When American architects, designers and builders started to ask green questions, his own interest in sustainability was awakened. Five years ago this led to a radical change of lifestyle for Bruce Uhler and his family.
From being responsible for sales to the building segment in North America for Kährs – based and living in Florida – to moving to the small Swedish town of Nybro, in the middle of a forest, to co-manage the company’s sustainability development, work and communication as the company’s Environmental Ambassador.
“The company already had a great green culture and history that dates back several decades, but never really communicated and talked about it. Today, we are proud to state that Kährs has been awarded more environment certifications than any other wood flooring producer in the world – and we have a whole range of ongoing projects to ensure that we continue to be the leader in the industry on the path to a sustainable future,” Bruce Uhler says.
A visitor may be puzzled by the number of big and aging oak trunks displaying cavities of different sizes placed around Kährs Nybro plant in the south of Sweden. But this is, in fact, the company’s new project to save the biggest insect in Europe, i.e. the endangered stag beetle. The spectacular insect, with its huge stag like antlers, feeds on decaying oak wood.
“You could say that this symbolizes our environmental concern for every aspect of our operations, from the smallest, local issues to those with a major, global impact on the industry and the environment,” he says.
Kährs ecological approach is of long standing. It earned the company an ISO 14001 environmental management certification – as the first wood flooring company – more than a decade ago.
“But it goes back much further than that. Founded in 1857 in Sweden, we are one of the oldest producers of wood floors in the business. We have been one of the most innovative in the industry, with a track record of groundbreaking flooring technology that has contributed to making modern wood flooring production more sustainable. Our innovations include patenting and introducing the world’s first multi-layer wood floor back in 1941, allowing the raw material to be utilized in a more environmentally friendly way,” Bruce Uhler says.
Showing us around the site in Nybro, where the company started its production and where it still has its heart, main production and head office, Bruce Uhler points out some of the various on-going eco projects. One of the easiest to spot is the big biofuel plant.
“Kährs collects all its wood by-product material on-site, such as the bark, sawdust and rejected material, and converts it into biofuel. In addition to heating our own Nybro plant, we also produce heating for some 20,000 homes in the area. Our environmental team works constantly to reduce our carbon footprint and impact to nature in the areas of air quality, water discharge and noise control,” Bruce Uhler explains.
Environmental and quality certified in its operations since the early 1990’s, and with an ISO 9001 certification to its name, Kährs has been publishing a transparent environmental report for the past 18 years. A few years ago, the company decided to take the documentation of its work in this area one step further, starting processes to certify products according to the standards and market needs that apply to its seventy plus markets globally.
“One of the most comprehensive standards is the Swan label, the Nordic Ecolabel. In April 2014, we set a goal to Swan certify a great number of our products, as we realized by doing so we would have covered many areas required for certifications on most other global markets. This proved to be a major effort and investment since we had to analyse and document our products throughout their entire lifecycle; from raw material to waste,” Bruce Uhler says.
The effort, however, was extremely successful. Today, more than 150 of Kährs products are Swan labeled.
“There has been a lot of interest in the Swan label from other countries in the EU, like Germany, as well as the US, since it covers so many aspects of environmentally healthy products.”
“Certifications are important of course, but basically it’s all about living up to our total quality concept; we want our products to be beautiful, long lasting and to be produced as sustainably as possible,” Bruce Uhler continues.
“Our motivation to improve in all areas never stops – you can always get better. At the moment, we’re focusing our environmental efforts on creating the healthiest indoor air quality, on sustainable forest supplies, product development and fair trade,” Bruce Uhler explains.
Meanwhile, along with his family and their two corgies, he has embraced a healthy life in Nybro, Sweden – even if the climate is much harsher than the family was used to in the constantly warm and often sunny Florida.
“We love our life in Sweden – I ride my bike every day, even in the winter. It is also personally inspiring to work with corporate social responsibility for a company that cares and in areas that will have a positive impact for our customers, as well as the world in general, today and in the future,” he says.