Advice From Room & Board’s New Sustainability Director
Room & Board just hired its first-ever director of sustainability. The Minneapolis-based furniture retailer already manufactures more than 90% of its product line in America and has a history of working with small regional suppliers and makers. Emily McGarvey is charged with advancing Room & Board’s mission to deliver quality American-made furniture with environmentally sound practices. McGarvey brings 20 years of experience in the field, first as Target’s director of corporate social responsibility and then through her own agency, Star Impact Consulting where she provided “purpose-driven strategy and branding” for both businesses and nonprofits. In her first week on the job, she talked to TCB about the work.
What’s your first order of business beyond getting to know colleagues?
My first order of business in this new role is to create a sustainability strategic framework that we can use to prioritize issues and projects. Prior to my joining Room & Board, our consultant, Third Partners, completed a materiality assessment which identifies and values the importance of environmental, social and governance issues. This was great work. I was able to leverage the materiality assessment, along with benchmarking and Room & Board’s current work, to quickly create our sustainability strategic framework. Within our sustainability strategic framework, I’ll be prioritizing opportunities to more sustainably source key raw materials and increase renewable energy.
Does R&B have a list of sustainability goals, or is it your job to set them?
My role is to set our sustainability strategy and projects. Room & Board aspires to be a sustainability leader that positively impacts society and the world. Our sustainability strategic framework has three pillars that will guide our goals and work: better products, better for people, and better planet. Here’s how that breaks down:
- Better products: Materials matter. From reclaimed wood to recycled plastic, we work with our U.S. manufacturing partners to find innovative ways to make sustainable furniture and decor part of the story of our customers’ homes. More than 90% of our products are made in America using top-quality U.S. and imported materials. Going forward, we’ll be looking for more opportunities to sustainably source key raw materials.
- Better for people: Respect and relationships are at the heart of everything we do. We believe we’re part of something bigger – focused on social and environmental causes that impact us all. We are leaning in on staff well-being, building meaningful vendor relationships, and increasing our philanthropic efforts for people and the planet.
- Better planet: we are prioritizing our operations. Our central office, stores and delivery centers are designed and constructed with sustainability in mind. Rehabbing old buildings, installing LED lighting and landscaping with native plants are just a few of the things we do to reduce our environmental impact. We’ll be exploring opportunities for efficiency, renewable energy and the electrification of our fleet.
How important do you think this initiative is to customers?
I believe customers are more aware than ever about sustainability. People are asking about materials in products, who made them, and where they were made. Being able to transparently share the impact to people and the planet is our privilege and responsibility.
What do you bring to this role from your time with Target?
My prior roles in both consulting and in retail have given me broad sustainability experience – from sustainable products to sustainable operations. I have experience in rolling out enterprise-wide strategies and initiatives related to sustainable materials, climate, renewable energy and product take back. A couple of the exciting projects I led at Target include the chemical management and transparency policy and their incredibly popular Car Seat Trade-In program.
If you could offer other manufacturers a piece of advice on sustainability, what would it be?
Partnership. Sustainability is both exciting and sometimes difficult because it involves asking people to work in a new way. And change can be hard. By partnering with supply chain vendors, peers, and customers, we can work together to positively impact society & the world.
Speaking of supply chain, we know there have been challenges in every industry—furniture especially. Last year I spoke to the president of your company about the unprecedented delays in deliveries. Do sustainability initiatives help or hurt those supply chain challenges?
Sustainability does build more reliant supply chains. While the last two years have been difficult for everyone, Room & Board’s support of sustainably harvested wood, enables supply in the short-term crisis and for generations to come. Our dedication to meaningful vendor partnerships creates trust and collaboration as we navigate difficult supply chain conversations. Another important benefit of having close relationships with our vendor partners is that it allows a high level of transparency – we are able to share availability dates with customers as they shop and proactively share updates. This was an extremely important element during a time of so much uncertainty and longer-than-usual lead times. In addition, through our Urban Wood Project, we source reclaimed wood from across the U.S. and turn it into sustainable furniture with a story customers are proud to share. We’re always looking to find solutions that either meet or exceed our current sustainability standards, while continuing to meet customer expectations.