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Second-hand or rented

The circular economy in the furniture trade

The concept of a circular economy is appearing increasingly frequently in the sustainability debate. The idea: an economy in the form of a theoretically never-ending circle in which natural resources are conserved and reused, production is efficient, and the product life cycle extended.

Even if the world is still far away from this ideal, more and more islands based on circular economy principles are emerging in individual sectors of industry – including in the furniture trade. What opportunities does the circular economy offer the furniture trade exactly? And how are companies putting the idea into practice already?

Circular economy furniture trade

Photo: Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Second-hand furniture as a business opportunity

More and more companies are recognising the growing demand for sustainable solutions that protect our environment. Fashion chain H&M takes back old clothes and processes part of the fabric into new items of clothing. Numerous start-ups, including Unown and Modami, even rent clothing. Cosmetics manufacturer Lush gives customers a free product when they return five plastic pots. IT system house Bechtle repairs used PCs and laptops, and sells them via a subsidiary – demand has grown exponentially during the coronavirus pandemic.

Why shouldn’t that work with furniture, too? Some companies are already showing how it is done – and not just the Swedish furniture giant with its latest programme, which rewards customers with a voucher when they return their old furniture. Growing numbers of companies are interested in selling second-hand products, thereby saving thousands of items of furniture from the rubbish tip. Speaking of rubbish, Berliner Stadtreinigung, the city’s municipal waste company, has opened NochMall, an entire department store selling discarded furniture. It goes without saying that these models require sufficient storage capacity. But there are also other ideas for a sustainable circular economy.

Rental furniture as a circular strategy

Stockholm-based company Beleco offers its complete inventory of furniture to Swedish customers to rent. If a customer doesn’t like their old sofa anymore, they simply give it back and rent a new one. Renting furniture is cheaper for customers if the items are used only for a short time. The retailer cuts its production costs and earns several times from the same item of furniture through the rental fee. In addition, rental agreements mean customers are committed to the company – not to mention the environmental benefits.

The business model is making inroads internationally. US company Feather, for example, rents out easy-clean, easy-repair furniture. The start-up began by procuring furniture from other manufacturers, but it now designs its own to meet the specific requirements of rental furniture.

The trend is also gaining traction in the United Kingdom: Rype Office specialises in refurbishing and renting office furniture. The company also produces new items of furniture from plastic waste. You can find information on other suppliers of rental furniture in this article.

Refurbished office furniture from Rype Office

Rype Office remanufactured or refurbished 94% of the over 2,500 items of office furniture for Public Health Wales in Cardiff. Some of the old furniture was integrated into the design by adding new, coordinating timber finishes and matching desk shapes. Photo: Rype Office

The circular economy and branding

Companies that are unable or do not want to base their entire business model on circular economy principles can use them in their marketing instead. US furniture designer and manufacturer Blu Dot organised the second Blu Dot Swap Meet auction on Instagram in 2020. This is how it works: Customers submit a photo of their collector’s item, and the company publishes the best photos on its Instagram account and gives the winners a piece of furniture of their choice. The idea is relatively easy to implement, generates media coverage and – depending on the object exchanged – is a good source of recyclable resources.

From start-ups to furniture giants, more and more companies are adopting circular economy strategies. This is proof of the urgent need for sustainable solutions and meets many people’s desire for change. Buying second-hand is undergoing a real image change – it might even become the standard.

The circular economy: a model for the future

However large or small its contribution may be, a circular economy strategy has many benefits and is often easier to implement than many people might imagine. Available resources are used intelligently to protect the environment. Initiatives that combine taking back furniture with purchase incentives strengthen customer loyalty and open up a new field of business.