How to facilitate sustainable product specification within the European furniture sector
Significant efforts are being made to promote greener procurement practices across all industries in Europe, including furniture. The buyers are asked to emphasise environmental factors in their decision-making, but the guidance is not specific.
A good example of this is the DFØ in Norway, the body tasked with ensuring the sound financial management and purchasing of Norway’s governmental institutions and enterprises. They ask buyers to emphasise environmental factors in their decision-making, but the guidance is not specific, as neither suppliers nor recipients have sufficient maturity to quantify their environmental requirements when purchasing furniture.
Looking at the problem from the other end of the lifecycle, WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) states that 1.2 million office desks and 1.8 million office chairs end up in landfill each year - and that’s just in the UK! They estimate that across Europe, 80-90% of furniture ends up in landfills.
WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) estimate that across Europe, 80-90% of furniture ends up in landfills.
Furniture production in Europe was in excess of €83bn in 2018, of which 20% was office and contract furniture. The office and contract segment becomes a logical startpoint for making more sustainable choices, since it equates to a large volume per contract, therefore fewer decision-makers need to be influenced to make an impact.
Previous research into furniture industry emissions shows a wide variety in carbon footprint, with task chairs ranging from 57 KgCO2e to 142 KgCO2e per unit. With 14.6 million task chairs manufactured in Europe each year there is a significant opportunity for carbon reduction even in this single sub category of products within the office and contract sector.
The good news is that more manufacturers are developing EPDs for their products, based on the requirements set by the public sector and enlightened corporate buyers. These clients want to occupy and rent out buildings with recognised environmental standards such as LEED or BREEAM. A product EPD creates credits towards a whole building environmental certification.
The bad news is that visibility and therefore accessibility to these EPDs is often buried within manufacturers’ websites, and sometimes not sited adjacent to the rest of the product information. So the means to make more sustainable furniture product choices exists; it’s just that there is a lot of leg work involved in visiting manufacturers’ websites and finding the right information; and having to do this many times over for each project.
At Xeris we believe technology can simplify and improve this process. This is why we have submitted and been awarded funding from Innovation Norway to create a tool that enables purchasing decisions based on the environmental footprint of a product.
Core product information on our platform is supplemented with environmental data from the EPD, but taken digitally directly from the EPD issuing body. Filters will be added to the tool to enable search on quantified values related to CO2 emissions.
For example you could search to see the GWP - Global Warming Potential of a product category; and then filter further to only show products with a GWP of less than 5. Our platform also has pricing information in it, so you can remain within budget as well as having a product that meets your environmental requirements.
The manufacturer gets to leverage their EPD investment, whilst the specifier gets to select products with far greater ease, and gets the data exported digitally to the tendering platform.
If the average emission per task chair is 73 KgCO2e, or 10M tonnes of CO2e annually, with a low end of 6.2M tonnes and a high end of 18M tonnes there is a 40% reduction opportunity. A significant amount of this could be delivered once the tool is adopted. And remember this is just one sub category of office furniture.
In the longer term, with competitive advantage being given to eco-friendly products, manufacturers will move entire product ranges to more sustainable materials.
The project will formally start before Christmas 2021 and we would like to hear from parties interested in being involved in this collaboration. For your information, this initial phase of the project will be centred on Norwegian public sector procurement and associated furniture supply chain.
EPD’s - Environmental Product Declarations, are third party validated certificates which summarise the embodied carbon and other environmental measures produced from a product Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), and can include information for all life cycle stages of a product from raw material extraction to end of life (often termed cradle to grave). Due to supply chain complexity they are also often created using data from raw material extraction to the manufactured product (cradle to factory gate)
Some EPD’s can be generic and include multiple manufacturing sites and supply chains for a given product. There are also product specific EPD’s, which tend to be more valued by building certification schemes such as BREEAM and LEED, due to their increased accuracy and specificity. Typically, to contribute to the maximum number of points within building certification, EPD’s need to be externally verified by qualified third parties and need to be product specific.