FURNISHING – FROM CRADLE TO CRADLE

The professional market for furnishing is undergoing a burgeoning revolution. We speak to Steffen Max Høgh, Sustainability Director at HOLMRIS B8, about how the industry is rising to the challenge of the circular economy.

By Christian Brorsen / Kim Wyon

One of Scandinavia’s leading contract suppliers of furniture, HOLMRIS B8 (formerly known as HOLMRIS DesignBrokers) has a long history of supplying quality furnishing from leading Danish and international design partners, including Fritz Hansen, Vitra and Cappellini. But with its change of name, the company has now also embraced a new and sustainable direction – a holistic approach to leasing, reselling and reusing furniture.

Why do we need a cradle-to-cradle approach?

“Well, we need to make a major change from simply producing and supplying furniture to reusing and recycling it. As a whole, the furniture industry still represents the linear economy where products are manufactured, consumed and discarded.

“We need to change our whole approach to the lifecycle of furnishings, making sure our non-fixtures are reused and recycled. This is necessary due to the growing challenges the world faces with climate change and the fact the world population is rising from 7 billion to 10 billion over the next 30 years.

With increased urbanisation, all these 10 billion people will eventually be needing mobile phones, adjustable desks – and hotel rooms. The planet simply cannot provide the natural resources for us to continue consuming the way we do.

“Any industry, including hotels, that produces considerable amounts of waste needs to look carefully and address their business model. Those who don’t adopt a sustainable approach are unlikely to be among the future winners of their industry.”

Tell us about your new approach to the contract market.

“What we at HOLMRIS B8 offer is a holistic approach. For the past three years, our industry-leading program has allowed contract clients to lease their new furnishing from us rather than buy them.

“When the furnishing is eventually ready to be discarded, our take-back service then ensures these interiors are collected at the premises and either repaired and resold as second-hand furnishing or donated to charity. Any furnishings that cannot be reused will be recycled.

Over the past three years, we have resold used office furnishing for over one million DKK a month and have donated more than 30,000 pieces of furniture to charity. At the end of each individual lease process, the client receives a complete environmental report from us detailing what happened to their furniture, ensuring that they are fully informed of the sustainable approach they have embraced.”

Scandic Falkoner

How are furniture designers and producers adapting to the circular economy?

“Many designers are very conscious of these developments towards sustainability and that also applies to architects involved in DGNB-certified construction, which is increasing in demand by investors since such programmes ensure not only the sustainability but also the quality of the project as a whole.

So, the problem doesn’t lie so much with designers and furniture producers, but rather with the end consumers whose habits are often still aligned with the linear economy of buying, using and throwing away.

Companies looking for new furnishing are often out to buy as cheaply as possible – low-quality products from Asia manufactured under appalling working conditions. And when such furniture has reached its end of life, it may even be shipped back to Asia to be incinerated, causing air pollution and rampant CO2 emission.

This is why the design of new furnishing needs to make it easier for individual items to be recycled and readapted to new use. Environmental certification of furnishing, such as the Nordic Swan Ecolabel, the EU Ecolabel and others, are important – but only the first step. The furniture of the future needs to be easy to disassemble, pack and transport to allow it to be reused and recycled multiple times.

Furniture also needs to be of a higher quality than much of what you see on the market today so it lasts longer. Designers and producers will start to think more along these lines when contract clients are ready to take the leap and decide to lease their furniture rather than buy it – and ensure the products they rent are sustainably handled.”

Will we see new regulation to help support the transition?

“I think we definitely will. The plastic industry is a good example. Within the past few years, the awareness of the issue of single-use plastics as caused action on both corporate and political levels. Plastic is a great material and we will continue to see plastic being used, but it needs to be recycled.

“We have also seen the motor industry commit to switching to electric engines within just a few decades. We are therefore likely to see greater corporate commitment in all industries along with higher fees on waste and other political regulation to reduce waste in the furniture industry, too.”

Do you have any good advice for hotels on how to adapt?

“Hotel furnishing is often custom-made and therefore more difficult to resell and be reused by others, but that shouldn’t stop operators from considering how their interiors can eventually be reused, resold and recycled. One good first step is to opt for quality furnishing, which will retain its value for much longer.

After all, cool stuff is always easier to resell. And some materials are also far more sustainable than others, such as solid wood, which not only can be reused easier than other materials but is also a natural material that binds CO2.

Leasing your furnishing will allow you to take a much more holistic approach to your operations and I think there is a growing awareness, also among hotels, that end consumers will no longer accept that businesses simply produce large amounts of waste without embracing sustainable management.

HOLMRIS B8 has already helped three hotels here in Denmark with programmes that ensure a sustainable approach – Urban House Copenhagen, Scandic Falkoner and Scandic Palace Hotel Copenhagen. We believe our lease-and-reuse approach to the industry will become standard among many hotels within perhaps just five years.”

www.holmrisb8.com

As one of the leading engineering consultancies in the Nordics, Ramboll helps it customers towards a more sustainable society. When the company HQ needed new furniture, they opted for sustainable furniture. After having searched the market, Ramboll contacted HOLMRIS B8 and together they developed a desk certified with the Nordic Swan Ecolabel.