Interiors for the future offer sustainable opportunities

The frost is gleaming on the ground around the central station as the Group’s Sustainability Council stream into Malmö and the city’s stock exchange building, now a conference centre. Item one on the agenda is the question of how we as a company can do our bit towards sustainable development. What have we done so far, what can we achieve in the immediate future and what threats and opportunities await our industry?

Sven Lindberg, Supply Chain Director for Lammhults Design Group is deeply committed to sustainability and is the person who took the initiative to set up the Group-wide council and will chair today’s discussion. Besides Sven, those present are Tilda Lagerqvist from Lammhults Möbel, Lisa Lindgren from Abstracta, Trygve Aasland from Fora From and Jesper Holmgaard from Public Interiors.

The Sustainability Council is a way of bringing to life issues of environmental responsibility, working conditions and social aspects within the Group’s companies and its value chains. The Council also gives the Group a forum for learning from each other and a platform for bringing issues to management level.

The climate question won’t be solved in a day, but with its regular meetings the Council is helping to ensure that Lammhults Design Group develops in an even more sustainable direction. Step by step.

Nor are the right answers what Sven, Tilda, Lisa, Trygve and Jesper are expecting from the day. Instead they are here to look at the different options, good examples and constructive proposals.

Mother Earth with the right to make demands

From Malmö on a February day in 2016 we turn our attention towards the furniture industry in 2020. What are the key questions for the Group and the industry in the years ahead? Let the debate begin.

Being able to be paid for our work is a crucial factor, but there are many sides to the issue. Recyclability is a requirement that we can make in the design process for the sake of the environment but it
also creates efficiency improvements and it pays off too.

lisa lindgren, abstracta

Sven: There are several aspects to the sustainability concept. Environmental, social, economic. There is a broad spectrum of demand-makers and stakeholders in our markets and they are important to our opportunities to grow sustainably and profitably. One stakeholder is Mother Earth, what do the rest of you think if we choose the environmental perspective?

Tilda: The green challenges are the most important ones we face, although we mustn’t forget our social responsibility and the two are often linked, such as in the choice of transport. Developments in ecolabelling are taking more and more account of the origin of products and here transport distances have to be factored in.

Sven: The importance of transport can’t be ignored, but in a lifecycle analysis, the impact of long-distance transport is relatively small compared with choice of materials and recycling. The route to greener transport is largely steered by technological development and by political decisions.

Tilda: If I look at the way we work day to day, material recycling is an aspect we’re spending a lot of time on at the moment.

Getting better at recycling the material we use and keeping an eye on waste is one aspect. Then it’s increasingly important to use recycled materials in the chain too.

A chair made from recycled plastic isn’t just about environmental considerations, it also has a marketing value. Everything starts with product development and asking the right questions. What requirements does this product have to meet? What materials need to be used? What does the product lifecycle look like?

Trygve: At Lammhults you’re way ahead and as a Norwegian I can see that there are geographical differences. Sweden has had a much stronger focus on the environment for longer than we have. It’s also a generational issue. I recently saw a survey that said that young people today can’t imagine a workplace that isn’t environmentally sustainable, and that includes its furniture. Thinking about the environment at every stage goes without saying for them.

Sven: What you are describing is a new generation of people recommending our products, and of buyers and customers.

Trygve: Exactly. It’s true that there are peripheral areas where sustainability still isn’t an issue but it’s only a question of time. The markets that have come furthest and the entry of a new generation will drive the trend. This also means that green arguments will be a competitive advantage. With more aware customers, we will be able to put a price on our sustainability work.

Sven: The economic and sales aspect of sustainability can’t be ignored. We are a profit-driven company and a member of society with a responsibility.

Lisa: Being able to be paid for our work is a crucial factor, but there are many sides to the issue. Recyclability is a requirement that we can set in the design process for the sake of the environment but it also creates efficiency improvements and it pays off too. It is important to follow the product lifecycle and see the bigger picture. A circular economy is a key concept.

Consumer power and transparency

Customers and users are not only becoming more aware and making higher demands for sustainable alternatives, they are also becoming more active. Through social media and various digital platforms a power shift has taken place.

Sven: Transparency is increasing. If we are not open and honest about what we are doing, we will be questioned and, in the worst case, rejected.

