The Nature Company implements a new listening station design made with materials from managed forests.

When The Nature Company, Berkeley, Calif., wanted to produce customer listening kiosks for 85 of its stores, the company embarked on a search for a fabrication process that fell more in line with its products.

According to Miki Herman, purchasing director for Discovery Channel Retail and The Nature Company, setting that type of criteria made sense. "It's only natural that a company selling merchandise made from natural materials should use natural materials in [fabricating some of] its store fixtures," she says.

To accomplish its aim, the retailer turned to Portland, Ore.-based Boden Store Fixtures Inc., which proposed to make the kiosks using only recycled wood products and wood from sustainable forests. Unfortunately, says Herman, this was easier said than done.

Although sources for naturally forested two-by-fours were available, the booths required plyboard panels with hardwood veneers. It took months of calls to various lumber suppliers, brokers and manufacturers before Herman managed to get the panels produced and supplied to Boden, which then manufactured the kiosks.

"[This particular materials and manufacturing process] has never been done before, at least not on the West Coast," Herman says. "If we hadn't been committed, we would have gotten frustrated and stopped."

According to Boden president Dennis Kent, the panels are fairly standard in their makeup. They consist of a sturdy inner body of chipboard or medium density fiberboard made from sawdust or tailings and a thin, outer layer of hardwood. The only difference from standard products is the origin of the wood, says Kent; the quality, he adds, "is exactly the same."

Actually, there is one other difference: cost. "The raw materials cost about 15 to 20 percent more, but because there is more labor than materials in store fixturing, it ends up costing only 5 to 10 percent more overall," says Kent.

The price differential is due to the fact that managed forests are more labor-intensive and less amenable to mass tree felling. Unlike tree farms, which typically contain only one tree type, sustainable forests do their best to replicate the natural environment, Kent explains.

Multiple tree varieties grow together, complete with secondary growth, undergrowth and animal habitats. Clear-cutting is banned, and mature trees are not cut until others have matured to replace them.

In this particular case, Herman points out, the time and effort required to fabricate materials created additional expenses. "Now that we've set a process up, the costs will be lower in the future," she says.

According to Kent, environmentally responsible products make up only a small percentage of Boden's business; the company, he notes, is encouraging all its customers to use them. "We feel it's in the best interest of our company to promote this type of product," he says, adding that new materials are coming out all the time.

"One of our suppliers is providing core material made out of wheat straw. Eventually you will be able to build your entire store with products that don't harm the environment."