Eco-sustainability in the Furniture Industry, Production Standards and Compliance Protocols
Intro to eco-sustainability in the furniture industry
Environmental sustainability and innovation are central objectives in the production process of an ever-increasing number of industries.
Interior design and furniture industry as well walk toward the orientation of their aggregate production to sustainable, non-impacting and renewable standards.
The consumer's taste shifts toward trends such as green design or eco-design, making them fashionable.
The definition of green design or eco-design encompasses every form of design whose production process minimizes the environmental impact of its products life cycle.
Today it is possible to verify which companies comply with sustainable production standards, since specific bodies and institutes were created to analyze and evaluate the industrial production protocols adopted by companies in various sectors, interior design and furniture included.
The elements analyzed to assess the environmental compliance, in the field of design and development of furniture and interior design, are:
- The choice of sustainable, non-impacting and renewable raw materials
- Efficient production process, that minimizes waste and eliminates the use of unnecessary resources
- The selection, on a creative and design level, of natural biological elements to make up the design object
Base principles of eco-sustainable production: innovation, efficient manufacturing, efficient distribution, reuse
Sustainable production consists primarily in reducing the environmental impact of a production system. But not only that, it is also required to be economically responsible and to not waste resources, because every investment made in production has implications, often negative on the environment.
The creation of artifacts should thus reduce as much as possible the exploitation of the natural resources and of the energy used, and appeal to safe environmental standards for the employees who work within the production plant and for the society in general.
Generic models of sustainable production revolve around two key points:
Conceiving, designing and producing items with low resource consumption, with materials that do not damage the environmental ecosystem and that can be reused.
Implement proper disposal procedures for all waste items that cannot be reused.
In interior design, sustainable production means innovation, efficient production, efficient distribution and reuse.
For our readers we can define a lineup of key elements to keep in mind when explicitly referring, in terms of production, to green architecture and sustainable design:
1. Innovate, design new products/elements, oriented to new concepts, dematerialized when possible
2. Optimize the product, increase its reliability and duration over time
3. Optimize the use of raw materials, use renewable raw materials, raw materials with a lower energy content, "cleaner" raw materials, recycled raw materials, recyclable raw materials, reduce the use of raw materials
4. Optimize production techniques, use alternative production techniques, reduce the number of production phases, prefer lower energy consumption and less environmental impact, reduce the production of waste and scraps
5. Optimize distribution, use less and reusable packaging, use energy efficiently in logistics
6. Predict the obligations to be fulfilled at the end of the useful life of the product, reuse the product, reuse its components, recycle the materials that compose it, plan its disassembly
The main designers and architects towards sustainability
Vertical Forest, Stefano Boeri
Certainly famous worldwide is the Vertical Forest, by Stefano Boeri, who with the project, designed and realized a tower with a natural envelope, a dynamic structure that changes with the changing seasons, due to the strong presence of plants and natural elements on the entire building surface.
Ten years after its construction began, this Boeri's project is still considered the first true model of sustainable architecture, or green architecture.
Bosco Verticale (or vertical forest in English) is one of the most evocative and characterizing buildings of the Milan skyline. It enriches the city context, becoming part of the new face of the metropolis.
The project, completed in 2010, soon became one of the landmarks of the large urban transformation area that affects the historic districts of Garibaldi, Varesine and Isola, in Milan.
The two residential towers of the project, with their green walls 106 and 80 meters high respectively, are examples of urban densification of the city green.
Matteo Thun & Partners, Matteo Thun
Certainly a pioneer of sustainable architecture is Matteo Thun, one of the most famous Italian architects in the world, on the scene since the 1980s, when, together with Ettore Sottsass, co-founded the Memphis Group, the cultural phenomenon that with innovative shapes, colors and materials revolutionized the international design landscape.
Creativity and technological innovation are the cornerstones of his design and architecture projects.
In the offices of his studio Matteo Thun & Partners, in Milan and Shanghai, he works with an interdisciplinary team of seventy architects and interiors, products and graphic designers, using a 360-degree sustainable approach, as by himself defined.
Fordite, Patricia Urquiola
Drawing inspiration from the formation process of the fordite (a natural precious mineral), Patricia Urquiola applies a functional sustainability approach to the creation of this rugs collection.
