Sticky, Sustainable Solutions for Mattress Makers » BedTimes Magazine

Worthen Industries makes connection with deep family bonds and customer-first commitments

Eric Worthen, company president, cites enduring relationships and nimble leadership as qualities that set Worthen Industries apart.

Worthen Industries knows about ties that bind. The Nashua, New Hampshire-based company, which serves the mattress industry and almost a dozen others, is now in its fourth generation as a family-owned company. Family bonds run deep in the business.

But those are not the only bonds. Worthen’s growing mattress business is also held together by something else — adhesives.

Yes, Worthen provides the glue that holds many of today’s mattresses together. The company’s Foam Fabricating Adhesives Group, based in Richmond, Virginia, provides sticky solutions for mattress makers looking to keep their foam layers securely in place.

The company has been offering bonding solutions since it was founded back in 1866 as Union Paste Co. (known as UPACO). Its first pastes were used by manufacturers of boots, shoes, paper boxes, paper bags, book bindings and trunks.

Nowadays the company’s empire extends far beyond paste. It has 12 business units, five US locations, five international locations, and serves industries from footwear to renewable energy with products that range from printable fabrics to staples and nails.

Home furnishings are the focus of the company’s Foam Fabricating Adhesives Group, which designs, manufactures and provides adhesives solutions that bond cushioning materials in mattress and furniture manufacturing operations across the United States.

That group, and the company’s other business groups, have found success by concentrating on the needs of their customers with forward-looking, sustainable products and processes, officials say.

“At Worthen Industries, we believe the future is worth doing a right,” notes Steve Adams, business manager for the Foam Fabricating Adhesives Group, citing the company’s tag line. “So, we specialize in sustainable innovation by applying technology and a customer-first approach to every challenge. The result isn’t just an industry-leading product. It’s a solution that ensures the processes, product quality, efficiency and environmental practices of our customers are optimized.”

Eric Worthen, company president, says it’s more than just the family ties that set his company apart in the marketplace. It’s also an attitude toward the business and the people who drive it forward.

“Worthen is a family-owned company that goes back four generations,” he says. “But what it means to be a part of the Worthen family goes much deeper, to embrace a philosophy of how to work with customers, treat employees and enrich the community. We foster strong, enduring relationships with customers. … And, in everything we do, we’re committed to environmental stewardship and best practices.”

Eric Worthen cites “nimble leadership” as giving Worthen Industries an edge in the marketplace.

“We are a very diverse company serving many different markets,” he says. “Most of our current growth drivers are centered around our ability to service our markets better than most of our competitors. We are a solutions-based company, and therefore are willing to work on products and projects that many of our competitors will not consider.”

Worthen also benefits from its ability to make decisions swiftly, he adds. The privately owned company can make decisions much faster than other companies to keep raw material and finished goods inventories at a level sufficient enough to have continuity of supply, Worthen says. “And with a flat reporting structure, we are able to maintain an entrepreneurial spirit which allows for a more customer-focused approach.”

Rising to the challenge

Worthen admits that the Covid-19 pandemic tested Worthen Industries in a number of ways but says he’s proud of how well the company has navigated challenging times.

“Covid-19 certainly had an impact on Worthen Industries just as it did on the rest of the world,” Worthen says. “The impact felt here at Worthen was mixed. On one hand, we had all employees rally around each other, which was amazing to watch and be a part of. In a time of such turmoil and uncertainty, the stress level as a country and a world was higher than I have ever seen it. To watch people still be able to prioritize each other, help each other and care for their fellow employees was nothing short of extraordinary.”

He adds that the company’s manufacturing facilities were “hit very hard.” In a manufacturing environment, he says, “employees generally can’t work from home and need to be present. When the workforce changes on a daily basis by who is present and who is home due to Covid-19, it makes scheduling and maintaining on-time delivery very difficult.”

But Worthen showed its mettle by rising to that challenge.

“We did an excellent job managing through that, and I am very proud to be a part of that,” Worthen says. “I believe we were able to maintain a very safe and effective work environment.”

Adams says the Foam Fabricating Adhesives Group that he leads has a long history of solving the challenges that manufacturers have encountered when applying adhesives in mattress and furniture constructions. He says he’s proud of Worthen’s efforts that “helped to transform the industry by eliminating the use of materials that negative impacted the ozone layer and employee health and safety.”

