How shifting to sustainable processes works
Sustainability is the word on everyone’s lips. But lip service is no longer enough. If you want to be successful in the interior design industry in the long term, you’ve got to back up your words with action. Developing a sustainable business model requires committed leadership, an eye for the essentials and suitable mechanisms to implement your vision.
Sustainability is a marathon, not a sprint. But the road towards resource-efficient processes is worth travelling. (Photo: Alexa Koval on Pexels)
What makes a company truly sustainable?
Many companies are daunted by the idea of restructuring to be more sustainable. In many cases, the reason for this is an overstretched management team – which is perfectly understandable, as protecting the environment is a complex issue that requires dedication. Nevertheless, rethinking business models and making gradual adjustments are not insurmountable obstacles.
So far, there’s no generally accepted definition of a sustainable company, nor a law governing what this means. Nevertheless, there are some regulations that companies can and should follow in order to make their activities truly green. After all, the call by consumers for environmentally friendly solutions is becoming louder and louder .
In Paris in 2015, the leaders of the member states of the United Nations (UN) answered this call and agreed on 17 goals aimed at creating a better world by 2030. These Sustainable Development Goals are focused on eradicating poverty, fighting inequality and ending climate change. By drawing up these goals, the UN has set out a kind of catalogue of rules to show what sustainable lifestyles and sustainable economic activity should look like. They provide an ideal template for businesses to act on.
Alongside the UN Paris Agreement, the three pillars of sustainability also offer guidance in the fight against climate change. Anyone wanting to make their company sustainable should always factor in each of these three pillars, namely environmental, social and economic sustainability. Disregarding one pillar for either purely economic or environmental reasons would be a failure to recognise the complex nature of sustainability.
Environmental sustainability: new goals, new structures
Sustainable leadership is not only desirable, but also feasible – whatever the size of the company. This is reflected in the number of young furniture makers who are committed to protecting the environment and in the many start-ups focused on durable, eco-friendly and recycled products .
It’s by no means easy to completely rethink a business model and break out of old structures. Anyone wanting to take on this challenge should ask themselves the following questions: Is the model of cheap products that change every week still what the market wants? Where is there potential for improvement in my company? What fine-tuning can still be done? All business processes as well as the value chain must be meticulously reviewed and presented as transparently as possible. This is the only way to make the transformation of a company’s identity integral to all its business practices. Ultimately, true sustainability can only be achieved when all aspects are harmonised to the greatest extent possible – and that starts at the design stage.
Timber from local forestry, regional production and certified textiles: Brühl & Sippold has understood what it means to do business sustainably. (Photo: Brühl & Sippold on ambista)
Sustainable design for longevity
The furnishings industry thrives on its dynamism. Trends come and go. But one thing always endures: true design classics. Whether the cantilever chair from Thonet , the Barcelona Day Bed from Knoll or the Highboard from USM Haller, what these classics have in common is that they were designed to last. Product longevity is in fact also sustainable. And therein lies one of the key factors in switching to sustainable processes: after all, sustainability can be measured at every stage of the design process. With a focus on using resources fairly and efficiently, the design of a product should always take its entire life cycle into account:
- Concept development and design
- Production: locally manufactured, decent working conditions and fair pay
- Materials: use of renewable resources containing no harmful substances
- Distribution and packaging: sustainable materials and short transport distances
- Use: easy to maintain and durable
- Disposal and recycling: recyclable waste products
Design is about more than just aesthetics. Sustainable design solves real problems – not just functional drivers – and seeks to address the challenges posed by climate change. That is why the optimal sustainable option should be chosen for every design decision.
Brühl & Sippold is a business that has been championing this approach for decades. This manufacturer of upholstered furniture combines sustainability, environmental protection and aesthetics in its designs. Now in its third generation, the family-run company makes all its furniture in its one and only factory in Bad Steben, Germany. All the raw materials it uses are carefully chosen. The wood is sourced from sustainable forestry in the region, and the textiles comply with the OEKO-TEX standard.
Brühl & Sippold has a reputation for timeless design and well-thought-out features, such as changeable covers that are easy to clean and replace. Sofas and other pieces of furniture can therefore be adapted to suit individual tastes, making them long-lasting and sustainable.
Sustainability pays off: Not only for the environment. More and more customers are willing to spend more on sustainable products. (Photo: Koelnmesse)
Tackling resource scarcity: a win-win situation
There are multiple reasons why setting up and growing a sustainable business makes sense. The most important reason is that we live, work and play on one planet, and we need to take care of it for the good of everyone. But clear consciences aside, a sustainable business model can also be a successful business model. According to studies by KPMG and Statista more than two thirds of respondents are willing to spend more money on sustainable products.
Besides the willingness of consumers to pay more, many environmentally friendly measures go hand in hand with economic benefits. If a business uses less plastic, it’s less exposed to fluctuations in the oil price; and businesses that pay fair wages benefit from a stable workforce in their production facilities. Recycling resources can also reduce material costs. Dutch brand DESSO , for example, uses waste calcium carbonate (limescale) supplied by its local water company to make new carpets, thereby saving raw materials and cutting costs. Choosing eco-friendly materials is a way to reduce costs, especially in the long term. Investing in domestic timber, for example, may initially seem too expensive, but it pays off when it comes to sales, if not before.
Confectionery producer Mars has found other creative ways to protect the environment. For example, to reduce carbon emissions, the company transports competitors’ goods in its own lorries. According to internal figures, this lowers logistics costs by up to 25 per cent. Logistics is one of the biggest sources of emissions. It’s not uncommon for materials and products to be shipped or flown around the globe. But there are some simple steps that can be taken to shorten transport distances significantly. By switching to local production models, companies can establish regional business relationships while simultaneously cutting both costs and CO2 emissions.
Team 7 from Austria has been following this principle for over forty years and is thus one of the pioneers, not only in the furnishing industry. The furniture manufacturer from Austria processes only wood from sustainable forestry and has been very successful with this since the 1980s. In the past 20 years alone, the company has tripled its sales due to the increasing demand for ecological furniture - and the trend is rising. In an interview, Dr. Georg Emprechtinger, CEO and owner of Team 7, explains why sustainability is not for cowards and why it is worth taking this courageous step.
Sustainability as a boost for business: myth or genuine guarantee of success?
The facts are plain to see – sustainability has long since ceased to be a niche topic. Reason enough to move your own business over to sustainable structures. Anyone who wants their company to continue to enjoy market acceptance and stay competitive should integrate resource-efficient processes into their everyday operations. Find out here how this can work and which manufacturers are already leading by example.
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