Paul McCartney said “There must be a better way to make the things we want, a way that doesn’t spoil the sky, or the rain or the land”. He was right; the way is to make things sustainably.
The precise meaning of sustainability (according to the United Nations in 1987) is “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.
Determining whether a product can be considered sustainable and to what degree is a complex task. There is no clear cut formula to aid designers in picking out sustainable products - as always, we try to make their life a little bit easier. Below, we outline the various factors involved in making a piece of furniture sustainable:
Materials - Sustainable hospitality furniture material categories
Recyclable: Furniture that actually will be recycled is made from materials that are easy to recycle and easy to separate from each other. Metal is easy-identifiable and has an understood value, so is likely to be recycled – particularly steel and aluminium.
Recycled: Despite its poor reputation, certain plastics are the least environmentally-damaging materials to recycle. Increasing awareness of how to recycle plastic (and a focus on removing plastic from our oceans is resulting in more furniture being manufactured partly of recycled plastic materials).
Renewable: Materials that are not depleted by use are mainly types of timber; not all timber is from renewable sources, though.
Repurposed / upcycled: Using a product in a different way avoids land-fill – but in practice it is tricky to achieve this aim on anything approaching large scale.
Re-used – ie second hand: Using a product a second time has numerous benefits – and some challenges in the hospitality world, including the lack of an appropriate marketplace and the cost of logistics.
Long-lasting: The longer furniture is used for, the more sustainable it becomes - sturdy, simple chairs last longer.
Biodegradable: If a material is biodegradable (ie it can be totally decomposed by bacteria and other living organisms), some of the damaging impact of landfill is removed.
Manufacturing - Pointers to sustainable furniture manufacturing practices
Certificated manufacturing facility: Credible sustainability certification is an excellent indicator that an organisation has a deep-seated commitment to sustainability. ISO140001 and FISP (Furniture Industry Sustainability Programme) are sustainability standards that provide frameworks for an effective environmental management system (EMS).
Carbon-zero factory: Having a supply chain including carbon-zero companies is an important target –for a factory to emit no CO2, usually the biggest challenge is to avoid using gas or oil for heating.
Low-waste manufacture: Furniture is more sustainable if its manufacture does not create much waste – solid wood furniture can be particularly wasteful to create, although this waste can be used or formed into a different product, such as MDF.
Non-toxic constituents: Some chemicals traditionally used in the furniture industry (perhaps mostly in foams, glues, lacquers and stains, as well as composite woods) have been identified as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) which can give off toxic fumes. In many instances these are being replaced by non-toxic alternatives.
Well-regulated country of manufacture: Sustainable targets and guidelines are only truly relevant if applied in a strict regulatory environment – unsurprisingly, Europe leads the way.