSAN INGLIS: Not in that way, you are right.
DEBRA: And I would love to be out of a job. I would love for every manufacturer to only make safe products, to understand how to do that, to decide that they’re going to, so that we could walk into any store, go to any website, and any product would be safe for health. That’s my goal. That’s my goal.
SUSAN INGLIS: It would be great. May we get there quickly!
I too would like be out of a job because that would mean that all the companies in the home furnishings industry are including best practices for sustainability in their regular quality checks. It would just be a matter of quality that they are being responsible about the materials they choose, about energy use reduction, about toxic input reduction, et cetera.
DEBRA: Right, right. So, tell us about—I don’t want you to pick and choose and say, “This is my favorite member,” but give us some examples—
SUSAN INGLIS: Hard to do!
DEBRA: I know! I mean I can’t do that with my list either. Just give us some examples of—because we have just a few minutes left. So give us some examples.
SUSAN INGLIS: Well, I will talk about our exemplary members because companies that have qualified to be recognized at the exemplary level are really achieving remarkable things. And we do have, among our exemplary members, stores as well as manufacturers.
So, one of those stores is Room & Board. And Room & Board does have stores across the country (probably in your entire listening area). And Room & Board emphasizes US manufactures. In doing that, they are reducing the amount of transport required for getting your new furniture to your house.
And a couple of other things about emphasizing US manufacturers. In this country, like actually in most countries, we have pretty good environmental protection laws. Most countries do have good environmental protection laws. But here in the US, we also have good enforcement of those laws, good compliance with the regulation.
So when a product is made here in the US, you can be pretty sure that it is made without exploiting people, without polluting the environment where it’s made, and without exploiting the scarce resources.
Room & Board is a good example of a company that earned that exemplary recognition by addressing the triple bottomline effectively.
And I do want to mention that our requirements for recognizing companies as exemplary do cover the triple bottomline—that is what’s good for the environment, what’s good for the communities of people and other living forms that are part of the ecosystems on our planet, and what’s good for the economy, what makes these communities thrive.
So, that is the triple bottom line. And we are concerned about sustainability in that holistic way. The companies that are recognized as exemplary have demonstrated a concern for this triple bottom line in their operations, in their product choices, and in their outreach. So, when you see the Sustainable Furnishings Council members seal being used, then you can know that there is real substance behind the use of that seal.
DEBRA: Good, good. What’s another exemplary company?
SUSAN INGLIS: Another one is Naturepedic. I know that Berry Chic of Naturepedic has been on your show before.
SUSAN INGLIS: Naturepedic is a mattress company. We have several mattress companies that are members. And all of them have very healthy toxin-free mattresses. But I’m going to mention Naturepedic now because they are an exemplary member, and they are a company that was started basically in order to produce the better mattress, to produce a mattress that is free of toxins and serves the customers need for comfort and economy as well.
And those mattresses are made here in the US and are made of responsible materials through and through.
DEBRA: Yes, they are.
SUSAN INGLIS: The companies I’ve mentioned, like others, are also very involved in their communities. They are involved in various ways in their communities, not just selling their products. And that’s an important part too.
DEBRA: It is! So, we’ve come to the end of our time. Thank you so much for being with me, Susan.
Again, Susan Inglis is the Executive Director of Sustainable Furnishings Council. Their website is SustainableFurnishings.org. And you can go there and find different members. And see if they meet your needs. This is Toxic Free Talk Radio.
SUSAN INGLIS: Thank you, Debra.
DEBRA: You’re welcome. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. Be well.