No Time to Waste

Companies in the bedding industry are doing their part to become more energy efficient, reduce waste and improve their sustainability efforts

At the end of last year, mattress major Tempur Sealy International Inc. announced it expects to achieve zero landfill status by the end of 2022 at its wholly owned U.S. and European manufacturing operations and set a goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2040. 

A month earlier, Harrison Spinks, a bedding maker based in Leeds, England, pledged to become net carbon zero by the end of this year. The company has launched Harrison Spinks Renewables, a solar and wind power generation venture, and named Ruairi Giles head of sustainability. Harrison Spinks also is opening a dedicated recycling plant, offering free mattress recycling.

When it comes to reducing their environmental footprints, companies in the bedding industry are at different stages, but virtually all are taking steps to reduce waste, become more energy efficient and improve their sustainability. Companies’ reasons for doing so may include wanting to be good environmental stewards, saving money, complying with new regulations and meeting investor’s goals, says Ryan McMullan, principal consultant with Lean Green Way in Long Beach, California, who also is the consultant for the Mattress Recycling Council’s Sleep Products Sustainability Program. McMullan, who has worked with organizations, such as Toyota Lockheed Martin and Rice University, has two decades of experience helping manufacturers develop sustainability programs.

In Tempur Sealy’s announcement, Scott Thompson, chair and chief executive officer of the Lexington, Kentucky-based company, ran down a list of energy-related objectives the company already has met or expects to complete soon. “We have already taken meaningful steps toward reducing or offsetting Scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions from our wholly owned operations,” he said. “This year, we sourced 100% renewable energy for our wholly-owned U.S. and European manufacturing operations, and expect to continue doing so in future years. We are on track to install a solar power array at our largest mattress manufacturing operation in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in early 2021, which is expected to generate enough solar energy to power all of the plant’s assembly lines.” 

Harrison Spinks takes a comprehensive approach to sustainability, including a focus on product design with end-of-life recycling in mind. “We’re already leading the way and have set a number of industry firsts — growing our own hemp as a sustainable mattress filling, being recognized with two Queen’s Awards for Enterprise in Sustainable Development, the development of our Cortec glue-free spring system (and) our pledge to go glue-, foam- and FR-chemical-treatment free. … But we need to do more and take a bolder approach to reach net carbon zero,” said Simon Spinks, the company’s chair, in announcing its new energy goals.

Agro International GmbH & Co. KG, a producer of innersprings based in Bad Essen, Germany, also has been committed to reducing its environmental footprint throughout its entire operations, from sourcing raw materials and product design to manufacturing, packaging and transportation. 

“As a family-owned company, generational thinking is a part of Agro’s DNA, and we see ourselves as a sustainability leader in the innerspring manufacturing sector,” says Dominik Meyer, chief executive officer. “Our ongoing investment in environmentally friendly technologies is an investment in not only our company’s future, but in a world worth living in for generations to come.” 

Because of the recyclability of steel, “innersprings are perfectly suited to provide a sustainable solution for (mattress) comfort,” according to Agro. The company also has created A.NEXT Uni-Pocket PES, a “cradle-to-cradle ready pocket innerspring” that uses a fabric and adhesive made of polyester that can be melted and reused without further separation.

Among the energy-saving efforts within its manufacturing operations, Argo has installed LED bulbs in an intelligent lighting system and uses a heating system based on heat recovery. Compressing springs helps reduce transportation costs, and its innersprings are wrapped in recyclable paper. Agro has an extensive waste management system based on reusing or recycling 30 types of waste and has its own machine to shred, separate and recycle innersprings that don’t meet its quality standards. 

“We will continue to develop new equipment that helps optimize the recyclable capabilities of our products,” Meyer says. “We are convinced that it is our responsibility to move forward on this premise and encourage our customers and competitors to come with us.” 

For companies in earlier stages of improving sustainability, McMullan recommends working systematically, tackling the “low-hanging fruit,” such as replacing all lighting with LED bulbs. 

“The most important thing is there is no one best way to go, but start working on the most feasible changes,” he says. For instance, when it comes to energy improvements, McMullan explains, “every kilowatt hour you save is going to be money in the bank and those early savings can free up money to make bigger improvements in the future.” 

Mattress manufacturers in California can participate in MRC’s SP2 program, which was developed specifically for the mattress industry and provides training and certification to companies that want to reduce waste and improve the efficiency of their facilities. Facilities outside California can look for more general programs, such as the TRUE certification program that helps facilities achieve zero waste goals, McMullan says. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Star program also offers resources and certifications for existing facilities, and local utilities often will provide free energy audits to companies. After implementing SP2, mattress manufacturers in California are in a good position to pursue other certifications, such as TRUE, Energy Star and ISO 14001 Environmental Management System, he says. It’s typical for a manufacturer to reach plateaus in their sustainability efforts, McMullan says. When that happens, he recommends turning inward to engage employees more fully and also outward to seek the assistance of business partners.

