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RapidChat: Jennifer Wammack on a more sustainable Furniture City, USA

What makes Jennifer Wammack great? It's not only her ample resume highlighting 30-plus years experience within the realm of furniture product design. As Director of Outreach at BIFMA, she is ever-so passionate about the Triple Bottom Line of Furniture City, USA.

What makes Jennifer Wammack great? It's not only her ample resume highlighting 30-plus years experience within the realm of furniture product design. As Director of Outreach at BIFMA, she is ever-so passionate about the Triple Bottom Line of Furniture City, USA.
Rapid Growth: How did you first get your start as a guest lecturer at Kendall College of Art and Design?

Jennifer Wammack: I have known Gayle DeBruyn (Professor at KCAD) since before we studied sustainable business together at Aquinas College. Several years ago, when she had an opening in the position, she reached out and it was a great opportunity for me to get back into teaching, which I love.

RG: When did the conversation surrounding sustainability first pique your interest?

JW: I moved to GR in 1997 to take a position with the fabric manufacturer, Guilford of Maine. At that time, they were owned by Interface who was going through a massive culture shift toward a sustainable development model. Ray Anderson’s story (the Founder of Interface, Inc.) may be familiar to some. He was an early and passionate pioneer for how the manufacturing model could and must be changed from the wasteful one that developed in the Industrial Revolution.

RG: You also are the Director of Outreach at BIFMA. What is BIFMA?

JW: BIFMA stands for the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association. They’re a not-for-profit trade organization based here in GR that’s been serving the needs of commercial furniture since 1973.

RG: What brought you into that role?

JW: I came to BIFMA by way of product design, which is unusual for the organization.

RG: How does sustainability play in furniture design?

JW: I am proud to say that the commercial furniture industry embraced this idea of a sustainable business model early and they continue to innovate. Design is a critical component. The materials one selects and the way they go together will determine much of a product’s lifecycle impact. 

RG: Why do you think sustainability is often an afterthought in other design processes?

JW: To really capture the value, a company must take a holistic view of sustainability and see it as a strategic advantage. This can be difficult because our system is still so tied to a linear model of business that has built-in assumptions that resources are unlimited.

RG: What are simple things companies can do to help improve their processes and positively impact their Triple Bottom Line?

JW: I love this question because it speaks to getting started, which can be a big hurdle. Companies should look to their own culture to determine what may be easier for them to tackle. Having successes early on can really energize a company. A good first step for any organization is to identify and support their internal champions. They are your knowledge experts who can help chart the way forward for things like resource utilization and building social capital.

RG: Where do you see the conversation surrounding sustainability heading?

JW: I believe that a design model emulating nature is where we are headed and need to go. Conversations around this are happening at all these levels with names like the circular economy, closed-loop, and systems thinking. In my view, there is a role for policy at all these levels, but equally important are all the seemingly small decisions that people make every day. 

RG: In regards to the Triple Bottom Line, where do you think Grand Rapids has the biggest opportunity for growth?

JW: The issue that I am trying to be a better student of and champion for is institutionalized racism which squarely lives in the social sustainability realm. Its manifestations are pervasive. One issue that I’ve had an opportunity to learn a bit more about is fair and affordable housing. Grand Rapids is facing the legacy of past sins and we need to continue working to create a great community for all residents.

RG: Who inspires you?

JW: So many! I am privileged to be on the board of New City Neighbors, a non-profit serving youth in northeast Grand Rapids. The staff and volunteers who pour into the lives of kids every day are tremendously inspiring to me. I have had the opportunity to work with great business leaders who have helped me de-compartmentalize work life and personal conviction. That is a huge blessing and they inspire me to do likewise.

Jenna Morton is the RapidChat correspondent for Rapid Growth Media.
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