WithIt is pleased to honor Susan Inglis, founding executive director of the Sustainable Furnishings Council, as the 2022 WOW Awards recipient for the Visionary Award.
This award is the highest recognition level bestowed by the organization, honoring a woman of achievement whose insight and actions have significantly impacted the home and furnishings industries and/or WithIt.
As a leader in the push for sustainability in the home and furnishings industry, Susan led the Sustainable Furnishings Council from idea to reality. She clung to the notion that businesses have the power to change the world and, in doing so, became a part of that change — speaking to one business at a time.
When we chatted with Susan, we discussed several topics including:
* The early days of the Sustainable Furnishings Council
* The toughest part about working toward industry sustainability
* How her work-life has impacted her life
* And more!
If Susan’s passion for creating change hasn’t reached you yet, we’re confident that after reading what she had to say, you’ll have some worthwhile purpose come to mind. At Susan’s pleading, we ask that you follow her lead and take action.
WithIt: Can you tell us about the beginning of your journey with the Sustainable Furnishings Council?
From the Mountain is the little business I was doing when I learned there was going to be a meeting to talk about whether to start an organization that might be called Sustainable Furnishings Council. I got wind of that meeting through WithIt friends (I was on the board of WithIt at that point).
When I heard it was about sustainable furnishings, I thought, “Oh, that could be really good for my business,” because my business From the Mountain was at that point sourcing handmade and sustainably crafted products for the home furnishings industry. And indeed, it was right up my alley. I got so involved in the new organization that it eclipsed the work I was doing with artisans.
When I showed up at that first meeting, it was fewer than 50 people meeting at Jeronimo “Jerry” Cooklin’s showroom — it was his idea. He gathered us to say that he was very aware of how impactful residential furnishing is — what a big environmental footprint we have. And though he had “greened up” his operations, he knew [the job] was much bigger than anything any one business could do.
And he wondered if anybody wanted to be involved in the organization with him. Of course, the answer was yes. That was in September 2006, and we decided to have an organizational meeting at the High Point Market that October. We had a whole bunch of people show up and sign up saying they’d be interested in being involved.
We were off to the races by the next High Point Market. We had fully incorporated by then, and those who attended that first meeting as the governance committee became the board of directors. We also had a standards committee and a marketing committee.
Our mission was to help companies, no matter how they work in the home furnishings industry. So, manufacturers, designers, retailers, suppliers, or materials — we wanted to help all these companies know how to reduce their environmental footprint. And because sales drive change, [it was also important to us] to help consumers find the environmentally safe furnishings they prefer.
We determined a list of best practices for sustainability in the furnishings industry, and we had all members sign a pledge to say they were committed to the cause. They had to go through this list of best practices and say what practices they’re implementing now and what they’re in the process of doing. And they must be committed to continuous improvements. We asked them to say what they’re working on now in terms of reducing energy consumption and better managing their supply chain and to be loud about it because the planet is in enough trouble. This was our position at the beginning and remains the position of the organization.
Every company needs to start where they are and move forward. It doesn’t matter whether you are fully committed to sustainability and using only eco-friendly materials and have been since day one, or whether you’re just beginning to think about sustainability. Whatever point of that spectrum you’re on, everybody needs to get started and commit to continuous improvement.
WithIt: What caused you to become so personally invested in sustainability?
I was raised to be a steward. I come from a long line of people in my family who are committed to taking care of the earth and taking care of their communities. And that’s a responsibility to take seriously. I grew up way out in the country and close to nature. That continues to be significant for me.
WithIt: What has been the toughest part about starting the SFC, getting people to jump on board, and creating the change you’ve wanted to see?
Well, what comes to mind first is the toughest part has been convincing people of the urgency of their company getting involved. Sometimes companies, or people in companies, will say, “Oh, we are not eco-friendly enough to get involved. We have to first change things within our operations.” Convincing them that they should join to have support for the changes they will make has been one challenge.
There are also companies that think, “Oh, we are already doing everything we can to make choices for sustainability.” They think they’re already implementing best practices and that they don’t need us. Convincing them that even if they don’t need us, the industry needs them, has been a challenge as well.
One of the greatest satisfactions of running the organization and getting us going has been that both examples of companies really have found value in networking with each other and in things we have taught them. We’re very much an educational organization. Over the 15 years, I was with the Sustainable Furnishings Council, I delivered a lot of programs and helped develop a lot of programs. We did a lot of training that has proved valuable for individual industry professionals and for the growth of companies.
WithIt: How has this work impacted your life?
Well, it’s been kind of all-consuming.
I have done it for 15 years, and it really has been all day every day for 15 years.
There are great advantages to that. It means I’ve given it my best shot, and I can feel good about where I’ve left the organization for others to pick up. Of course, that’s exactly what Scarlet Tap is doing as the current executive director. She has taken the 15-year-thick foundation and is taking it from here.
Over the course of those 15 years, many brilliant people have served on our board for short and for long terms. So, I step away with great satisfaction.
It is very much like being a parent in a way. I think many entrepreneurs are like mamas to their enterprises. We care a lot about the details of the enterprise, but we know that if we do our best, that enterprise will be able to stand on its own. Of course, as parents, we continue to be concerned about how our offspring are doing. And I am concerned about all the programs of the Sustainable Furnishings Council that I was at the helm of, but I am confident that all those programs are in good condition to grow.
WithIt: There may be professionals reading our conversation who are wanting to create change in their industry, too. What encouragement would you have for them?
I would say to them that they should remember they have the unique perspective of their own experience and the unique drive that comes from their own commitment. They should realize it is for the good of the world as well as their own personal profound satisfaction. They would do well to respond to what they can respond to and realize they are able to take responsibility and make a profound difference.
Get involved, and make a difference. Anybody who has done anything for a cause knows this (and there are many in WithIt and in our industry who do wonderful things for a variety of causes). They can tell you that it is great to see the difference you’re making in the world, but it is also deeply personally satisfying to know you’ve done something with your experience and with your interests.
WithIt: What’s in store for you now? What’s next?
A lot of what’s next is not hurrying but taking the long leisurely route.
I think you should ask me a year from now what I have done. Cause it could go in any number of directions. I’m involved in lots of causes, and we’ll see what gets the most attention and time going forward.
I do live in a beautiful little town and have a beautiful big old house that my ancestor bought in 1786. It has a gorgeous big garden that my forebears gardened for years — my mother, her mother, her mother. And it, and it is lovely to tend those flowers and trees and plants.
I have a two-and-a-half-year-old grandson. The prospect of being able to spend a little more time with him is also a great joy.
So, gardening literally as well as figuratively is a lot of what I’ll be up to.
This or That
In a final burst of quick-fire questions, we asked Susan about her design and work/life preferences. Here’s what she said:
Coffee or Tea
Dress up or down*
Custom or Antique (It’s sustainable!)
Color or Neutral
Mountains or Beach
We sincerely hope what Susan shared with us leaves you inspired to create change.
If you’re a WithIt member, would you reach out to Susan to congratulate her as the recipient of the 2022 WOW Awards Visionary Award recipient?
*Susan added: “I recently attended the Future of Home Conference and Alexa Von Tobel had this great piece of advice that she shared in her talk about how to get anything done. She said, ‘Get up. dress up. show up.’ And I think that is so important. You know, you can dress up in a comfortable way, but there is something about how we present ourselves that empowers us.”