Bedding manufacturers, suppliers and retailers flock to first ISPA conference.
From understanding greenwashing to setting sustainability goals, the International Sleep Products Association’s Sustainability Conference addressed a wide range of eco-friendly subjects, attracting about 200 attendees to increase their environmental knowledge.
“We’re just really gratified that the industry has a strong interest in this topic,” said ISPA President Ryan Trainer. “I think there was really a need for this kind of discussion, and we couldn’t be happier with the turnout and with the content.”
Held Nov. 16-17 at the Embassy Suites by Hilton Uptown in Charlotte, North Carolina, the event kicked off with an evening cocktail reception, followed by a daylong slate of speakers. The goal was to raise awareness of sustainability issues and to provide a common vocabulary for people who are active throughout the supply chain to communicate better with one another, according to Trainer.
From the first presentation at 8 a.m. to the final speaker at 2 p.m., each event was well-attended with people engaging with speakers and asking questions. “It was great,” Trainer said. “The industry support was fantastic. The sponsor support — couldn’t beat it. It far exceeded my expectations and the expectations of the whole team.”
In addition to networking at the cocktail reception, attendees perused the products of about a dozen exhibitors, including Niaga, SABA North America LLC and Jeffco Fibres Inc.
“Being present at the conference and having the ability to connect to so many bedding industry representatives was a fantastic experience,” said Inga Arling, circular business development manager at Niaga. “There was a spirit of optimism throughout the whole conference.”
That same feeling of positivity was echoed at SABA. “It was a packed room, which made it a great place to talk about sustainable developments and needs from the market. We spoke to many of our customers and that made it a successful meeting,” said Chris Belterman, product marketing manager at SABA. “We worked hard to be able to ‘soft launch’ our first biobased rollable adhesive for mattress production during the Sustainability Conference.”
Another key ingredient for success: a roster of important, current sustainability topics addressed by experts in their fields, as well as two panel discussions. Trainer moderated the Mattress Industry Sustainability Roundtable, and Kate Caddy, ISPA manager of sustainability, led a panel titled “Mattress Recycling Council: Operations Overview and Efforts to Improve Circularity.”
First, Mitchell Toomey, vice president of sustainability and responsible care for the American Chemistry Council, opened the conference with a sustainability overview, showcasing how the United Nation’s sustainable development agenda can help define company objectives.
Previously, Toomey spent more than 15 years with the U.N. and its Development Programme, where he helped champion its global social responsibility and sustainability movement. The U.N.’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals include topics such as “no poverty” and “zero hunger,” as well as “sustainable cities and communities” and “climate action.”
“There are a few key aspects of this agenda that are relevant to your business. It’s not just about changing what you do to comply with this new expectation but thinking about it as if today is Day One, and everything you do in the future is going to serve this new mindset in this new mentality,” Toomey said. “How do you integrate the thinking now to make every decision that you move forward with a sustainable decision?”
Next, Leonard Gordon, a partner at the Venable law firm, addressed sustainability marketing and how to avoid legal problems from making “green” claims. He covered the regulatory landscape, claim substantiation, green claims and the Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guides, as well as greenwashing, which includes when a company markets something as sustainable — when it’s not.
“Sustainability marketing and green claims are incredibly important to consumers. They’re even more important to younger consumers and affluent consumers,” Gordon said. “And the FTC is aware of that, and they’re all over false advertising on these issues.”
He stressed that companies should always be as specific as possible when making any green marketing claims.
“The most central theme of the FTC Green Guides is that you need to be careful about nonspecific, general words like ‘green’ or ‘eco-friendly,’ because those can be deceptive unless your product has no negative environmental attributes,” Gordon said. “From beginning to end, you need to be really, really careful about claiming that your product is eco-friendly in a broad way. Those kinds of broad claims need to be qualified and made more specific so it’s not misleading.”
What are the risks if you aren’t compliant? “Potential monetary penalties from the government, injunctions, warning letters, really bad stuff. They seize assets,” Gordon said. “You can get subpoenas from regulators, the FTC, the states’ attorneys general. You can get sued. Class-action plaintiffs are very active in this space.”
Another sustainable-related topic that companies should be ready for: the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s Climate Risk Disclosure Rule.
In March, the SEC proposed rule changes that would require publicly traded companies to include certain climate-related disclosures in their SEC filings. These disclosures would include information about climate-related risks that are likely to have a material impact on their business; results of operations or financial condition; and certain climate-related financial statement metrics in a note to their audited financial statements, according to SEC.gov.
Brian Tomlinson, managing director of Environmental, Social, Governance at Ernst & Young LLP, gave an update and a comprehensive overview of the rule.
“Why is the SEC doing this, and why is the SEC doing it now?” Tomlinson asked. “This is being driven by the investor’s need for information in relation to climate. Investors are saying, ‘Climate risks affect the bottom line … In order to assess the quality of a business, we have to know more information.’”
He encouraged companies to prepare to respond to these regulatory initiatives. “Businesses of all shapes and sizes should review their sustainability practices … in addition to responding to changing consumer and investor preferences,” Tomlinson said.
To wrap up the conference, Andrew Dent, executive vice president of materials research for Material ConneXion, led a presentation titled “Concept to Practice — How to Get Started.” Dent queried the audience on their sustainability efforts, finding that while some companies are extremely involved with sustainability, others are just getting started.
“If you’re trying to become more sustainable, there should be a plan that you have in place,” Dent said. “If you’re still using virgin materials, if you’re not using any bio-based content at all, that’s going to be a challenge, because you’re never going to move toward that point you want to be.”
He also asked the audience if anyone had a successful approach to reducing landfill waste.
“At Tempur Sealy, our Tempur foam plants are zero-waste facilities,” said Allen Platek, vice president of new product development for Tempur Sealy International Inc. “We’re targeting our senior manufacturing sector to be zero waste to landfill by 2024. We are very focused on that.”
Dent followed up by asking if it was a tough challenge for Tempur Sealy, and what it took to implement it, as well as the costs.
“Education and effort,” Platek replied. “And actually, we saved money. Landfilling costs a lot of money.”
Dent concluded his presentation on an encouraging note: “Becoming sustainable is going to take incremental growth. But there is the potential for all of us, as we’ve seen innovations and we’ve seen ways that it’s possible to reduce our impact and to solve some of the issues to make things a lot more circular. So, it’s just a matter of trying a few of these ideas to see if you can get at least one or two successes.”
While Dent’s speech drew the most audience participation, all the speakers resonated with attendees who spoke highly of their messaging.
“The variety of topics from the presenters and panel discussions gave some great insights into the challenges, needs and demands in our industry,” SABA’s Belterman said. “Two of our key takeaways were to learn which specific materials are challenging to recycle when used in a mattress and how to prevent greenwashing when working on recyclability.”
Eric Lonstein, president and chief executive officer of Jeffco Fibres Inc., said he viewed his company’s participation as a success, and he agreed the focus on sustainability is crucial for the bedding industry.
“Sustainability is a broad and consequential topic for sleep products, and to learn from experts and other industry leaders and make new connections in this space is a privilege,” Lonstein said. “We look forward to applying multiple lessons from the conference at Jeffco and aspire to continue as leaders in environmental and community stewardship — something that is the right thing to do and is valued by our customers and team.”
How successful was the conference overall? So much so that Trainer says ISPA is already planning the next Sustainability Conference in September or October.
“We want to inspire people,” Trainer said. “And we want to use these events as an opportunity for companies to move forward, for them to move their products forward, but also to move the industry forward.”