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Adventures of Mattman: ISPA’s 2022 Sustainability Conference

On the heels of releasing consumer data that suggests 65% of present-day consumers are willing to pay between 1%-20% more for a sustainable mattress, the International Sleep Products Association (ISPA) kicked off its first-ever Sustainability Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina on November 11th, 2022.

A packed room with over 150+ attendees representing manufacturers of sleep products from around the world followed a schedule that included panels and presentations from sustainability leaders ranging from sleep products to governance and the keynote speaker Dr. Andrew Dent, Executive Vice President of Materials Research at Material ConneXion and Chief Material Scientist at Material Bank as well as a TED speaker.

Dent challenged the room to share stories about what organizations in the room were doing to create circular products. To a room full of leaders hungry for innovation and sustainable products, he asked “Why aren’t you sustainable already?” The room was silent.

The panels were home to great conversation and story-sharing. Representatives from Tempur-Sealy International(TSI), Carpenter Company, BakaertDeslee, and Covestro told the audience about their perspectives on how evolving their businesses is a worthy and profitable undertaking.

Rhiannon Burch Hallam, Senior Vice President of Sales for BekaertDeslee, chimed in “We should all feel panic that we are a fossil fuel-based industry,” when speaking about a question from ISPA President Ryan Trainer.

Trainer had asked the panel what tools or methods our industry should be aware of that we don’t already use. Rhiannon thought that retailers are the conduit between manufacturers and consumers. She said that with good relationships, manufacturers can learn to evolve and better serve the needs and demands of the public.

Rhiannon’s comment was not fear-mongering, but more of an observation that now is the time to act.

Speaker Mitchell Toomey, former global director of the UN Sustainable Development Goals Action Campaign, started by saying, “This is a story of growth.”

Toomey walked through the creation of 17 goals outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) which can be found at sdgs.un/goals. Toomey explained that these goals, formed in 2015, are not rules imposed upon nations but instead a collaboration between non-profit organizations, corporations, and governments combined.

These goals are a starting point to measure progress by 2030 and begin working towards a circular, sustainable future.

Other government experts took the stage as well, including Speaker Lenard Gordon of Venable, who taught about the risk companies take on when advertising their sustainable initiatives and pointed out that the Federal Trade Commission is highly aware that sustainable product marketing plays a major role in the purchasing decisions of the public.

Trainor posed a question and statement to Gordon asking if the FTC would consider durable goods like mattresses differently from shot term consumables when marketing sustainable products and reductions in environmental impact to encourage the industry to move in that direction. 

Also lending more credibility to sustainable business practices, Brian Tomlinson, Managing Director, Environmental, Social, and Governance of Ernst & Young, walked through the climate change rules the Securities and Exchange commission is rolling out. 

Tomlinson pointed out that investors now consider climate change and its effects when making investment decisions.

In the afternoon session, the Mattress Recycling Council (MRC) took the stage to share its story of growth over the past seven years. 

The MRC recycling centers repurpose over 70% of the raw materials from most of the mattresses they process while helping those recycling centers be profitable. It has proven it can scale up its system at a statewide level in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and California — and Oregon in 2024. 

To see the MRC’s amazing environmental and economic impact as a result of mattress recycling, visit their website at https://mattressrecyclingcouncil.org/ and check out their impact links from the top menu. 

Many leaders gathered and many ideas were shared at the first-ever ISPA Sustainability Conference. Yet, what was shared more was the commitment by the collective audience and ISPA members to doing a better job tomorrow than we are doing today. 

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