Let the Buyer Have Faith: Armstrong Women Leading in Manufacturing
Expanding more than 200 acres, Armstrong Flooring’s picturesque corporate campus finds a unique way to tell the story of the company’s rich history and promising future at every turn. At first glance, the towering tree-lined campus is an indication of Armstrong’s staying power and its deep roots in the Lancaster, Pa., community, and its impressive corporate headquarters, which in 2014 was awarded LEED Platinum recertification, is a living testament of the company’s commitment to environmental sustainability.
It is here that Armstrong employees are encouraged to embody founder Thomas Armstrong’s business principle, “let the buyer have faith” in the ways that they innovate, interact and produce. Rather than letting the buyer beware, or purchase at their own risk, Thomas Armstrong stood behind his products, company and people, giving customers confidence and peace of mind in all aspects of the quality and suitability of their purchases.
Today, Armstrong Flooring customers can rest assured that, from the inside out, the company continues to place innovation, design and production at the forefront of who it is and what it does in order to produce some of the very best flooring solutions on the market. From the “Humble Bumble” sunflower habitat, strategically planted on campus to serve as a sanctuary for declining bee populations—and as a beautiful visual representation of sustainability that employees can enjoy from their office windows or from the campus’ running trail and sprawling disc golf course, to the state-of-the-art liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry time of flight instrument brought in to innovatively break materials down to a molecular level in order to better identify what they are and how they can, or can’t, work in a product, Armstrong Flooring is creating change, and being powered by employees like Amy Costello, sustainability manager and Kayla Lowrie, research and development manager, that personify the founding principles that have positioned the company as a leader and innovator in manufacturing.
Amy Costello, Sustainability Manager
During the span of her 25-year career as an environmental engineer, Costello has seen the focus on sustainability shift from being an afterthought to a main focus.
“It’s a very different environment now than it was 25, 30 years ago,” she said. “People really want environmental, compliance. They want environmental controls and they are really embracing sustainability, and they absolutely were not back in the day, so there’s definitely been a shift.”
The first in her role at Armstrong Flooring, Costello was brought on board to lead the charge of broadening the manufacturer’s existing sustainability story and efforts.
“What I’m trying to do is integrate sustainability into everything that we do—into all of our existing business functions, so that it’s not an extra add-on or an afterthought, but it’s just part of our culture and the way that we do business.”
Joining the company when it was still apart of Armstrong World Industries, sustainability commitments to reduce things like energy, water and greenhouse gases had been made on a corporate level but were not yet reflected in the business units and had not translated to Armstrong’s manufacturing plants, Costello said.
“If you talked to a plant manager and asked what they were doing to reduce their greenhouse gases, they would just sort of look at you like, ‘What are you talking about?’”
Under the guidance of Costello, each Armstrong Flooring plant now has specific targets to meet on a monthly basis in terms of energy, water and waste reduction, and each plant manager is held accountable for ensuring those targets are met.
“I like to say they’re ‘just for me targets’ because different plants were at different places in their sustainability,” she said.
A success story that comes to mind for Costello is an Armstrong plant in California that, prior to these specified targets, was far along in reducing energy, but was behind from a waste perspective. “They were behind because their focus at the plant had been really pushed by regulatory requirements, so they were really awesome, but they hadn’t had a focus on waste. Since I’ve been here, they have eliminated all of their process waste at the plant, which is amazing. I always think that is a huge success story.”
It is successes like the elimination of the California plant’s process waste; the implementation of Armstrong Flooring’s Sustainability Steering Committee, which is chaired by Costello and provides governance and business direction regarding material sustainability issues; and emphasis on the transparency of environmental policies both internally and externally, that led to Costello being recognized with a 2018 Women in Manufacturing STEP (Science, Technology, Engineering and Production) Ahead Award from the Manufacturing Institute, which honors women who have demonstrated excellence and leadership in their manufacturing industry careers.
Attending an all-women’s college, Costello remembers entering the workforce armed with a biology degree and being surprised at the lack of women in her profession.
“It was so obvious to me when I first started. I was the only woman that was not a secretary in my group.”
