Rebel Foam Manufacturer Faces Difficulties in Greening His Industry

Bobby Bush is no relation to the current president, and when it comes to environmental practices, you can tell. Bush is vice president of Hickory Springs Manufacturing Co., the largest maker of foam used in furniture. Now, he wants the company to become the first in the U.S. to eliminate brominated flame retardants, which are showing up in breast milk and may be disrupting the cognitive development of babies. Polyurethane foam has long been the most popular material for upholstered furniture. Trouble is, it burns quickly, so companies add brominated flame retardants, to the tune of 20 million pounds per year. Now Bush wants to follow the example set by Swedish furniture maker Ikea and phase out the dangerous retardant. That’s proving difficult, because there’s no ready substitute that the U.S. market is willing to buy. Still, he’s determined to tough it out: “Sticking your head in the sand is not an acceptable response, in my book,” he said.