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Time for a positive change

Climate change: consequences for the interiors industry

Rising sea levels, increasing heavy rainfall and periods of extreme heat: climate change has many unattractive faces. Besides political actors, the economy also has a responsibility to counteract this. Find out here how the interiors and construction industries can make their own contributions to a positive change, and how this might look.

Climate change damages human beings and the economy

The massive effects of climate change for human beings and nature are inexorable. Besides ecological damage, the economy is also affected by the consequences of climate change. The "Global Risk Report" commissioned by the World Economic Forum in 2020 describes climate change as the greatest threat to the economy. According to the most recent estimates, economic performance could drop by 37 percent worldwide by the end of the century – which would correspond to more than double the decline experienced during the global economic crisis of 1929.

The interiors and construction industries will also increasingly struggle with the consequences of the climate crisis in future. Business, as a globally networked industry, lives from import and export. In 2021 alone, furniture imports with a value of more than 21 billion Euro were transferred to Germany – including from countries vulnerable to climate change. However, extreme weather like storms, floods and heat are placing an increasing burden on production facilities, buildings and facilities for the storage of goods. When rivers flood their banks, both factories and technical infrastructure, such as airports, motorways or sometimes even entire cities are threatened – and the rise of sea levels will increasingly challenge container terminals and port facilities. The consequences: supply bottlenecks, the absence of production locations and increasing prices. What might at first glance sound pessimistic and hopeless is in reality a chance for a transformation of the interiors industry.

Adaptive design: for a positive transformation

Climate change is leading to a trend in the direction of sustainability in society. More and more customers pay attention to environmentally-friendly production and materials when purchasing sofas, beds, etc. – and are inclined to invest more for this . Sustainability is now mainstream and is increasingly becoming the standard. Those who want to bind customers to them over the long term must concern themselves with the theme now and steer their companies in the direction of climate friendliness with adaptive design .

Designers and manufacturers that want to effectively counter the climate crisis and thus sustain their business have many possibilities. The most extensive approach is the cradle-to-cradle principle . Here, the entire life cycle of a product is considered, as well as the continued use of resources after the primary usage. Furnishings thus do not simply become trash after use, but are instead recycled and reused. How that can look in practice is shown by the carpet manufacturer Desso. Customers can return the carpets to the Dutch company for reuse after primary use. Alternative materials like bamboo are a chance to become independent of finite resources.

For the interiors and construction industries, the goal should be to use raw materials multiple times and to thus preserve resources. One of the pioneers in this field is the office furniture manufacturer Steelcase, which designed the first certified cradle-to-cradle item of furniture worldwide in 2004 with the "Think" chair. The zero waste approach leads in the same direction. The goal is to produce a product that is free of trash.

The conversion to cradle-to-cradle or zero waste is a cost-intensive process that not every company can afford. However, those who nonetheless wish to guide their company in an environmentally-friendly direction and become less dependent upon raw materials can also already realise this in a smaller framework. Furnishings that fulfil several functions are thus not only popular because of a shortage of living space . With adaptive design, several functions are united in only one item of furniture, meaning that materials are saved during production and emissions are reduced.

Sustainable interior design

In addition to adaptive designs, with which designers and manufacturers reduce their own emissions, concepts are called for that support customers in reducing their own ecological footprint.

The Berlin startup Made of Air has developed a thermoplastic of carbon black that is very similar to conventional plastic in its constitution – with one special feature: furniture that is manufactured from the substance binds CO2 from the atmosphere. "Given the circumstances of climate change, we have decided to transform as many manufactured products as possible into CO2 reservoirs", says Chief Operating Officer Allison Dring. In addition to furniture, the thermoplastic can also be used for building facades – which makes it especially interesting for urban planners and architects. The climate in large metropolitan areas is worsening due to increasingly denser settlement and construction. Used extensively, the thermoplastic helps to counter this over the long term.

Heating is one of the biggest climate sins in private households. Future Carbon wants to counteract this and revolutionise the heating market – with a wall paint that heats the apartment. To this purpose, fleece plates with integrated copper bands only need to be glued to the wall and then painted over with the heating paint. Heating is then operated very simply via the household power supply. Production and use are considerably more environmentally friendly than electrical heaters.

Both concepts impressively demonstrate the direction in which the interiors and construction industries need to develop. This is because those who want to bind customers to them over the long term must steer their companies in a "climate-positive" direction.

Climate-neutral is good, climate-positive is better

Climate neutrality: a term that has become a buzzword in the course of the climate crisis. It is often difficult to differentiate between serious intentions and pure marketing measures. What is then behind climate-neutral companies? Every company causes CO2 emissions through production and transport, which are damaging to the environment. In order to compensate retroactively for this emission of greenhouse gases, they invest in climate protection projects that ensure that emissions are reduced elsewhere in the world.

Strictly speaking, where emissions are reduced in the world is a matter of indifference for the climate. However, the weak points become evident when one allows this scenario to continue for a few years. This is because, in order that climate change can really be stopped, we must all work together and as quickly as possible to reduce emissions.

Climate-neutrality is thus not enough. The goal must be climate-positive. This means that the manufacture of products or the entire company concept binds more resources than are emitted. This overcompensation can be achieved, for example, through the use of renewable energy. Those who already make climate-positivity their goal today will make their business ready for tomorrow.

An industry in (climate) transformation

The world is in a state of transition, and we as a society with it. We are growing increasingly older , require more living space and consume more resources than are available. This demands innovative solutions from the construction and interior design industries. Manufacturers and designers who are conscious of the consequences of climate change can have a positive influence on the environment and their own image with the right measures.

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