This came as a shock to Costello because in college, powerful women were her peers, taught her classes and served as leadership. “I guess I was naïve, but I didn’t realize that’s not the way the world works. But when I got out into the world I thought, ‘Holy smokes, where are all of the women?’”
Today, Costello is proud to lead a team of mostly women at Armstrong Flooring, and she is excited about the next generation of women in science and manufacturing.
“There’s a whole next generation that are coming up in the sciences and it’s so exciting to see that.”
Kayla Lowrie, Research and Development Manager
Representing that next generation of women leading in science and manufacturing, Lowrie is recognized as a 2019 Women in Manufacturing STEP Ahead Awards emerging leader.
“It’s a huge honor,” Lowrie said. “I love that I was able to be with a group of women that are passionate about what they do. They are absolutely influential and they’re definitely trailblazers for the next generation.”
Joining the company in 2013 as a lab scientist, Lowrie quickly progressed to a leadership role with responsibility for a team of scientists, engineers and technicians focused on innovative projects to develop new products and improve existing products.
With an undergraduate degree in chemistry and biology and graduate degrees in chemistry and forensic science, Lowrie was drawn to the analytical side of Armstrong Flooring and the possibility to learn something new.
“Being able to investigate things and find out why they work; why they don’t work. What could make them better for a customer? What do they need? What improvements can I make by being in this type of role? That drew me. I just love what this company’s about. It’s about innovation and change, moving things forward and the sustainability side. Those pieces kind of fit into what I’m about.”
Change happened quickly for Lowrie after joining the company, when a year into her role, Armstrong ended its sales into the European market. With this change came the discontinuation of a European facility that had analytical capabilities and was able to handle the testing and chemistry side of the company’s products.
“I was faced with an opportunity—a challenge—of bringing that capability here, so I ended up being put in charge of a half-a-million dollar project to specify, bring in, set up and really establish an analytical capability here.”
In an environment that supports courageous leadership, in just six months, Lowrie was able to lead in the development of the lab that now conducts mainly health-related tests in Armstrong Flooring products.
“We want to make sure that whatever products we’re bringing in are going to be safe for the consumer. Some of the things that you hear about, like heavy metals, we are going to test every single thing that comes through before a customer gets it. We are making sure that it’s safe from that perspective. We’re also making sure it’s what we meant it to be. You basically have a recipe for what you want to make in the plant and you think it all goes according to plan, but you don’t know until you actually test it.”
Lowrie has been pushed and supported to grow during her time at Armstrong.
“The biggest thing is seeing where people go if you push them and if you support them and if you challenge them,” she said. “A highlight is just seeing people excel and do things that they honestly didn’t know they could.”
Exposing younger generations of women to careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) is important to both Lowrie and Costello, who each support the Armstrong Flooring Foundation’s efforts to introduce these fields, along with the arts, to girls through its STEM programming.
“It’s about exposure,” said Costello. “When I went to college, my father told me I could be a teacher or a nurse. He said maybe, just maybe, I could be a bookkeeper.” A testament to the times her now 91-year-old father lived in, Costello now makes it a point to highlight a variety of career options women can have within the sciences for the Girl Scout troop she assists in leading and her own daughter.
It is mentorship and guidance like this that impacted Lowrie’s educational and professional paths through science.
“A lot of times, people will ask me, especially in the type of career that I’m in now, what type of struggles I had being a female growing up in this type of environment. I have to say, honestly, I was very blessed in that I had great mentors and sponsors to help me through that process. And I’ve definitely seen opportunities where I’ve had the ability to do that as well for up-and-coming female scientists.”
Demonstrating first-hand the various ways STEM programming can be used, Lowrie and Costello’s roles within Armstrong Flooring often coincide as their teams work together to focus on sustainability. With their powers combined, these award-winning powerhouses are leading the company in product stewardship and the development of sustainable products and practices. “We are both in something called PSTC, which is our Project Stewardship Technical Committee,” Lowrie said. “That committee works to make sure that we have the right regulations on the right substances.”
Working together to contribute to the bigger picture is the name of the game, says Costello. “I think in terms of sustainability and environmental sustainability and even social sustainability, the only way that we’re going to solve these really large issues is by working together and understanding another person’s perspective and how you fit into that perspective.”