From linear to circular economy
Buy, consume, throw away: long gone are the days of linear use. Customers are demanding long-lasting solutions. Modular furniture, spare parts from a 3D printer and evolving furnishings are meaningful approaches that meet this demand. The circular economy goes even further.
Economic goals and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, a well thought-out circular economy ensures successful sustainability. (Photo: Alexander Abero on Unsplash)
Cradle to Cradle – for a world without waste
Imagine your customers could return all their furniture and you are able to transform them into something new without enormous material costs. This is not a futuristic dream. This is Cradle to Cradle.
Cradle to Cradle (C2C) was developed by Prof. Michael Braungart and architect William McDonough and has become a well-known sustainability concept. The result of this remarkable method is a world without garbage.
According to the definition of the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute , “Cradle to Cradle materials are applied with respect for their intrinsic value and useful afterlife in recycled or even ‘upcycled’ products, whose value and technological sophistication may be higher than that of their original use.”
Like in nature, in Cradle to Cradle design there is no waste, no shortage and no limitations. The concept is based on the unlimited reuse of raw materials, the use of renewable energy, and the promotion of diversity. The goal is to bring about a new industrial revolution, which ensures that production and manufacturing have a positive impact on society, the economy and our planet.
The Cradle to Cradle approach greatly contributes to sustainability by preventing waste through the full reutilisation of discarded materials. All the materials used in Cradle to Cradle certified products can be fully recycled either biologically or technically.
In Cradle to Cradle design, however, material reutilisation is only one of the quality categories in which a product is assessed. According to the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, “Cradle to Cradle evaluates a product across five quality categories.”
- Material health
- Material reutilisation
- Renewable energy and carbon management
- Responsible use of water
- Social fairness
The C2C approach aims to reinvent, rethink and redesign. It is about making all things useful. The concept goes even further than traditional sustainability. Take the example of plastic straws – since 2021, they have been officially banned in the EU. However, simply doing without this product does not improve the status quo, it just does not make things worse. The goal of C2C on the other hand is to develop better plastic and other synthetic materials that can be fed back into biological systems. Such a venture requires a great deal of research and time – and is not feasible for all companies.
Fashion industry leads by example – Italian fashion label Napapijri converts its Circular Series to Cradle to Cradle Gold in just 14 months. (Photo: Napapijri)
Circular economy in practice
However, the road to ultimate sustainability branches off into areas that represent more than just a step towards a greener economy. In the apparel sector, the Cradle to Cradle principle is now frequently practiced outside of the fast fashion industry. Italian fashion label Napapirji transformed its entire production process to Cradle to Cradle in an astounding 14 months.
Together with the Cradle to Cradle assessor EPEA Switzerland , they have thus set a record for restructuring to circular processes. In this interview, we talk to Albin Kälin, founder and CEO of EPEA Switzerland GmbH, about the urgency of turning away from linear economic activity. Because this is the only way for companies to remain fit for the future.
The furnishings industry is also keeping up with this development. The following companies are already showing how a successful circular economy works in interior design.
Cloud Sofa by FINK
Make Furniture Circular shows the possibilities that recycling opens up for the furnishings industry. Their goal is to create an attractive market for the further processing of secondary materials. Together with FINK Product Design, they developed the revolutionary Cloud Sofa. The filling for the sofa is obtained from used mattresses. The first prototype clearly shows the potential that secondary raw materials offer: processing existing resources can reduce material costs and unused waste.
Magna Glaskeramik is made from 100% recycled glass and can be completely fed back in high quality to the production cycle after use. Transparent, green or brown bottle glass is transformed into glass ceramic through a sintering process, which preserves the colour and shape of the glass fragments, achieving a special aesthetic effect.
The office furniture expert is a pioneer in the field of Cradle to Cradle. The company was the first worldwide to receive C2C certification for its Think office chair. To this day, the cradle-to-cradle principle is an integral part of Steelcase’s corporate philosophy. The office furniture manufacturer holds over 25 certifications, making it one of the most certified companies in the world.
A chair that makes you think. Steelcase’s Think model is world’s first to earn Cradle to Cradle certification. (Photo: Steelcase at ambista)
From unused material to profitable resource
The climate crisis is forcing society and the economy to take action and has become a driver of innovation: modular furniture, resource-saving materials and circular economy are just a few examples. But that’s not all. Scientists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz are using a research project to show how industries can collaborate with each other in a sustainable way.
The team has found an eco-friendly method of producing vanillin from wood waste. After saffron, vanillin is one of the most expensive spices in the world – and the most widely used flavouring agent worldwide. The focus of the project is lignin, which is a component of wood. Lignin is a substance that helps protect plant fibres in trees from swelling due to moisture. Each year, more than 100 million tons of lignin are generated as waste, while tens of thousands of tons of vanillin are used in the production of food, cosmetics and medicines. Until now, the flavouring agent has been predominantly extracted from petroleum, a process which produces toxic waste. This is not the case with the new method. “Our method has a vanillin yield of around four percent of the lignin used, which could theoretically cover global demand,” says Prof. Dr. Siegfried Waldvogel, spokesman for the cutting-edge research area.
The university’s research project delivers a strong message of the direction that the furnishings industry needs to take in order to be competitive in the future – limited resources also require new approaches and cooperation between different sectors. Ultimately, one company’s waste can quickly become a profitable raw material for others.
The future of the furnishings industry is green
Sustainability and environmental protection are now mainstream. Movements like Fridays for Future and the current trend towards resource-saving furnishings are clear examples of this. The pioneers in the industry are those who put themselves at the forefront of a growth market through their clear positioning and by investing in sustainable manufacturing processes and materials.
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