U.S. Department of Commerce hosts day with carpet industry; sustainability, exporting, future among topics

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DALTON—With a less than impressive economy this year, the Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration embarked on a series of tours across the country, aimed at bringing government and industry together to promote local business.

The event here, themed SMARTer Textiles: Enhancing U.S. Competitiveness of the Carpet Industry by Addressing Sustainability Challenges in Local Supply Chains, was a gathering of approximately 80 carpet mill executives, policy makers, politicians and members of the press at Shaw Industries’ headquarters with a goal of educating investors as to how they are implementing and developing sustainable business models.

As part of President Obama’s initiative aimed at doubling exports, the Sustainable Manufacturing program addresses issues like market access and trade policy negotiations to ensure America’s competitive- ness within the textile industry, said Kim Glass, deputy assistant secretary for textiles and apparel.

“In 2007, the commerce department launched the sustainable manufacturing initiative,” said Ronald Lorentzen, acting assistant secretary for import administration. “The commerce department recognizes sustainability as a key issue of competitiveness and hopes to achieve that through four main projects:

  • Coordinating federal efforts as an interagency group;
  • Keeping a sustainable clearing house online;
  • Operating sustainable manufacturing tours to enhance awareness of sustainable manufacturing across the country, enabling industry offices within commerce to work directly with stake holders, and,
  • Developing a metrics program. We need a common measurement language for sustainable development.”

He added the Dalton event was the first SMARTer tour centered around a specific industry, in addition to the local business profile.

Outlining the efforts of local businesses were several presentations by Beaulieu, Mohawk, Shaw and the Carpet America Recovery Act (CARE), and a panel discussion featuring all of the morning’s presenters, moderated by the Carpet & Rug Institute’s (CRI) president, Werner Braun.

Editor’s note: The rest of this story focuses on the various individual presentations that took place at the event. Additional coverage on the panel session will appear in the next issue.


Larry Cook, director of manufacturing outlined a triple bottom line for the mill’s implementation of sustainable practices at an accelerated pace of change: economic, environmental and social equity.

“We are looking at the business value,” he said. “If it is not good for consumers, it is not good for us, so we aren’t making those products right now.”

Beaulieu is currently in a transitional state to achieve greater efficiency. Cook described it as a long, slow process in which everyone at the company is involved. “We have everyone on the floor involved—it is not just the job of the [company’s] vice president of sustainability.” His transparent approach with audience members about Beaulieu’s later arrival at promoting the greening of carpet mirrored what Beaulieu is trying to achieve. “We are moving for transparency by having all products third-party certified, with our claims very clear, from NSF-140 to [McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry] (MDBC) Cradle to Cradle (C2C) certification. [As an exclusively soft surface provider], we can’t be everything to everybody but we have a place and can do the best we can with that.”


Jenny Cross, the mill’s global sustainability director, said its sustainable business model focuses on processes and products. “Maximizing reuse and recycle of waste as well as minimizing what goes to landfills, and paying attention to the content which we use in our products puts us in a superior cost bracket with superior product.”

Part of Mohawk’s focus on reduction and a pledge as one of the Department of Energy’s Save Energy Now leaders is a commitment to reducing landfill and waste intensity by 25% by the year 2020.

She also boasted the company’s environmental position with acknowledgements such as the 2008 GSA Evergreen award, being one of Newsweek’s top 15 greenest companies in America, and the first-ever WalMart vendor award for sustainability. Cross also touched on Mohawk’s first sustainability report, released this year in order to demonstrate transparency within its green efforts.


As one of the largest employers in the state of Georgia with roughly 25,000 associates, the mill’s influence on Dalton’s local economy is undeniable. With that in mind, Jeff West, Shaw Commercial’s director of sustainability, said the company “Wants to make beautiful products that are good for the planet, its customers and the community.”

He outlined Shaw’s pillars of sustainability, including innovative products and services; operational environmental excellence, and corporate governance with social responsibility.

To achieve the goals outlined, Jay Henry, director of operations support, said Shaw uses metrics to determine whether those goals were effectively met, such as MDBC C2C certification, Scientific Certification Systems guidelines for post-consumer recycled content, OSHA ratings and a commitment to transparent sustainability reports.

Along the lines of transparency, Shaw released its second sustainability report this year, with admittedly less than spectacular findings. “We publish information in our report that is very accurate, so in 2009 we had a hiccup due to the [economic] challenges this industry has experienced,” said David Wilkerson, director of sustainability, Shaw Residential. “We have been through a difficult period over the last three years. We are moving in a more positive direction. Next year’s report will show right sizing plants, but we have a transparent approach.”

Editor’s note: To learn more about metrics for measuring sustainability, watch the video.

The carpet industry CAREs

Connecting the dots between sustainable business practices and profitable recycling was CARE’s executive director, Georgina Sikorski. In addition to outlining all the organization and industry has achieved— including the diversion of 1.6 billion pounds of carpet from landfills and reducing industry greenhouse gas emissions by 1.4 million metric tons—she outlined the future of the organization and what it will take to keep the initiative going strong.

“Outlets, outlets, outlets,” Sikorski said. “If we’re going to continue to keep carpet out of landfills, we have to have products that allow that.” An integrated approach to broadening the production cycle would be the only viable option to expand CARE’s influence. In other words, the operation would fail if it only made carpet from old carpet.

“CARE is a stewardship organization to work with legislative efforts between the government, the consumer, finished products manufacturers, entrepreneurs and carpet manufacturers,” she explained. “We certainly help from an environmental standpoint but CARE also provides opportunities for new businesses to arise.”

The best kept secret

The event gave the industry a chance to sing its praises to those outside its circle. In addition to the presenting manufacturers, Dan Frierson of The Dixie Group, Peter Bailey of J+J/Invision and Congressman Tom Graves of the 9th District of Georgia were present.

Frierson commented it was nice to see cooperation among mills that are competitively “at each others’ throats.” The efforts have been paying off: there has been a 65% reduction in the industry’s environmental footprint within the last 10 years.

Shaw’s CEO Vance Bell echoed that sentiment. “Even though we are fierce competitors, we come together for bigger issues. It is great support.”

He continued to praise the industry, the event and the efforts that went into both. “As Ron [Lorentzen] shared, the carpet industry is one of the most proactive in the country in addressing sustainable environmental practices. We are too much of a well-kept secret but recent efforts have gotten that word out.

“Our challenge as an industry is to stay at the forefront and continue the leadership we have today, which is leading by example,” he concluded. “Our view is that private industry can and will be the driver of real change in terms of environmental social issues and, with that, change driven by real consumer wants and needs and economics. It’s a great testimony that we’ve done it without mandates and we’ve done it on our own.”

-Emily Hooper

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