Editor’s Note: La-Z-Boy Inc. was the winner of the 2020 ASCM Award of Excellence — Making an Impact. This award recognizes an initiative that creates a better world through supply chain as a result of pioneering corporate social responsibility, proven business integrity and an unwavering focus on sustainability. Learn more at ascm.org/awardsofexcellence.
For almost a century, La-Z-Boy Inc. has been known for providing quality furniture that brings comfort to consumers’ homes. However, the Monroe, Mich.-based company is also passionate about making an impact through corporate social responsibility.
Neal Wayman, La-Z-Boy supply chain manager, explains that his company takes fair and beneficial business practices “one step further” by making it a competitive priority, where safety and sustainability are measured and emphasized alongside productivity and profits. “Those measures are tracked through a centralized system and emphasized every day in meetings at every facility,” he adds.
In addition, there are regular discussions throughout La-Z-Boy’s supply chain about which metrics best drive true change. These dialogs have propelled the company to achieve industry-leading records and performance in sustainability, safety and community service.
Building the best green team
La-Z-Boy leaders have found that, in order to achieve sustainability excellence, efforts must extend beyond the company’s four walls to its entire supply chain. To that end, La-Z-Boy requires all business operations and suppliers to comply with applicable national, state and local environmental laws and regulations related to air emissions, water discharges, toxic substances and hazardous waste disposal.
During the company’s annual La-Z-Boy Supplier Summit, company leaders recognize the best-performing suppliers for a variety of criteria, share important business updates and roll out new programs. The summit also enables La-Z-Boy employees and suppliers to examine and discuss the importance of environmental initiatives and collaborate to integrate sound and sustainable business practices. “Creating an atmosphere where employees and suppliers work well together is key to mutual success,” says Darrell Edwards, senior vice president and chief operations officer.
Through this and related efforts, La-Z-Boy has guided its suppliers to deliver products in the most efficient and effective manner possible. This includes reducing packaging and dunnage, using returnable containers, and opting for items that are made of easily recyclable materials. “These all have the benefit of being both good for the environment and good for business,” Edwards says.
Packaging reduction in particular must be handled carefully, notes Tim McCurry, senior director of environmental health and safety (EHS). It’s important to ensure that the furniture is properly protected during transit to avoid damage and even more waste,” he explains. “However, small changes in packaging can have large-scale benefits in both reducing the cost of the overall product and in reducing the amount of waste that has to be recycled. … The more we can focus on the efficiency of the business, the more we can do to reduce our environmental footprint.”
McCurry credits La-Z-Boy’s successful collaboration with its suppliers to two key factors: excellent communication and efforts to ensure that sustainability endeavors benefit everyone involved. “If you want to specifically improve your environmental footprint, you need to engage the right team,” he explains. “We bring in product and material experts from the suppliers and work with our internal process experts to identify ways to reduce waste or move to less hazardous materials.
Environmental efforts at home
La-Z-Boy employees in manufacturing, distribution and supply chain also partner with local businesses, community leaders and governments to achieve environmental sustainability. “Going above and beyond to be a responsible environmental steward is key,” says Cody Buell, EHS and sustainability manager.
La-Z-Boy is an Enhancing Furniture’s Environmental Culture (EFEC)–registered company. The EFEC environmental system, which was designed by the American Home Furnishings Alliance (AHFA), is composed of 11 elements that give furniture companies measurable goals for reducing their environmental footprints. By following the framework, La-Z-Boy has developed plans for energy, water and waste reduction at each facility. Its Cut and Sew Center in Saltillo, Mexico, was the first international facility in the industry to be EFEC registered.
The company has extended its environmental practices to follow the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board framework to track and disclose financially relevant environmental, social and governance topics. This has led to a partnership with energy management partners to develop a strategic plan for improved energy, water and waste conservation as well as better recycling efforts.
For now, the La-Z-Boy corporate office monitors electricity, natural gas, water and wastewater data for La-Z-Boy branded manufacturing operations, La-Z-Boy casegoods U.S. operations, La-Z-Boy distribution centers, La-Z-Boy corporate-owned retail stores and the world headquarters office. The company also monitors waste and recycling data for La-Z-Boy branded manufacturing operations, which generate the majority of the company’s waste and materials.
To date, La-Z-Boy’s environmental achievements include
- 12 million fewer pounds of waste sent to landfills in 2019, compared with 2007
- reutilization or recycling of 97% of manufacturing waste
- 25 million gallons of water saved in 2019, compared with 2007 usage, through water conservation efforts
- a $1.5 million reduction in utility expenses versus a decade ago despite increased production and rising utility costs
- eight Zero Waste to Landfill–certified facilities.
As part of achieving that last milestone, La-Z-Boy opted for a recycling method that also helps others. “What we found was that many of the items we were disposing of had value to someone,” McCurry says. “The trick is to find that business or organization that needs it.” For example, La-Z-Boy donates scrap wood, leather and other materials to Help Heal Veterans, which incorporates the remnants into arts and crafts kits for recovering veterans.
Ultimately our goal is to be 100% efficient and therefore have no waste,” Buell says, “which even includes a goal of zero recycling.”
Redesigning operations for safety
In addition to protecting the planet, La-Z-Boy sets high standards and goals for protecting its workers. “A safe, healthy workforce is priceless to La-Z-Boy,” Edwards says.
Employee safety starts on day one with a training program that encourages safety all day, every day. From there, employees receive ongoing safety training and are encouraged to help support safety programs within the company. Each year, cross-functional teams work on special projects that support the company’s safety priorities.
One of the 2019 projects engaged a cross-functional La-Z-Boy team to improve the process for assembling the reclining mechanisms in the furniture. “This process utilizes formed rivets to join stamped metal parts,” explains Dennis Poland, regional EHS manager. “The traditional method of joining the parts exposed operators’ hands to crushing and ergonomic hazards.”
To reduce this risk, the team designed a dial table that allows operators to safely feed and retrieve parts without being exposed to moving equipment or ergonomic risks. The dial table also increases efficiency, so the improvement project paid for itself within eight months, Poland notes.
The company reached a plethora of safety milestones and achievements:
- In 2019, La-Z-Boy’s Dayton, Tenn., manufacturing facility reached a U.S. furniture industry record of 18.8 million hours with no lost time incidents. The record represents a nearly 200% increase over the prior AHFA record.
- The company’s South Florida distribution center has had zero lost-time incidents in more than 13 years.
- Since 2012, La-Z-Boy has reduced its U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration recordable injury rate by more than 74%, achieving one of the best rates in the industry.
- Through its ergonomics program, the company was able to reduce the average cost of workers’ compensation claims by 73% between fiscal years 2014 and 2019.
- In 2019, 119 of the company’s retail stores went the entire year without any injuries.
All of these milestones were achieved in spite of increased throughput and greater employee productivity.
Sharing and caring
La-Z-Boy also encourages employees to show their local communities that they care. In 2018, the company launched its Summer of Caring program, which encourages employees to volunteer for the causes of their choice. So far, employees have logged more than 19,000 hours of caring both inside and outside of work hours.
At the request of employees, in 2019 La-Z-Boy launched a sister program, Season of Caring, to extend this volunteer program throughout the holiday season. In the inaugural year, employees donated 2,000 hours during Season of Caring, mostly through holiday-focused drives hosted by local nonprofits.
“Giving back to the communities in which we operate has always been woven through our company’s culture,” says Susan Vanisacker, director of community relations and the La-Z-Boy Foundation. “It was a fundamental belief of our founders, and I am proud that our organization carries this forward and consistently finds new ways to support those in need.”