Sustainability is the avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance.
It might be worth reflecting that manufacturing most of the products being sold in the world today is generally not a truly sustainable process. Some products leave less of a ‘footprint’ than others, and some wear their ‘green’ credentials more proudly than others. Car-buyers who truly wish to save the planet should not buy a new Toyota Prius; but car-buyers who want to show they care about saving the planet might do so.
The level of sustainability in the contract furniture supply chain depends on a mix of factors including legislation, type of materials used, logistics & waste.
Different countries have different environmental-protection laws, which are typically higher in developed countries. Europe has particularly high standards. China has been notorious for its environmental slackness. Using factories in countries with strict environmental legislation can minimise damage to the environment
Types of material
Timber can be a fully sustainable material. Timber felling and replanting is a well-understood process and much of it is regulated. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)certifies that a product originates from well-managed, sustainable forests. The Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) is the world’s largest forest certification system. Using solid wood is actually wasteful of wood as only around 25% of the original timber is actually used. Plywood is less wasteful than solid wood but it requires glue. Timber can be recycled into MDF/chipboard etc.
MDF uses chippings and waste so very resource-efficient. However, the glue (around 10% of the content) is environmentally-unfriendly formaldehyde, made from petro-chemicals and cannot be easily recycled.
Steel is the most recycled material on the planet, more than all other materials combined. Steel retains an extremely high overall recycling rate, which in 2012, stood at 88 percent. The energy saved by recycling reduces the annual energy consumption of the steel industry by about 75%.
Plastic is lightweight, which lowers transportation costs and fuel emissions. Plastic, particularly solid moulded furniture is easy to recycle; recycled plastic chairs have become more available.
There are many environmentally friendly options when it comes to upholstery. Wool is by its very nature environmentally friendly as it is 100% natural and biodegradable. Leather is another natural upholstery which is 100% biodegradable. Other eco-friendly fabrics are made up of harvested nettles, hemp, recycled polyester & jute.
These usually include a headline product, maybe recycled or a waste product. For example our Alhambra Eco Side Chair is made entirely from recycled MDF sawdust. Similar the Zartan Raw chair is made from a non-toxic, biodegradable alternative to plastic: wood pulp-based lignum, mixed with natural fibres, wax and fish oil to make ‘liquid wood’ which can be moulded in the same way as plastic.
Recycled cardboard is a high quality material that can be used as packaging materials and boxes. Cardboard can be recycled many times without losing its strength. Corrugated cardboard containers that get used for shipping have a high percentage of post consumer recycled content. Cardboard is easy to get recycled. When we take packaging away from a site it is always recycled.
Shorter supply chains are better for the environment; European furniture is better than Far East-sourced furniture. you can read more on where furniture comes from & why it matters in our blog on the European Furniture industry.
Second-hand furniture can be re-used, a process that is sometimes facilitated by local councils. Second-hand shops and charities are an effective way to recycle furniture though care has to be taken that second-hand upholstered furniture meets fire requirements. Recyclable materials are really only worthwhile if a structure exists to recycle them.