An Interview with Michaela Shaw, Sustainability Manager and Monique Lecomte, VP, Sales and Marketing
| By E&I Cooperative Services
We sat down with Michaela Shaw, Sustainability Manager and Monique Lecomte, Vice President, Sales and Marketing at Hightower to talk about Hightower’s commitment to sustainability and how higher education and K-12 institutions can approach building a sustainability strategy within their own organization.
Please talk a little about Hightower’s commitment to sustainability. Why is this important? Focus/scope of your program? Goals?
Sustainability is something that fits right into our core values. We act intentionally to stay focused on people first. With that commitment it makes it easy to create products that are healthy for people and their environment. Right now we are focused on material health and transparency – ensuring that we understand what is in our products and making changes as necessary, communicating that to our clients. The environmental impact of products is something that’s important to us as well, and we’ll be evaluating this in the near future. We want to look at sustainability holistically – how can we create products that have a positive impact on people and the planet?
What unique advantages does sustainability bring to the table? What are the benefits of sustainable practices – for Hightower, the consumer, and the community as a whole?
Sustainability strategy is a necessity for any modern company, both from the perspective of stewardship (it’s the right thing to do!) and market demands. Here are some examples…
PVC is a problem material: its manufacture emits harmful dioxins and other chemicals into the water and the atmosphere, affecting the surrounding communities. It is a known carcinogen and often contains plasticizers like phthalates, another unhealthy material. PVC is also notoriously hard to recycle, often ending up in landfills. By removing PVC edge-banding from our laminate tables, we’re positively impacting communities, end-users, and the environment. This is the stewardship side, the piece that is near and dear to us as a company.
We’re also passionate about serving our clients, and every month we get more and more requests for products that can help them achieve points within LEED or WELL. This demand drives us to pursue certifications like Indoor Advantage Gold, which we now have on 50+ products and certifies that our products meet strict VOC emissions standards. Sustainable practices are essential to the long-term success of our company, as well as the clients and communities we serve.
How do you promote sustainability within your organization?
Since sustainability is at the core of our values and one of the primary ways we support our customers, continuing education of our team members is a focus for us so we can be an ongoing knowledge resource for our specifiers, A&D and the dealer community. This commitment benefits all as it means we get to work in spaces with our own products; some of the healthiest on the planet!
What strategies/methods have you employed to attain buy-in for sustainability within your organization?
Our CEO and Founder Natalie decided to invest in sustainability, so we’ve had complete buy-in from leadership since the beginning. From project managers to sales and marketing, everyone on our team embraces sustainability and has been incredibly willing to learn.
Have you experienced any misconceptions regarding sustainability? How have you responded?
The green building and product space can be complex and difficult to navigate. It can be hard to sort through all the certifications, labels, and databases. We’ve really prioritized education and helping all stakeholders internally and externally understand what we’re doing and how it fits into the sustainability landscape.
Were there any challenges you faced regarding the program? If so, how did you overcome those challenges?
Our biggest challenge as a furniture manufacturer is navigating a very complex supply chain. In order to achieve our goals in material health and transparency, we need to understand everything that’s in our products and get pretty detailed ingredient information on all components…from foam and wood to small hardware. This means we’re engaging our Tier 1 suppliers, but also 2, 3, and sometimes even 4. Knowledge levels around sustainability can vary greatly, so education comes into play here too.
Can you share any strategies for engaging senior leadership in supporting your sustainability program?
Show the value! We’re lucky that our leadership team believes in the inherent value of sustainability, but it’s important to translate your sustainability successes into metrics everyone can understand. Whether it’s visibility on social media because of an exciting initiative, or increased sales from clients looking for products that can contribute to LEED.
What best practices or tips would you share with other organizations interested in initiating their own sustainability program?
Sustainability is such a broad concept. Identify a certification, initiative, or focus that your company values and start there. The why is important, too. If it doesn’t resonate with you and you can’t explain why you’re doing it, it won’t resonate with your customers either.
What are some trends you are seeing in terms of sustainability and how is Hightower responding to those trends?
Occupant health is becoming a common consideration across the design spectrum, particularly indoor air quality. We’ve responded to this with our Indoor Advantage Gold Certified products that contribute to healthy indoor environments. Some other more environmental trends we see are circular economy and embodied carbon. We’re working towards including sustainability in our product design process and will be evaluating the life cycle impacts of our products – including carbon.
What are the future plans for your sustainability program? How will you continue to grow the program?
The opportunities for improvement are endless. We will continue to evaluate the human health and environmental impacts of our products and pursue full transparency on all of our initiatives. Our portfolio of solutions for clients looking for healthy products will keep growing, and we hope that those sustainable products become the standard. We can help grow this movement through education and partnership, striving to create healthier spaces for all.
Watch: Committed to a Better Tomorrow
About the Author
Michaela Shaw is the Sustainability Manager for Hightower, a provider of modern interior solutions. With a background in environmental sustainability and business, Michaela is focused on green building and product certification as well as material ingredient reporting. Learn more about E&I’s competitively solicited Hightower contract.