Photo by permission of Lee Industries
Lee Industries, a family owned company, has been manufacturing furniture since 1969 adhering to the same principles of yesterday as they do today.Its commitment to manufacturing high quality furnishings in the United States and the focus on its customers, community, and the environment have not changed since the Company’s founding.
Norman Coley, president of the company, credits his father, Bill Coley, founder and CEO of the Company for Lee’s environmental vision as evidenced by the company’s standards to produce long lasting quality furniture, which would not be discarded in landfills. Even as early as the 1980s, the Company introduced their Ecology Plus Program to eliminate their use of ozone depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) from its furniture components. In 2006, Lee introduced the NaturalLEE standards, which made accessible, affordable eco-friendly furniture mainstream. As Norman Coley adeptly states, “Lee is constantly pushing the environmental envelope.”
Lee Industries stands out of the ordinary because its furniture is readily available and reasonably priced. Its furniture lines are considered medium to high end, and are comparable in price to such furniture brands as Lexington and Bernhardt.The average price of their traditional NaturalLee 84 inch couch is $2450.00.Although this is an average price, your choices of finishes, styles, and fabrics can alter this average price. That same size couch would cost at least twice as much produced by other boutique environmental furniture companies.
When I started writing this Article in July, the Company had two different furniture specifications, its regular ones, and the NaturalLEE standards, for which customers would have to pay a slight up-charge.I was side tracked and unable to finish the article. Fast forward six months later, I reconnected with Coley, and learned that the Company pushed their environmental envelope again. All of their furniture is being made with only the NaturalLEE specifications without any up charge to its customers. Additionally, the Company had just introduced a new environmental friendly cushion, Eco-Lux. If I waited another six months to finish this Article, there is no doubt that there would be more e-changes at Lee.
So what are the NaturalLEE standards? All woods used in the manufacturing of the furniture come from sustainable harvested forests. The frames are made of engineered wood and soy based resins to reduce the use of old growth timber. The springs used in the frames are made of a sixty percent recycled metal. In addition, the furniture pieces are stained and sealed with low VOC water based products.The back and throw pillows are made out of 100% recycled fibers made from clear and white plastic bottles.
There are two eco-friendly options for their cushions.The first option is a cushion made out of the Preserve® foam core, which contains 20% soy-based BIOH™ Polyols and 80% polyurethane.By teaming up with Cargill, the producers of the BIOH™ Polyols, and Hickory Springs, the maker of the cushions, Lee has made a commitment to the environment to reduce the amount of petroleum based chemicals used in the making of polyurethane foam, a commonly used product in furniture cushions. The second option is an Eco-lux cushion made out of the Preserve™ foam core wrapped in 50/50 down and feathers and Ingeo™ fibers. According to the Company, Ingeo™ fibers are “the very first commercially viable synthetic fiber derived from renewable resources.”
You can choose any one of the available 15 organic cotton fabrics or regular Lee fabrics.Although at the moment there is not a large selection of environmentally friendly fabrics, Coley assured me that the Company will expand their line to approximately 150 fabrics in the future.
When I asked Coley why not use natural latex cushions rather than a soy/polyurethane blend, he responded that his customer base was very important to him.He explained that using natural latex would increase the price of Lee’s furniture, and the Company’s customer base would no longer be able to afford it. Many manufacturers using natural latex charge $5000 for a similar Lee couch.His hopes are that the Preserve®/Hickory Spring collaboration will continue to produce cushions made out of more soy and less polyurethane, and one day totally soy.
What worried me was the fact the Company was using polyurethane foam in its cushion, which I knew would have flame retardants in it.The history of PCBs, and its predecessor, PBDE as flame retardants, has been froth with controversy ending up with PCBs being banned and 2 forms of PBDE being withdraw from the market.
I expressed my concern to Dimitri Dounis, Research and Development Manager of Hickory Springs, makers of the cushions.He indicated that the cushions made for Lee Industries contained a nonhalegon carbon based flame retardant not any form of the controversial PBDE based flame retardant.
If you want to sit on a Lee couch or chair, then visit their website for a list of the Company’s many dealers throughout the United States and Canada. Additionally, you Crate and Barrel carries its own exclusive NaturalLEE Furniture line which is made of all natural cotton.I sat on the couch and found it to be very comfortable.
Lee’s environmental efforts are not solely relegated to the production of its furniture.Ask their employees.Weekly meeting always contain environmental directives to help make the Company more energy efficient. Their factories contain low voltage lighting, low flow toilets, 95 percent of the raw materials that are not used are recycled, and water conservation is of utmost importance. According to Coley, last year the Company reduced its carbon footprint by fifteen percent by changing their manufacturing pumps to variable speed ones, programming thermostats, and instituting other environmental reduction concepts throughout the Company.
When I asked Coley if this fifteen percent reduction met his goals for the Company, he explained in his traditional southern drawl, “No ma’am.I intend to reduce our needs an additional fifteen percent.”I believe he will.
I was curious if Coley’s efforts to green his company translated to his personal life.Did he truly walk the talk? I posed this question to Bondi Coley, Lee’s Marketing Manager, and Coley’s wife. She immediately gave me a laundry list of how they were trying to live a greener lifestyle. She further explained that teaching her children and her neighbors as to their beliefs was equally important.
From my conversation with the Coleys, being a good steward of the Earth is a family affair. This will not be the last time I will be interviewing Coley about this forward thinking Company. Lee will continue to standout in the forefront of mainstream furniture companies whose environmental message is just as important as the quality of their furniture.