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From the Industry: Sustainable Manufacturing in the Furniture Industry

September 26, 2022

In manufacturing that concentrate on seating and interior fitouts wood, fabrics, and fillings such as foam seem like the main players but, in actual fact they are coupled by some very important other materials: glass, metal and plastics.

When we are putting an effort into embedding sustainability into manufacturing systems, a sensible approach would be to encourage innovation at the ‘design’ phase, whilst trying to bring about change in the other phases, of course; by thinking about the materials to be used when designing a new piece of furniture, and making sure they are all to be materials from sustainable sources, over time, all pieces in a collection can be manufactured from fully sustainable materials.

As I say frequently, this is not to be expected to be an overnight achievement, constant and consistent endeavour, with management that is behind the intention will aid development and improvement over a long period of time.

When you look at the figures, it sends shivers up your spine and you would have to be a very heartless person to not want to seriously start looking at using recycled versions of glass, metal and plastics:

– In the UK, pubs, bars and restaurants currently throw away 600,000 tonnes of glass every year,
with most of it ending up in landfill.
– The energy saved from recycling one glass bottle can run a 100-watt light bulb for four hours.
– It also causes 20% less air pollution and 50% less water pollution than when a new bottle is
made from raw materials.

– Over 2.5 billion cans are recycled every year in the UK. That’s the equivalent of the weight of
18,000 double decker buses.
– It is estimated that around 75% of all aluminium ever made is still in circulation to this day.
– The recycling of aluminium uses 95% less energy than producing raw materials does.

– Approximately 2,290,000 tonnes of plastic are sent for recycling every year in the UK – That’s
almost 35 HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carriers!
– That includes 1,447,000 tonnes of household plastic waste, 643,000 tonnes of plastic bottles
and 194,000 tonnes of plastic packaging – That’s almost 5 of the largest ships afloat.
– Recycling uses just 12% of the energy required to create new plastic

With information readily available in this era of increased collective awareness, and an increasing
number of suppliers offering recycled versions of the materials we have used for decades, there
really is no excuse…

With buyers, designers, architects and end consumers also expecting and checking for sustainability in manufacturing more and more, it is imperative to start converting purchasing towards environmentally friendly options, and it actually is very exciting to see what is out there as

A manufacturer’s first step should be to run an audit on all materials used in the factory, and then conduct research on alternative materials that are environmentally friendly; of course, depending on which country the manufacturer is based, the number of alternatives might be less than other countries, but I reckon one would be pleasantly surprised at what one stumbles upon during this research.

Finding unexpected suppliers of eco friendly materials will encourage new ways of working the materials, and which will also, in turn, influence employee motivation. There is nothing like aiming to shine like a beacon, that will boost motivation in an era where we have many employees from the very environmentally aware Generation Z.

Small steps taken by each manufacturer, won’t necessarily improve a country’s position in the International Environmental Performance Index, but every little helps, and over time each small step taken on a local level, will have a tsunami effect on the whole of the world.


Jade Ilke
in collaboration with Parla