The refined materials (Himalayan wool, pure silk and aloe) used to create the elements of the collection, come from the waste of the textile production process of the rugs brand cc-tapis.
The rugs, which may be defined as “recycled”, from the Fordite collection, aesthetically, take on the same “layered” appearance of the natural fordite.
The starting point in the sustainable production process therefore becomes an aesthetic guide for the design of the products, within this collection.
Eco-sustainable raw materials
In eco-design, the raw materials used are key elements of each project.
It is in fact strictly required that the materials be biodegradable, reusable, recyclable and non-toxic.
Their impact on the environment must be as low as possible, both in terms of component production and of their final disposal.
Among the most requested materials in terms of green design, we find wood, bamboo, cork, aluminum and bioplastics.
Natural, recyclable, resistant and coming from a renewable source, wood is undoubtedly one of the key materials of sustainable design.
Appreciated from an aesthetic and sensorial point of view, wood is also a good insulator and is used in construction for its many qualities, which make it perfect to respond to the utility-aesthetic combination required by modern design.
For the wood used to be truly sustainable, it is important to verify its origin, making sure it comes from certified (FSC or PEFC) forests.
It is advisable to favor recycled wood, or wood obtained from old furniture, pallets, shavings, pruning or packaging, and avoid painting it with toxic solutions, favoring water-based dyes, with few solvents and low percentages of VOCs (volatile organic compounds, also harmful for the human health).
Light and resistant at the same time, the bamboo, precisely because of its qualities, is nicknamed the vegetable steel.
Belonging to the grass family, bamboo is a grass and not a woody essence, and thanks to this characteristic it has a lighter impact on the environment.
Furthermore, contrary to some prejudices, bamboo is capable of combining hardness with lightness.
Precisely, the lightness makes its collection and transport economical and sustainable, even though the origin of this element from geographically distant areas (Asia in particular) betrays the zero kilometer principle.
Considered an excellent alternative to wood, bamboo grows quickly (the average regrowth time is approximately 5 years) and avoids deforestation.
Its ductility and hollow conformation make it versatile and easy to work with.
Obtained from the bark of the cork oak, widespread in the Mediterranean areas and in the African forests, cork is considered an ecological material due to its low impact extraction method.
In addition to making furniture and accessories, it is used to insulate walls and make coverings.
It is entirely recyclable, elastic, waterproof and fireproof, and is obtained with much simpler and less impacting manufacturing processes than those used to produce synthetic materials, such as plastics.
In nature, aluminum is extracted from bauxite (a common mineral that makes up around 8% of the Earth's crust) and is appreciated for its versatility.
Its great advantage is that it can be recycled indefinitely, without losing its characteristics of lightness, ductility, strength and shine.
Corrosion resistant, this metal does not oxidize and is not easily damaged, but it also has a defect, it has poor insulating capacity, since it is an excellent conductor.
With the term Bioplastics, according to the definition of European Bioplastics, is intended any type of plastics that is biodegradable, biobased or that possesses both characteristics.
Among the bioplastics made up, in whole or in part, of biobased materials, we find biobased PE and biobased PET, both manufactured from sugar cane instead of fossil resources, but also biobased PA, produced from vegetable oils.
Biodegradable bioplastics, instead, are for example mixtures of starches (such as MaterBi® used for waste collection bags) and in general many of the plastics not made from fossil raw materials.
Among the advantages deriving from the use of bioplastics, there is certainly the lower environmental impact as these plastics are more easily (and quickly) reabsorbed by the environment, thus reducing their impact on the ecosystem.
The preference of these types of plastics over traditional plastics reduces the use of fossil materials and thereby greenhouse gas emissions.
Some of the brands that adhere to the bio ethical and efficiency oriented principles of green design
Founded in Meda in 1898, Giorgetti is today one of the excellences of made in Italy design that has made sustainability a fundamental value, through a consistent Corporate Social Responsability (CSR) plan.
The eco-sustainable approach of the Giorgetti group manifests itself right from the raw materials selection.
Wood, first of all, has always represented Giorgetti's DNA.
The company statement reports that the wood used for the manufacturing of its products comes from controlled cultivation forests, the trees to be felled are selected with strict criteria and immediately replaced with new trees.