Worthen has worked with adhesive application equipment manufacturers for years to improve the adhesive application process through automation, such as roll coat applications and bridge spray systems, Adams says.

The Foam Fabricating Adhesives Group is based in Richmond in this facility, which recently achieved an E4 level in the Virginia Environmental Excellence Program. The E4 level is for a facility with an environmental management system that has committed to measures for continuous and sustainable environmental progress and community involvement.

Worthen brought innovation to spray adhesive applications by introducing and perfecting airlessly atomized spray formulations, application devices and delivery systems that eliminate “the cost, mess and process inefficiency of air-atomized fog-producing adhesive spray systems,” he says.

Worthen has 15 patents on inventions related to the application and use of adhesives in foam bonding applications. Those patents address advancements made in spray-applied and roll-coat-applied adhesive applications and in drying/heating techniques that allow foam fabricating/laminating operations to improve efficiency, Adams says.

The company’s focus on maintaining a robust supply chain paid off last year when a latex supply disruption impacted mattress and mattress component suppliers’ ability to produce finished mattresses.

When a popular water-based latex used to produce foam fabricating adhesives became unavailable in the market, Worthen turned to another of its suppliers, which was able to step up its production so that Worthen could meet its customers’ needs without any disruption in shipments, Adams says.


Worthen Sets Sustainability Goals

Sustainability initiatives are growing in importance for Worthen Industries and its customers, officials say.

David Worthen, chief executive officer of Worthen Industries, stands among solar panels at the company’s headquarters in Nashua, New Hampshire. The rooftop array is one of the largest solar arrays on a private facility in the state.

Sustainability efforts are nothing new for Worthen, which has long aimed to bring sustainable products to the customers and industries it serves. But now the company is stepping up its efforts.

“As the climate crisis becomes urgent, Worthen is on decreasing the carbon footprint of our operations and the products focused that we manufacture,” says Shark Hardner, sustainability manager for Worthen Industries. “Our carbon footprint is largely driven by our energy usage, the waste we generate, and the raw materials that we use.”

Worthen recently established three sustainability goals, all using the company’s standing in 2019 as a baseline:

  • A 30% reduction in Scope 1 and Scope 2 carbon emissions by 2030. Scope 1 are direct sources of emissions that are controlled or owned by a company. Scope 2 are indirect emissions from purchased energy, such as electricity.
  • A 30% improvement in normalized energy efficiency, which is the annual average of energy used per unit of production, by 2030.
  • A 25% reduction in normalized waste generation, which is the annual average of waste generated used per unit of production, by 2027.

“Meeting these goals will be a joint effort between our manufacturing plants and business units,” Hardner notes. “All are working on Just One Thing projects focused on sustainability. Just One Thing is the idea that making significant changes can seem overwhelming but if you focus on just one thing at a time, it feels more manageable and makes forward progress. These projects keep us moving forward and help us identify opportunities for information sharing and cooperation on issues that are relevant across sites and business units.”

She says Worthen also advocates for policies supporting renewable energy. It is a member of Ceres’ Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy Network and in New Hampshire, where Worthen is headquartered, it is a member of Clean Energy NH and participates in the New Hampshire Business for Social Responsibility’s Climate and Energy Advocacy Working Group.

“Through these organizations we sign on to letters addressing climate related policy and occasionally speak with state legislators or testify before committees on renewable energy regulations as well,” Hardner says. “We are continually learning, always striving to improve our sustainability programs and performance, and want to help our customers do the same.”

Worthen’s Foam Fabricating Adhesives Group is a participant on the Mattress Recycling Council’s working group that is collaborating on the Recycling Design Best Practices and Research Program and is working to determine how to increase the recyclable content of mattresses. “We look forward to exploring the role that adhesives can play in helping mattress manufacturers design their products for easier disassembly to facilitate the recycling process,” Hardner says.

The Richmond, Virginia, facility, which is the home of the Foam Fabricating Adhesives Group and the primary research and development and manufacturing site for the company’s foam fabricating adhesives, has been recognized as an Extraordinary Environmental Enterprise participant, the highest level of achievement, in the Virginia Environmental Excellence Program.

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