We need to recycle and invent new materials

We need to recycle and invent new materials

At this year’s Trends & Traditions, three experienced experts visited the main stage to discuss how to promote circular thinking and sustainability in the furniture, design and building sectors. The experts were Betina Simonsen, CEO of Lifestyle & Design Cluster, Anders Lendager, CEO of Lendager Group, and Steffen Max Høgh, CSR Director at HOLMRIS B8. The debate was moderated by the host Ane Cortzen. Here are the main highlights of the hour-long discussion.

“What is the status of circular economy in the furniture sector?” Ane Cortzen asks Betina Simonsen, referring to a report published by Lifestyle & Design Cluster based on their work with 170 Danish companies. “Things are going pretty well,” responds Betina Simonsen. And before discussing the key findings in more detail, she takes the opportunity to remind everyone of the five ways of working with circular economy:

  1. The value chain
    Working backwards along your value chain to identify suppliers that produce “eco-friendly” products.
  2. Recycling materials into new materials
    Wood, textiles etc. can all be turned into new materials at the end of their service life.
  3. Extending products’ service life
    Putting an end to the “throw-away culture” and establishing a system for how things can be repaired or how parts can be replaced when they break, thus extending their service life.
  4. Sharing products
    Sharing products, as we’ve seen with cars, housing etc. According to the report, the average service life for furniture is eight years, and it is only in use for around half that time, so there is a huge potential here. For instance, in public spaces or by producing products that are appropriate for multiple uses – such as outdoor furniture that can also be used indoors.
  5. Product as a service
    Offering the option to lease products for a monthly fee. When manufacturers know that their furniture will be returned again, they will be more willing to produce furniture that is made from better materials or that is easier to repair.

“When asked, 30% of Danish furniture manufacturers responded that they work with circular economy – either throughout their entire business or in one product line,” says Betina Simonsen, pointing out that Danish furniture manufacturers have particularly embraced the first three business models.

“But we aren’t quite where we should be yet,” she continues. “For instance, public procurements and the Danish SKI procurement agreements would make excellent drivers for implementing circular thinking.”

So, the platform, at least, is in place for the Danish furniture sector. We do a good job of fully utilising resources, we use good raw materials and Danish design is globally respected, so it is just a matter of getting started, according to Betina Simonsen.

The circular economy in the building sector
The building sector, on the other hand, is a slightly different story. Here, Anders Lendager emphasises that there is a large disconnect between everything we know and what we actually do. “All the politicians, leaders and architects agree that sustainable and circular thinking are the right way to go, but when it comes time to turn words into action and it starts to have financial costs, nothing happens.”

And this is where we, as consumers, must take action.

“We owe it to future generations to handover new business models, otherwise they won’t have a chance to reduce carbon emissions by 70% in 12 years,” declares Anders Lendager, emphasising that the design, architecture and building sectors will look completely different. “Why can’t a building produce, say, fruits and vegetables on the roof? We have everything we need for treating and recycling water, local heat harvesting and turning waste into new materials – we just need to combine it all into new urban structures and new circular production machines that can manufacture fashion, design and buildings.”

Furniture leasing is the future
As previously mentioned, one of the five business models for working with circular economy is “product as a service” – that is, product leasing. And HOLMRIS B8 believes that this is the future. Steffen Max Høgh explains:

“There is and will be heavy pressure on the planet’s resources as populations grow and people’s purchasing power increases – and the planet can’t keep up. So we need to design solutions based on resources that can be re-used over and over again. For example, this is what we do when we buy used office furniture and re-sell it or donate it. But we want to do even more, so we’re also focusing on furniture leasing.”

And the furniture leasing model will have two brilliant impacts, according to the CSR director: Manufacturers will invest time and resources in designing products that can be easily disassembled and refurbished, and the products will be of higher quality in order to extend their service life. Implementing leasing is a relatively complex process, but the dynamic and fast growth of businesses leaves Steffen Max Høgh feeling confident.

Circular economy certification?
The panel also debates the need for a global circular economy certification to help consumers and ease communication about the circular efforts of businesses. Betina Simonsen is a supporter of a single label, while the two gentlemen on the panel believe in more than one type of certification:

“It’s difficult to create one circular economy label, because it has so many different aspects. How do you know whether the labelled product is leased, a shared product or has been made from waste materials? Just look at the Nordic Ecolabel. We’ve had it since 1985, and it hasn’t solved the climate challenges. So I don’t think that certification will solve anything – we need to look at how we manufacture and how we consume,” says Steffen Max Høgh.

Anders Lendager agrees, and goes on to encourage businesses to tell the good stories about their sustainable initiatives and circular efforts. That is what really sells.

Saved by capitalism
The exciting debate ends with one of the most important topics – the business potential in circular thinking and working with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The panel unanimously agrees that young people’s demands that businesses take responsibility and act NOW will increase enormously in coming years. And businesses may die if they do not find a way to make the transition to circular production and meet the demands of the young generation. “Making the transition may cost money in years 1, 2 and 3, but if you want to have a business in years 4, 5 and 6, you have to incorporate this,” says Steffen Max Høgh.

Anders Lendager follows up with an interesting observation:

“The building sector is driven by returns, and they are high – approx. 15%. The pension funds have begun investing in green building projects, because their owners are demanding higher returns. Sustainable design and construction will therefore accelerate as never before, because the money wants it too. So capitalism may be what put us in this situation, but it may also be what saves us again.”