Circular = sustainable?

When does a piece of furniture qualify as circular? Johanna Ljunggren, Sustainability Manager at Kinnarps, explains how a circular economy can be used for a more sustainable future.

Circularity is an important tool for acting resource-efficiently, but this concept is too often automatically equated with sustainability. For an item to be truly sustainable, it needs to be designed from the start to be used for a long time. For example, buying a garment, wearing it once and then donating it, or driving your car long distances to visit a recycling station may be circular but not necessarily sustainable. Johanna Ljunggren, Sustainability Manager at Kinnarps, explains how circular economy can be used for a more sustainable future if used correctly.

Have I made a sustainable choice if I choose a reused interior?

When does a piece of furniture qualify as circular? Does it qualify once it’s had several owners or users? Is it most sustainable for an item of furniture to have several owners for ten years, or is it preferable for the same owner to care for and use it for fifteen years? It’s important to avoid the trap of assuming you’re making a sustainable choice just by choosing reused interior design. We regularly see specifications in various contracts and procurement for a certain percentage of the interior design to consist of reused items. The intention is good, but unfortunately not enough to ensure sustainable use of furniture. To make a truly sustainable choice, you need to look at a number of parameters. Firstly, it’s important to ensure that the quality and material of the reused interior design are suitable for use in the specific space. Where does the furniture come from? What kind of material does it contain? Has it been refurbished and in which way? You also need to look at how long the furniture has left, for example, can it be updated, renewed or renovated further when the need arises?

“The longer the lifespan of a piece of furniture, the lower the environmental impact from a usage perspective. That’s why we focus on creating furniture with the potential for a long life”

Johanna Ljunggren, Sustainability Manager at Kinnarps

Furthermore you need to question where the furniture is produced and how it’s been transported. Will it be packaged in single-use material and which fuel will be used for transport? You should also find out whether the facility that produced or renovated the furniture affords its workers decent working conditions, i.e. take social sustainability into account. In order to ensure consistency and harmony in the interior design, it’s also important to carefully plan how old and any new interior design should work together and avoid a ‘musical chairs’ solution that does not contribute to a healthy and pleasant working environment. Last but not least, you also need to set sustainability requirements for new interior design. This is something that all too often is overlooked! Require that the new interior be produced in a sustainable way with non-toxic materials, that it is designed to live a long life and is prepared to be updated, renewed or renovated when the time comes.

In other words, equating circularity with reused interior design is taking the easy way out. But if you know which questions to ask and how to set specifications, reused interior design can be one way to choose sustainable circularity.

Kinnarps’ trucks are packed like a game of Tetris, with the furniture wrapped in reusable blankets. This saves 270 kilos of packaging per truck cabinet.

Whoever lives the longest wins! What does life cycle cost mean?

Looking at the price here and now is a short-term way of choosing interior design. To get the best and most sustainable return on your investment, you need to look at the life cycle cost of your interior design. How long will the furniture last, in my or someone else’s operations? How easy will it be to source spare parts and renew the furniture when necessary? And how will the furniture work for and support the people using it in our organisation? You need to study all of this in order to know if you’re choosing the most affordable and sustainable product. Imagine that chair X costs EUR 80 and chair Y costs EUR 100. Chair X breaks after three years and can’t be repaired, or causes work injuries due to poor ergonomics for the user, forcing them to take sick leave. Chair Y, on the other hand, provides good ergonomics for the user and lasts for ten years, and spare parts are available so that the chair can be updated and last for another ten years and so on. Which chair works out cheapest?

Moving from a linear economy to a circular economy is a stated goal within the EU, how does Kinnarps work and contribute to this?

Kinnarps’ approach to a sustainable circular economy starts with a long lifespan.
“The longer the lifespan of a piece of furniture, the lower the environmental impact from a usage perspective. That’s why we focus on creating furniture with the potential for a long life. Quality is crucial for longevity, so in that sense quality is also a sustainability issue,” explains Johanna Ljunggren.

We also design our furniture so that it can be renovated and updated to further extend its lifespan when necessary. And we offer a range of services to help our customers extend the life of their interior design, for example through inventory, furniture cleaning and updating. We also offer circulated furniture that is quality-assured through our webshop. We make it easy for our customers to make sustainable choices by gathering all our circular services under one concept we call Sustainable Circularity by Kinnarps.

Kinnarps’ circular services are gathered under a concept for sustainable circularity. Each circle symbolises a key to choosing sustainable interior design all the way.

Discover sustainable circularity

Sustainable interior design also needs to be flexible and adapted to meet the actual needs of the organisation. This provides the best conditions for long-term use. With our Next Office®, Next Education® and Next Care® needs analyses, we can help our customers map out their needs and create a solution based on them.

We also work with circular flows in our own production and logistics chain. For example, we recycle the packaging material we use when delivering our furniture. This consists of blankets and cardboard sheets that we take back after delivery and reuse again and again. We collect waste material from production and create new products with our fabric waste and heat the factories with waste from our wood processing. Our factories are located in Sweden, close to our head office, which means we can have full control over the entire chain. We have our own trucks, which mainly run on fossil-free fuel, and we pack them like a game of Tetris using our packing method with blankets and cardboard sheets, which means that we avoid driving around air. When others need three trucks, we can manage with two, and we save 270 kilos of packaging per truck cabinet with our packing method.

9 tips to make sustainable choices all the way

1. Map and analyse your needs for a long-term solution that suits your organisation.

2. Choose high-quality furniture designed to be able to be renewed.

3. Look for ecolabels and certifications, such as FSC®, Möbelfakta and OEKO-TEX.

4. Ensure quality and safety – through e.g. European standards.

5. Choose suitable materials and colours adapted for your spaces.

6. Question how and where the furniture is produced.

7. Find out how the furniture is transported and how the interior design is implemented.

8. Select evaluation parameters with great care.

9. Set qualitative sustainability requirements for both new and reused furniture.