On September 1, 2018 C. F. Martin & Company became the first player in the musical instrument industry to receive a respected certification that it meets standards set for how a company treats its employees, the community, and the environment.
The certification was provided by B Lab, a non-profit founded in October 2006 by three longtime friends—Jay Coen Gilbert, Bart Houlahan, and Andrew Kassoy—who left their work as successful entrepreneurs and investors to focus on using business as a force for good. B Lab has since bestowed its B Corporation status on over 2,500 companies around the world that meet its standards for accountability, sustainability, and transparency, including ice cream-maker Ben & Jerry’s, outdoor clothing and gear maker Patagonia, and crowdfunding platform Kickstarter.
B Corp certification was a natural fit for Martin Guitars, which has for decades focused on reducing its carbon footprint while taking good care of its employees and the surrounding community. Martin recently made a major change to its facilities that resulted in a dramatic decrease in energy consumption. Since 1964, the Nazareth, Pennsylvania–based company had relied on a series of rooftop air conditioners, which proved inefficient as units aged and the company grew. “It became so difficult to convince these units, jury-rigged and cobbled together as they were, to climate-control a large guitar factory—something they weren’t really designed to do,” says Martin’s chairman and CEO, Chris Martin. “Finally, we looked into a chiller plant”—replacing the factory’s HVAC systems with a state-of-the-art central hot/chilled water plant—“which sounded great until we saw the price, and the folks in accounting were like, ‘It’s gonna cost how much?’”
After rigorous financial analysis, Martin determined that the $8.9 million price tag for the chiller plant would be a good long-term investment. But when the company flicked on the switch for the new climate-control solution in November 2016, it substantially exceeded its projected decrease in electrical and natural gas consumption and is now seeing a $500,000 annual decrease in annual energy costs. This helped Martin receive the B Corp status, and also the recognition of the U.S. Department of Energy, as part of the DOE’s Better Plants challenge—not to mention a $317,000 rebate from their electricity vendor. “You would think an electrical company would be in favor of just the opposite,” Martin says. “But they realize that they also have to be part of the concern about using too much energy.”
Martin Guitars has taken a number of other steps with respect to protecting the environment, including the establishment of the Martin Guitar Charitable Foundation, which since 1997 has supported environmental action organizations, as well as non-profit music and arts education groups. With the introduction of the D Mahogany guitar in 2009, Martin Guitars became one of the first companies to make an instrument built entirely of Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified woods, and it has also established responsible purchasing practices for all tonewoods, while using carbon-neutral shipment for all of its instruments.
The company has also taken a hard look at other ways to minimize its impact, resulting in everything from comprehensive LED lighting upgrades throughout its U.S. facilities, to heat-rejecting white roofs at the Nazareth headquarters, to clear roof panels at the warehouse of its factory in Navojoa, Sonora, Mexico, reducing the need for electric lighting during daylight hours.
Martin Guitars has long been known for the fair and ethical ways it treats its workers, with generous retirement and benefit plans, and for community outreach—all factors contributing to the certification. In Navojoa, Martin has given monetary support to two orphanages, one for boys and the other for girls, and it has purchased and donated equipment to the area’s fire department.
In the end, Martin sees the B Corporation certification as good recognition for the practices and values that it has always promoted—which consumers, particularly of the millennial generation and younger, will respond favorably to. Chris Martin says, “Our partnership with B Lab and the community of Certified B Corporations will make us a better business in a very holistic way.”
The video below isn’t specifically about Martin’s environmental work, but it offers a glimpse into the factory:
This article originally appeared in the January 2019 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.