Trygve: Social media means every individual can make their voice heard and all it takes is one critical post to turn the tide of public opinion against a company. We have to keep our ear to the ground and have a feel for the new communication landscape. It’s a paradigm shift.

We have set up a Code of Conduct that is in line with the industry requirements and training staff and suppliers to ensure it’s complied with is an ongoing job. We follow up people’s knowledge in our performance reviews to ensure that everyone has the right skills.

jesper holmgaard, public interiors

Ecolabelled with marketing value

One consequence of environmental awareness and the fact that the companies’ social responsibility has increased in importance is the growth of various ecolabels. They are a way for companies to know what criteria they need to meet and for customers to easily be able to judge whether a product has been manufactured in a correct environmental manner.

For Lammhults Design Group it goes without saying to work for greater environmental consideration and a large proportion of the range is also ecolabelled by Möbelfakta, the Nordic Ecolabel and with traceability of wood products for sustainable forestry. The aim is for all products to be labelled. One idea brought up in the discussion was a company certification for responsible furniture producers. Ecolabelled companies instead of products.

Jesper: At Public Interiors we have some product sales and some project sales. On the project side the challenge lies in the logistical flow and keeping the links of the chain together in environmental, social and economic terms. On the product side, ecolabelling is a direct competitive advantage and something we will be increasing, but it has to go at the pace of the market. We are seeing a trend towards increasing demand for traceable wood so we need to have that in our offering. We must work with sustainability and simultaneously be commercially viable.

Sven: One way of working for the environment and the market is to see the value of the stories that are created when we are pioneers. Take our library products, if we design a book trolley that is entirely made of recycled materials, we don’t just get a green product. We get a story that sells into the bargain.

The markets that have come furthest and the entry of a new generation will drive the trend. This also means that green arguments will be a competitive advantage. With more aware customers, we will be able to put a price on our sustainability work.

trygve aasland, fora form

From aims to musts

The public sector, with green procurement, is a strong driver of sustainability work in the industry. It’s going slowly in terms of the timescale but there is a solid determination to switch to sustainable. There will be more must-haves in public tenders and this has a direct impact on product development within the Group.

Sven: The requirements are increasing in number and complexity. It’s no longer enough to have the right ecolabel, you also have to show that you are thinking about the entire product lifecycle, including renovation and re-use of old furniture.

Trygve: Public requirements are a double-edged sword. On the one hand they set environmental requirements, on the
other there is a price ceiling. What weighs heaviest in winning the tender? Then we have to remember that 90 percent of the construction projects procured involve construction and concrete, interiors and furniture only make up about 5 percent of the contract.

Separate more

If ecolabelling is the most burning issue at the moment, the Sustainability Council thinks that recycling and the ability to separate a product out into its component parts will be the next big area to look at in terms of sustainability.

Tilda: In the future, the ability to recycle the entire product will be more vital than the ecolabel. A product must be able
to be taken apart and each individual material recycled separately. We aren’t there yet but it doesn’t have to be that difficult to achieve. This kind of approach also means we can extend a product’s lifetime. Instead of throwing away a chair that’s ten years old the customer can order a new back if it is worn and keep the chair for another ten years.

Lisa: Labelling is becoming a hygiene factor. It’s what we do on top of the ecolabel’s requirements that takes on a value. What if we can tell people that our products are part of a recycling cycle and make separability a customer argument?

Tilda: Exactly, we shouldn’t market Möbelfakta or the Nordic Ecolabel, but what we are doing within Lammhults Design Group and how we stand out in relation to others in the industry.

Sven: If we stay with recycling and separability for a moment, the philosophy of a circular economy is something that comes through very strongly. More and more customers want to know whether we can deal with their furniture when it gets old. Reupholstery is something we offer to give our products a new lease of life.

Lisa: That’s an area where we’re far ahead with our design philosophy. If we make really good, timeless furniture, it
attracts a value on the second-hand market. That’s sustainable.

The green challenges are the most important ones we face, although we mustn’t forget our social responsibility and the two are often linked, such as in the choice of transport. The trends in ecolabelling are paying greater attention to the origin of products and here transport distances have to be factored in.

tilda lagerqvist, lammhults

In 2016 the EU will publish a uniform standard for ecolabelling furniture. This will make it even more important to blaze a
trail and act on your own initiative. Merely complying with the requirements is industry practice, spearheading development takes more.

