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At Room & Board, Emily McGarvey is ‘Gently Nudging a Big Ship’

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Name: Emily McGarvey
Title: Director of Sustainability
Years Room & Board: Two
Primary Responsibility: “To lead company in social and environmental strategy. Setting goals. Having a positive impact on people and planet. There’s no typical day. I get to work on a lot of different projects.”
Company’s most significant accomplishment in social purpose and sustainability
: “We have done a lot. Prioritizing American crafts people and having 90 percent of our products made in the U.S. Having that local and American supply chain.”
Company’s most significant challenge moving forward in social purpose and sustainability: “One of the biggest challenges is figuring out what to do with furniture at the end of its life. We are working on timeless design. We need to figure out wood and upholstery waste.”

Emily McGarvey

MINNEAPOLIS, MINN.—Room & Board, a provider of items for home and business in categories ranging from furniture to sheets and pillowcases to lighting, announced in January that it is a newly Certified B Corporation (“B Corp”). For those following the company, the certification is a logical next chapter in its sustainability story, and one made possible with the guidance of Emily McGarvey, Director of Sustainability.

McGarvey, whose resume includes a two-year stint as Director, Corporate Responsibility for Target, began her position with Room & Board in 2022. It has been under her watch that the company has established measurable goals for the betterment of people, products, and the planet. It has successfully sourced 85 percent of its wood sustainably, reached 70 percent renewable electricity usage in stores and operations, and contributed 2 percent of profits to support nonprofits across the country.

According to Room & Board, which was founded in 1980, it has always believed consumers and the trade should know where their furniture is made, the materials that go into it, and that it will stand the test of time. As a founding member of the Sustainable Furnishings Council, and developer of one of the nation’s largest urban wood supply chains, Room & Board has distinguished itself as a leader in sustainability.

B Corporation Certification Process

To become a Certified B Corporation, Room & Board underwent a comprehensive and stringent evaluation of its operations, thoroughly examining its impact across key areas such as governance, workers, community, the environment, and customers.

“Since the beginning, Room & Board has considered both people and the planet alongside profit,” said John Gabbert, Founder & CEO of Room & Board, in a release about the certification. “Becoming a B Corp was a natural next step for our company.”

McGarvey says Room & Board does not manufacture on its own but relies on 150 vendor partners. Of the products made by those partners, 95 percent are exclusive to Room & Board. The company, which has 1,100 employees and 200 people at its central office, has 22 stores in the U.S. and delivers nationally.

“I have three people on my team,” McGarvey says. “We also have a Sustainability Change Agents group. We get together monthly. It represents all areas of our company. It gives us the ability to be transparent and it holds us accountable for continuous improvement.”

Approaching 100 Percent Responsibly Sourced Wood

As part of Room & Board’s continuous improvement, it sets challenging goals. “We have a goal to use 100 percent responsibly sourced wood by 2025,” McGarvey says. “We are now at 95 percent.” By 2030, the company will use 100 percent renewable electricity in its operations. It is working toward using 100 percent recyclable packaging by 2025. By 2030, 90 percent of Room & Board’s operational waste will be diverted from the waste stream.

Tackling the furniture end-of-life challenge remains a big task for Room & Board. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, nearly 12 million tons of furniture end up in landfills every year. One way Room & Board is helping to reduce wood waste to landfill is by participating in the Urban Wood Project—an initiative whereby the company uses wood from buildings slated for demolition in the pieces that it sells.

In 2023, Room & Board partnered with Brooklyn-based millwork and design operation, Tri-Lox, to upcycle wood culled from decommissioned New York City water towers and salvaged local trees for an exclusive line of sustainable offerings suitable for hospitality and office spaces.

“We are building a circular supply chain,” McGarvey says. “It is beautiful wood.”

Other important initiatives at Room & Board include the use of rooftop solar at different locations, water conservation through efficient fixtures and native landscaping, tree planting activities, and the implementation of a vendor code of conduct and animal welfare policy. McGarvey says Room & Board gives 2 percent of profits to charity and employees participated in 60 outreach activities in 2023.

Emphasis on Recycled Content

Room & Board currently offers more than 20 fabrics woven with a minimum of 30 percent recycled polyester. All indoor/outdoor rugs are made of at least 97 percent recycled PET (polyethylene terephthalate) made from plastics like water bottles. Currently, 30 percent of throw blankets include recycled alpaca wool or cotton yarns. Room & Board carries InsideOut and Sustain GREENGUARD Gold Certified fabrics from Valdese Weavers and Revolution GREENGUARD Gold Certified fabrics from STI fabrics, meeting strict standards for indoor air quality.

All foam used in mattresses or upholstered furniture is CertiPUR-US or CertiPUR-certified. This means it meets rigorous standards for content, emissions, and durability. More than 97 percent of sheet collections are OEKO-TEX certified, ensuring they are free from more than 100 chemicals which may be harmful to human health.

‘Gently Nudging a Big Ship’

When asked what she enjoys most about her work, McGarvey says, “I enjoy the people. It is fun seeing someone enjoy their job and at a volunteer event. I always wanted to make the world a better place.”

She compared her work to “gently nudging a big ship”—one that was already headed in the right direction.

Glenn Hasek can be reached at greenlodgingnews@gmail.com.

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