Environmental sustainability standards are also taken into consideration in the choice of paints, all with a low content of chemical solvents, as well as in the packaging of the goods, where polystyrene has given way to recyclable cardboard.
For as regards the production process, in logic of circular economy, the company transforms the waste of wood processing into energy that feeds the internal heating system of its plants.
Thanks to state-of-the-art plants in the Meda, Lentate sul Seveso and Misinto factories, the production emissions of the company have values so low that the plants may potentially operate for 24 consecutive hours.
The whole, commendable process of accountability led the Giorgetti group to publish, in 2019, its Sustainability Report, as a tool to guarantee its continuous commitment to the improvement and implementation of CSR activities.
Another example of made in Italy excellence that nourishes a clear focus on sustainability is Lago.
The production process of this company shows clear influences coming from the production and commercial philosophy of bio-building.
The choice of the noble materials used to make the furniture of this brand is oriented to the products durability and to the reduction of waste generated during the production and the disposal of the elements.
The Lago factory is the symbol of the company's commitment to the respect for the environment and the constant effort to protect it.
Through various green-oriented projects, this company demonstrated that it embraces values and responsibilities aimed at protecting the territory and the neighboring population, through corporate culture and choices.
An example is the Lean Thinking principle, adopted by Lago, which suggests an efficient, sustainable production method that requires non-impacting materials, with high quality standards, in the production phase, and that reduces waste and the quantity of raw material used.
The use of solvent-free, water-based paints that avoid the emission of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) allows for better air quality in production environments and maintain a low level of pollution (internal and external).
The company has obtained the ISO 14001 certification, demonstrating its desire to plan its business according to the principles of environmental sustainability and circular economy.
Porada works solid wood, transforming it with craftsmanship into iconic objects for the home.
Characterizing for this brand is a dynamic and elegant design.
The company philosophy proposes furniture accessories made with precious materials and designed to last over time, as well as to survive the succession of industry trends.
The company has long demonstrated its interest in respecting sustainable production standards.
The wood being processed comes from certified forest areas of the French Burgundy, the packaging material of the finished products is 100% recyclable cardboard, the use of plastic material in production is minimal.
Within the manufacturing plant, Porada has built a photovoltaic system that provides 100% of the energy need, with a consequent significant reduction in CO2 emissions.
The energy for the internal heating system is provided entirely by the combustion of processing waste, making the company entirely self-powered.
The passion for excellence that has guided Kartell's development since its origins has led the brand to focus on environmental respect and attention to eco-sustainability practices.
The Kartell product is a timeless product, born with respect for ecology, destined to occupy museum galleries and collectors' heritage, at the end of its life cycle.
The raw material used by Kartell is often entirely recyclable and finds new life thanks to industrial regeneration processes.
Research and technological development make it possible to identify increasingly (and more easily) regenerable and non-impacting materials. Based on this production culture, Kartell develops its products and packaging.
The entire production process chain sees the company committed to respecting sustainability protocols.
To be highlighted are the investments of this company in technological and process innovation, aimed at the research of creative solutions and new, more performing and increasingly eco-friendly manufacturing materials.
Certify sustainability efforts: EU and international eco-labels to prove environmental efficiency
To prove its efforts and investments in environmental responsibility, a brand in the design industry can request the assessment of its production processes, of the raw materials used and of the level of impacting waste produced to specific organizations, and obtain, if deserved, an ad hoc certification.
Several national and international institutes study and promote research on environmental protection, dictating useful guidelines for companies which seek the esteem of those who are attentive to eco-sustainability.
Among the most important certifications, in the national and international panorama, in the field of eco-sustainability, we highlight:
- The Made Green in Italy Certification
- The FSC® (Forest Stewardship Council®) Certification
- The Greenguard Certification
- The OK Biobased Certification
- The CARB Certification
The Made Green in Italy Certification
The Made Green in Italy Certification is a qualification that aims at encouraging the production of made in Italy manufacts in a sustainable key, rewarding those design brands which, in their production process, respect certain guiding principles.
The evaluation process of this certification is designed according to the European method of PEF (Product Environmental Footprint), a method that integrates traditional evaluation systems with other more innovative and technological ones.
The scheme, purely voluntary and discretionary, Made Green in Italy for environmental protection is defined by the Italian regulation 211/15.
