Episode 160: Sustainable Cabinetry with Armstrong Cabinets
Green Talk Radio host Sean Daily talks to Kal Nanji of Armstrong Cabinets about about sustainability trends with cabinetry in green home building and remodeling.
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Sean Daily: Hi, and welcome to “GreenTalk” a podcast series from greenlivingideas.com. “GreenTalk “ helps listeners in their effort to live more eco friendly lifestyles through interviews with top vendors, authors, and experts from around the world. We discuss the critical issues facing the global environment today as well as the technologies, products, and practices that you can employ to go greener in every area of your life.
Sean Daily: Hey everyone, welcome to “GreenTalk Radio”. This is Sean Daily. Today we are going to be talking about green building and specifically green cabinetry.
My guest on the program is Kal Nanji. He is a marketing director in charge of product development with Armstrong Cabinets, a very well known brand in the industry.
So, Kal, first of all, welcome to the program.
Kal Nanji: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Sean Daily: It’s my pleasure to have you on the program.
I wanted to just jump right in about green cabinetry trends and what you see happening, right now, in the industry as we stand today. Why don’t we start there?
Kal Nanji: Sure.
One of the trends that we’re seeing really is a demand for materials that are for our cabinets that are made from sustainable resources. That includes raw materials that are sourced from managed forests that are quickly renewable and also products that have recycled content.
Sean Daily: OK. Anything beyond that?
Kal Nanji: From a material standpoint, the other thing is low-VOC finishes and stains, which is something that we provide as well.
Sean Daily: OK. Tell me about what Armstrong’s involvement is in that in terms of, let’s just zero in for example on sustainable resources, you know, the raw material source and managed forest. Is that really coming under the banner of the FSC and your involvement with them or does it go beyond that?
Kal Nanji: It goes a bit beyond that. FSC certification is one aspect of a managed forest. Our sourcing program is very robust and rigorous to ensure that all of our raw materials are supplied from suppliers that meet certain materials. One of those is ensuring that they get their materials from managed regional forests and that they abide by all local laws and regulations, as well.
Sean Daily: Is Armstrong directly involved in those relationships? Or is there a buffer? Is there a distributor between you and those managing the forest or are you directly involved. Do you have feet on the ground, as it were, in the forest in the areas? Do you have people that go out and sort of supervise that or is it a layer of abstraction there?
Kal Nanji: Right. There’s a… You know, it depends on the raw material. Sometimes we work with vendors that actually source a product themselves. They actually source the raw material. For example, one of our products is called Plantation Hardwood. The companies that source this actually own the plantations that they get the wood from. So we’re more closely related to that entire source. Whereas, some of our products or some of our raw materials are from vendors that may just purchase, from other companies, the raw material. So it kind of depends on the product or the product line.
Sean Daily: OK. So what are some of the other ways that Armstrong is specifically responding to the trends that you were discussing?
Kal Nanji: Well, you know, a lot of the trends again that we’re seeing stem from efforts made by local governments and communities, and organizations that encourage greener building. And one of the biggest impacts for us is from our multi family site where we see a big demand for sustainable products and we hope to get that product for them and, in a sense, that makes that tangible for them.
So one thing that we want to insure is that all of our products, actually, do have an element of sustainability. And we also align ourselves with the green building rating system, as well. And the biggest one from our industry or from our perspective is actually LEED from the USGBC.
Sean Daily: Sure. And so have you been involved with any of the larger LEED projects that are out there? Like some of the LEED Platinum projects that are happening at a commercial level? Is it all pretty much at the residential level?
Kal Nanji: Well, absolutely. Some of the multi family projects that we do work on are LEED New Construction projects that get anywhere from normal to gold to platinum certification. I’m not aware of any particular platinum certifications that we’ve been involved with but certainly many of our multi family projects that contain our products have received LEED certification up to the gold level, I believe.
Sean Daily: OK. Well, Kal, we’re going to take a quick break right here for a commercial and then we will be right back. And I want to ask you when we get back about ‘the elephant in the room question’ , which is about the economy and the current state of the market and how Armstrong is adapting existing initiatives in that climate. But we’ll be right back.
Thanks everyone for listening. We’ll be back on “GreenTalk Radio”. This is Sean Daily.
Sean Daily: Hey everybody, we’re back on “GreenTalk Radio”. Sean Daily here with Kal Nanji from Armstrong Cabinets and he is the director of marketing as well as being in charge of product development.
Kal, we we’re talking before the break about some of the trends that you see happening in terms of green in the industry and specifically some of the ways that Armstrong is responding to those trends.
What I wanted to zero in on for a little bit here is about the housing market.
Kal Nanji: Sure.
Sean Daily: We’re seeing -- obviously in these troubled times in the economy – we’re seeing housing…
Kal Nanji: Challenging environment.
Sean Daily: Very challenging environment for everybody. And new housing markets are at an all time low, or near an all time low. How is that affecting, or is that affecting, the sustainability initiatives that you guys have had in place? Is it having any sort of an affect? Or, perhaps, reinforcing them?
Kal Nanji: Well, I think there’s a couple of things there. First of all, again, all of our products, when we develop them we are looking at sustainability as an element. So that doesn’t change with what is going on in the economy. It is something that we do as a company. If anything, potentially, we are seeing some products, or some demand rather, that is going more towards economy.
And while that happens, the good part our product line is that it is a good, better, best sustainability strategy where, again, there is an element of sustainability in all of our products. Those customers that value monetary issues they will go for products that are lower end in the portfolio. Those that, potentially, will pay more money for a more sustainable product will do that, as well. So that’s still there. We see both of those things happening.
