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Company goes green-friendly

March 11, 2007|by PEPPER BALLARD

Hagerstown Kitchens Inc. President and CEO Jim Lobley said that although his decision to make his all-wood custom cabinet company "green- friendly" was market driven, the changeover at the plant has been a natural one.

In December, Hagerstown Kitchens officially became green-friendly: A certification the company received through the Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association's Environmental Stewardship Program means all materials used in its cabinets meet the lowest formaldehyde emission standards and are 100 percent recycled.

Workers now recycle rags and pay more attention to energy use.

"Every piece of cardboard that comes into our factory is used to wrap something that goes out of our factory," Lobley said.

Hardwoods are certified through a credible forestry program. The company has a documented energy conservation program and meets all environmental requirements set forth by federal, state and local governments, according to information provided by Lobley.

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"For every tree we cut down, we plant one," he said.

He said the company bought 5,000 trees last year and the Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association planted 50,000. The company participated in reforestation before it received the certification.

Hagerstown Kitchens Inc. was the first all-wood cabinet company to receive the certification and is now one of 25 such businesses that have been given the environmental nod, Lobley said.

"We're not only environmentally friendly in Maryland, but in California, too," Lobley said.

Hagerstown Kitchens, which has 91 employees, has been in existence since 1969 and in Lobley's hands since 1989. It has 120 dealers throughout the United States, Lobley said.

Lobley said the company had to drop two major suppliers that didn't meet the stewardship program's specifications. He said it's more expensive to buy the environmentally friendly products, but the benefit of its branding will pay off in the end.

He pointed out, as an example of the demand, a conversation he had with a New Jersey developer who was excited to hear about the company's new certification and said he got tax breaks if he bought environmentally friendly cabinets.

John Hoover, plant manager, said it took workers more than 100 hours to prepare for the certification, attainment of which included several visits from the testing agency.

Under the "green-friendly" stewardship program, air quality, resource management of product and purpose, environmental stewardship and community relations were taken into consideration.

Workers did at first worry that the new woods wouldn't be as workable as the previous woods, but they have adapted and found the workability is the same, Hoover said.

Workers even found some added benefits in the new materials.

"The previous materials, the dust was more irritating. Some people could be highly allergic," Hoover said. The smell of finishing also is "considerably less" at the plant now.

Air quality certification was tested based on the amount of formaldehyde emissions levels of all materials that Hagerstown Kitchens uses to build its cabinetry.

Acknowledgment of the company's community involvement and leadership through the program was an added benefit.

Hagerstown Kitchens is involved with Habitat for Humanity, food banks, emergency response agencies, Washington County Hospital, The John R. Marsh Cancer Center and Washington County Public Schools.

For each of the past five years, the company has trained students who won't go to college to work at its plant.

Training begins for two students in the 11th grade and, if all goes well, those students are hired full-time with benefits after graduating.

Six full-time graduates are employed and two part-time students are employed.

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