According to this bureaucratic scheme, companies that adopt environmental responsibility behaviors are required to:
a) promote the adoption of innovative production technologies and techniques, capable of guaranteeing the improvement of the performance of the products and, in particular, the reduction of the environmental impacts that the products, and their waste, have during, and after, the their life cycle
b) strengthen the image and the communicative impact that distinguishes Italian production, associating aspects of product quality, as well as reduced environmental impact
c) share, throughout the national territory, information about the positive experiences developed in previous projects, regarding the environmental qualification of products
Italian companies that respect the above mentioned parameters can request and obtain the Made Green in Italy certification.
FSC® (Forest Stewardship Council®) Certification
The FSC® (Forest Stewardship Council®) Certification is an international level certification, the purpose of which is to promote the correct management of forest resources, by monitoring the production processes of forest products (woody and non-woody).
The Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) is an international non-governmental, independent and non-profit organization, whose goal is to protect the entire forest system through the definition of credible production standards, recognized and accepted by both the industrial and the environmental world.
Among the supporting groups of the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) are included some of the best known names in the field of environmental responsibility and in the field of industrial production, among them: Greenpeace, WWF, Tetra Pak®, Tembec, Suzano, Stora Enso, SCA, Sappi, IKEA, Hewlett-Packard Company (HP), CEPI (Belgium), B&Q (UK), ASDI, Arauco.
The FSC® protocols require every producer who wants to obtain the relative certification to find the resources useful for its manufacturing process from forests managed according to the FSC® standards.
The GreenGuard Certification is a product certification born in the United States.
The owner of the GreenGuard is the UL (Underwriters Laboratories) Control Body, one of the most important control bodies in the world.
The GreenGuard Certification is mostly important for those companies belonging to the construction/furniture sectors, as it allows to take part in commercial contracts that explicitly require it, such as those of CONSIP in Italy.
This certification also allows organizations that obtain it to acquire credits in international environmental rating systems, including: LEED-2009, LEED-v4, California-CHPS, Australian Green Star, ASHRAE 189.1, Green Guide for Health Care 2.2.
The GreenGuard Certification measures, in the production process of a specific product, the level of emission of around 400 impacting substances, from phthalates to benzene, from aromatic amines to formaldehyde.
Every three months, the production processes of certified producers are tested in special laboratories (located in Germany and the United States), by taking and analyzing a sample of the product made.
The certification lasts one year and must be renewed from year to year.
As mentioned, the GreenGuard Certification has become very important in particular for those Italian companies that participate in national and (above all) international contract supplies, linked to green building protocols, such as the American LEED.
In the rating system concerning building contracts linked to green building protocols, the GreenGuard Certification, together with other product certifications such as the FSC® (Forest Stewardship Council®) Certification, contributes to the achievement of a certain credit, which in turn confers a certain score assigned to the certified company.
The higher the score obtained, the greater the chances for the company to qualify for the contract supply.
OK Biobased Certification
As a result of the greater awareness of the environmental and climate world issues among consumers, a constantly growing market has developed for products made with non-impacting raw materials and eco-sustainable production processes.
For this reason, the need arises among producers for a proof that documents the ability of a company's manufacturing process to produce in a sustainable way.
Vinçotte, a Belgian inspection and certification body, launched the OK Biobased Program in September 2009, to provide companies with a tool for assessing the ability of their manufacturing process to produce in a renewable and non-impacting way.
Now integrated into the Tüv Austria group, the OK Biobased Certification scheme uses a star system to indicate the Biobased content (i.e. renewable material) of an artifact.
A product marked with one star contains between 20% and 40% renewable carbon, while a product certified with four stars typically contains more than 80% renewable carbon.
The OK Biobased Certification scheme is based on very simple evaluation parameters and the evaluation for the provision of the scores can be carried out in a very precise and scientific manner.
The OK Biobased Certification, once obtained, is valid for five years and requires subsequent renewal through a new evaluation process.
The CARB (California Air Resource Board) Certification, is based on the Airborne Toxic Control Measure (ATCM) regulation. Its purpose is to reduce and control the formaldehyde emissions generated by wood-based materials, used in production processes.
The CARB Certification, although legally mandatory in California, USA, only, has also been adopted as a reference standard by important multinationals in the wood-furniture sector, also influencing many European producers of semi-finished or finished products.