I think the economy is showing people that there are companies that will maintain there product line, maintain the quality and the commitment they have to sustainability and other issues regardless what will happen in the economy.
Sean Daily: I see.
Now, Kal, since you’re in product development, I wanted to ask you this question. How does Armstrong exactly ascertain what type of sustainable products consumers are actually looking for?
Kal Nanji: Right. We’ve got a lot of different types of customers and we use a lot of research methods to develop products and services. Because sustainability is becoming one of the leading criteria for products, we do focus groups as one element. We listen to customer panels. There’s some field research that’s done. And, of course, we analyze lifestyle, architectural, and furniture trends that are going on in the industry that are really relevant to the cabinets that we provide, as well.
With these activities along with some product development process and ideation with the company, we try to make sure that we meet our customers expectations and, of course, their unmet needs as well.
Sean Daily: Now, I know you guys have earned the JD Powers And Associates Cabinet Satisfaction Ranking for, I guess, it’s two years running now. Congratulations on that, first of all.
Kal Nanji: Thank you. Thanks.
Sean Daily: Tell us exactly what that means. I think JD Powers is a name we’re all familiar with. Anybody who’s watched Sunday football sees that on various car commercials and things like that.
Kal Nanji: Right.
Sean Daily: Tell us exactly what that represents. And then also, I am curious about if the sustainability initiatives that you guys have implemented have affected that.
Kal Nanji: Right. Well, first of all, we are extremely proud of the accomplishment. It confirms the dedication of all our associates to insure the highest customer satisfaction in the industry.
When it comes to sustainability, the more efficient processes we have in manufacturing, with reduced waste and energy consumption, and, therefore, lead to a higher quality product that are delivered on time and complete. A lot of the measures that JD Powers uses are in their study so everything we do as an organization from manufacturing to our product development to our customer service is around becoming more efficient, more lean, and better service to our customers. And the JD Powers study really confirms all of that, as well.
Sean Daily: One of the question I ask all of my guests on the program is for tips for our listeners that are looking to, in this case, build or perhaps remodel their homes in a greener fashion, because you as the expert certainly have that viewpoint. So I am curious if there is anything that you’d like to share with our listeners along those lines.
Kal Nanji: Sure. Absolutely.
The main thing – I’m not going to tell you about specific products or a specific thing you can do when you remodel green. But what I really want to warn against is green washing.
In the industry we see a lot of companies out there not necessarily being true to their product and having some aspects which may or may not be sustainable. So as a consumers, as a remodeler, as a builder you’d want to insure that you’re working with a company that actually stands behind their commitment to sustainability and that insures that the products that they offer meet some level of sustainability.
So, for example, if they were doing a LEED certification, that those products have some qualities that can attribute to LEED or any other type of clean building rating system they may be using.
Sean Daily: So how can the average consumer be on that and know? That’s the problem with green washing. It’s so difficult for people to be able to ascertain who’s doing what and how deep their greenness goes. If it’s on the surface, it doesn’t go past the marketing department and what have you. I mean, you know, in your view how do people make that differentiation.
Kal Nanji: Right. Right. Absolutely.
Well, one of the things they can see is what the organization’s doing from a corporate standpoint. A lot of times products are sustainable, but maybe there’s no sustainability commitment in the other aspects.
For example, at Armstrong we are committed to the Hardwood Forestry Fund where we replant a number of trees that are used within our processing. So I think this past year we’ve committed to planting 506,000 trees as an organization, basically replacing the amount of trees that we use in production.
Sean Daily: I see.
Kal Nanji: Those are some of the environmental stewardship elements that really makes some organizations stand out, as opposed to others.
Now that’s one of the things that a consumer, or a builder, or a remodeler can take away as a direction that says, this company stands behind their products and they walk the talk, essentially.
Sean Daily: Right.
Now without asking you to name any names – I certainly wouldn’t do that – what are some of the things that you’ve seen that you consider some of the more fairly egregious green washing activities from other companies, that are perhaps not so scrupulous, in your industry.
Kal Nanji: Well, you know, a lot of times there’s big buzz words out there. Obviously, FFC is a big buzz word. Formaldehyde is a big buzz word. And LEED certification, again, is a big buzz word. So me of the smaller organizations out there – they tend to go with the public demand for these types of criteria and they acknowledge that they have or they meet this criteria. But they really don’t back it up with product data or product specifications.
So the one thing to look for is a product that you are looking at or considering. Ask questions about what it comes from, what types of specifications the materials have, what type of data do you have to back up what consists of the material and where it comes from. Those are the things that any true company that is marketing products correctly and honestly will have for you as a company.
Sean Daily: Kal, one last question for you today. Where do you see green cabinetry going in the future?
Kal Nanji: Well, you know, it’s become, I guess, more of an expectation rather than something that’s outside of the norm. So, I think, as we’re going into the future, I think people understand our need to preserve our natural resources. They’ll eventually come, again, more the rule rather than the exception.
Again, with our commitment we’ll continue to insure that we’ve got great products to meet that need. And, in fact, if I can, I would like to announce that later this year we’ll be introducing a door stall made from a rapidly renewable material and a product line made with VOC-free plywood. And both of these will contribute to two additional LEED categories for our customers.
Sean Daily: That’s great.
Well, my guest today has been Kal Nanji. He’s a marketing director in charge of product development with Armstrong Cabinets.
Kal, we appreciate you taking the time out of your schedule to be with us on “GreenTalk Radio” today.
Kal Nanji: Thanks again for having me.
Sean Daily: Thanks again for everyone listening in today. Remember for more free on demand podcasts, videos, articles, and other information related to living a greener lifestyle visit our website at www.greenlivingideas.com. We’d also love to hear your comments, feedback, and questions. Send us an email at [email protected].
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