Lisa and others in the group point out that customers’ conscious choice of products will increasingly be based on the products’ Carbon Footprint. Actual environmental performance will be the guiding factor.

Sven: Lifecycle-based key figures such as Carbon Footprint will lead both product development and customers’ choices in the future. Fora Form, which has started to apply this, has now listed its first furniture on the Norwegian EDP site. This is a tool of the future for minimising climate impact. The climate issue is the crucial environmental question.

Sustainability is more than the environment

When Lammhults Design Group works with sustainability, this is on the basis of three perspectives: environmental, social and economic sustainability.

The area of social sustainability is a challenge that is growing in importance for the furniture industry. The fashion and textile industry has long been under the spotlight regarding conditions in manufacturing countries. Several industries have to take this kind of attention for granted, especially the furniture industry.

Jesper: We have set up a Code of Conduct that is in line with the industry requirements and training staff and suppliers to ensure it’s complied with is an ongoing job. We follow up people’s knowledge in our performance reviews to ensure that everyone has the right skills.

Sven: It’s a challenge to contribute towards gender equality and justice beyond the most fundamental requirements such as child labour. The world is not fair and several organisations in countries such as Cambodia and Bangladesh prefer to talk about a living wage than a minimum wage.

Trygve: We are careful to take social responsibility locally where we operate.

The benefit of sustainability reporting

Lammhults Design Group reports its sustainability work in line with GRI and has done so for several years. Besides the fact that it is now compulsory, reporting gives control and continuity.

Lisa: The most important thing about GRI is the control. It’s only after a few years that we know what are reasonable goals and are aware of where we are with an insight into what we can achieve. Reporting gives a reference framework and a starting point.

Tilda: Yes, thanks to the sustainability reporting, we’ve incorporated sustainability as an issue in product development
much earlier. I’m in the teams and bring up the sustainability goals and can make requirements when we’re still at the drawing board. We test the products and work with the ecolabels. Awareness has increased among all our employees and I have heard fitters ask “are you sure this seat is supposed to go on this chair, isn’t it Möbelfakta?”

On top of the follow-up work on GRI, the Group works with the current management standards such as ISO 14001 and ISO 26000 to lead the work and live up to the requirements.

Sven: We have taken the step and made sustainability a natural part of the management systems. This shows that we are striving to meet the demands made by customers and the environment.

Jesper: At the same time, we are an international Group and it’s a challenge to find a system and a label that fits everyone. The Nordic Ecolabel and Möbelfakta work in the Nordic countries, while FSC certification is global

Time to round off and set to work

The Sustainability Council’s discussion draws to a close this time but work day to day out in the companies will continue undiminished. Before the participants return to Lammhult, Oslo and Holsted, they sum up their thoughts from the day and for the future.

No-one knows what the solutions of tomorrow will look like. Innovation and aware design are two of the keys that lead to sustainable solutions and profitable growth.

Lisa: Thinking about sustainability from the start is the most important thing for me. If I want a large proportion of recycled materials and a product that can be recycled in the next step, I need to plan that in. I’d like a digital tool to make it easier to evaluate the environmental impact at an early stage of the process.

Tilda: Thinking about long lifetimes and components instead of products. Again, the ability to separate parts to recycle
or renovate. A year or two ago, at Lammhults Möbel we breathed new life into an older product, freshened it up and relaunched it. That shows that we are working sustainably and thinking long-term.

Jesper: We also have an educational role. Customers don’t always know what’s good in environmental terms. That’s something we can help them with.

Trygve: We have customers who come back 20 years later wanting to buy spare parts or a new identical piece of furniture. That’s evidence of our high quality and timeless design.

Jesper: Products that can be used year out and year in epitomise sustainability. A functioning second-hand market is possibly the best example of reuse and sustainable design.

Sven: Maybe we should be better at offering renovation as part of our service? Circular business models and furniture
flows will be key for the future. More work on reporting the climate footprint of our products leads to measurability and will contribute towards business development and
climate benefit.

Ecolabels, aware customers, timeless design, circular economy, separability – these are some of the concepts
floating in the air once the Sustainability Council leaves the Malmo stock exchange building and heads off to tackle more sustainable challenges.

Innovation and aware design are two of the keys that lead to sustainable solutions and profitable growth.