“Employee engagement is just as important as engineering solutions,” he says. “You can put all the recycling bins out that you want, but if employees aren’t engaged enough to use them, they don’t matter. Many companies think about the engineering side but forget the people side. If you get employees engaged, you can learn how people are using systems and get their feedback to meet your goals.”

“Companies that have reached a plateau also need to look to partners,” McMullan continues. “Think about who you can partner with outside your facility. Instead of finding a recycler to take away a material, can you reach out to a supplier to substitute a material that would create less waste or would they take the material back for reuse?” 

To reduce their environmental footprint, some manufacturers are rethinking product design, with an eye toward manufacturing products that can be recycled or upcycled at the end of their life. “It’s a circular economy approach,” McMullan says, “and it’s a sign of a good strategy when companies are thinking several steps ahead like that.”  

Companies Take Many Paths Toward Sustainability

Avocado adds sustainable bedroom group:

Avocado Green Mattress, a maker of luxury organic mattresses and sleep accessories based in Hoboken, New Jersey, has launched a line of clean-lined Malibu bedroom furniture that includes a floating platform bed frame, dresser and nightstand. According to the company, the pieces are handmade with “ethically harvested maple” certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. 

Avocado supports 1% for the Planet, a global organization whose members commit to contributing at least 1% of their annual sales to environmental causes. In the first quarter of 2021, Avocado donated 1% of sales to Leave No Trace, a nonprofit that protects the outdoors by teaching and inspiring people to enjoy nature responsibly.

Ikea turning parking lots into solar energy fields:

Ikea U.S., headquartered in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, has built its first solar car parking area at a store in Baltimore and plans seven similar projects at stores in Maryland and California that are expected to be completed this year. 

“At Ikea, we aim to have a positive impact on people and planet, which is why sustainability is embedded in every part of our business. We currently have 54 rooftop solar arrays atop 90% of our Ikea U.S. locations and Ingka Group, a strategic partner in the Ikea franchise system, has invested in two solar parks with 403-megawatt capacity in Utah and Texas,” says Jennifer Keesson, country sustainability manager for Ikea Retail U.S. The investment in solar energy is part of the company’s larger goal of increasing energy efficiency and being powered by 100% renewable energy by 2025.

The Sabai Standard to keep company’s furniture out of landfills:

Earlier this year, Sabai, a direct-to-consumer brand of seating based in High Point, North Carolina, launched what it is calling the Sabai Standard, a life cycle furniture program designed to keep furniture out of landfills. In practice, the initiative has two parts. Sabai’s Repair Don’t Replace Program encourages owners of its products to order new parts to replace worn or damaged cushions, legs and other components. Through its Closed Loop Program, Sabai will take back any of its products “anytime — even if they are damaged — to be revived and donated or resold,” according to its website. 

New Vita Group research center has sustainability focus:

In early March, The Vita Group, a supplier of flexible polyurethane foam and Talalay latex headquartered in Middleton, England, has opened a new Innovation Centre in Accrington, England. “At The Vita Group, we continue to invest in the future, ensuring we’re able to sustainably deliver the very best products and solutions for our customers for generations to come,” the company says. The center will focus on research and development of highly engineered and customized polyurethane foam, including through the use of biopolyols. 

Post-Pandemic, SP2 Expects to Ramp Up

With vaccine rollouts giving the bedding industry hope for an end to the Covid-19 pandemic and a return to more typical business operations, the Mattress Recycling Council expects participation in its Sleep Products Sustainability Program to increase in 2021.

The program, SP2 for short, was launched in 2019 to help mattress manufacturers in California reduce waste, save money and make their manufacturing facilities more efficient. The program is available at no cost to mattress producers in that state.

“Now that the pandemic is abating, we have a number of companies that will soon be ready to start the training and certification process,” says Ryan McMullan, principal consultant with Lean Green Way in Long Beach, California, who is MRC’s consultant for SP2.

Pleasant Mattress, based in Fresno, California, was the first company to undergo the training and, after some delays because of the pandemic, is working toward certification. Two more mattress facilities have completed training and are working toward certification.

Once a company registers for SP2, McMullan’s goal is to start its training within 30 days. It then takes six to 12 months for mattress manufacturers to implement changes and earn certification. 

Although MRC’s main focus is managing the state-mandated mattress recycling programs in California, Connecticut and Rhode Island, it also works to help the bedding industry reduce waste and improve environmental stewardship.

“MRC has been focused on the end of life of mattresses,” McMullan says. “With SP2, we’re going upstream to the point at which mattresses are made to see how we can reduce waste and improve efficiencies there.”

The pandemic has shifted how SP2 training is conducted. MRC has recorded a series of educational webinars and McMullan augments those with three two-hour virtual training sessions instead of the all-day, on-site format used before Covid-19 emerged. When the pandemic ends, McMullan expects training will be done through a mix of virtual and in-person sessions.

In the past year, MRC also has created a provisional certification process that can be conducted virtually, and developed customizable tools and templates for participant.

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