5 key circularity trends with Lifestyle & Design Cluster

August 2022

Dig into the trends from Circular Furniture Days that might affect sustainable furniture production

During 3daysofdesign in Copenhagen on June 15-17, Lifestyle & Design Cluster organized Circular Furniture Days where selected brands presented innovative furniture with circularity attributes. To name a few great products: Montana – Aveny-T Chair, Bly Studio – Lounge chair, Mathias Falkenstrøm – Torii Stool and Wehlers – R.U.M.

We are curious to hear more about the trends behind such innovative furniture products and what role a furniture manufacturer like LTP should play to support circularity development at a larger scale. We asked Maria Hørmann (MH) and Johanne Stenstrup (JS), project managers at Lifestyle & Design Cluster, 5 questions about circularity in the furniture industry:

Source: Lifestyle and Design Cluster

1. Transparency on production location

Two of the exhibited furniture have transparency digital solutions: Wehlers – R.U.M and Mogens Hansen – leather sofa. This gives consumers information about the furniture production location and about the materials. Do you think that this is a trend that will develop fast in the coming years?  

MH: Some frontrunners as mentioned above have put a huge effort into taking the first step towards full transparency in their production and their products, and we see many other brands are aiming to go in the same direction. Thus, we are at the beginning of the transparency journey and for the companies they are still in the midst of figuring out how to deal with data, figuring out what creates value for the consumers and in general get insight into how to use it strategically. I don’t see it as a trend, but more a ‘simple’ necessity for furniture brands who wants a seat in future markets. But - as well as with their work with circularity and sustainability in general they face a great deal of work to reach the goal.

JS: Transparency will be the way of the future. We are looking into a future of a mandated product passport from EU, so the companies who are already gathering information and presenting it to customers are prepared for this future. It is too early to say which technologies might “win”, but every company should start mapping their supply chains and preparing for full disclosure of contents, chemicals, and environmental and social impact of their products.

2. Possible contradiction between durability and disassembly

Most of the exposed furniture can be fully or partially disassembled to enable repair and/or recycling of some materials.

Quality furniture is often defined as being most durable, do you think that we must choose between product durability and possibility to disassemble? Doesn’t furniture that can be disassembled have a shorter lifetime because there is some weakness in the assembly elements?

MH: Since IKEA back in 1953 said ‘Hi to the flat pack’, we have gotten used to disassembly furniture - most people have tried to assemble some piece of furniture – but we have also gotten used to throw-away furniture. Yes, most have up until now seen flat pack furniture as lower quality and cheaper ‘fast furniture’, but we see a beginning change of perception and some mid-end brands as TAKT, Hay and even also IKEA are the drivers.

It is of course obvious that if disassembly furniture is not maintained and the screws and bolts well tightened from time to time it will not last. Therefore, we see some of these companies’ spending resources in ‘educating’ consumers in maintaining, as well as they among others offer the possibility in changing parts of the furniture if it is broken or damaged. Seeing it from a sustainable angle there are pros and cons on both flat pack and fully assembled furniture. If this self-maintaining of flat packs and thereby chancing mindset of both the brands and consumers will work in the long run, time will show.  

3. Plastic vs. wood

Plastic is a trend for design furniture, given its ability to be from recycled origin and to be recyclable, as it was explained in the panel discussion ‘Closing the loop with plastic’. In your point of view, is plastic going to compete with wood and will have extended use in furniture design, for example from chairs to sofa and tables, etc.

JS: All raw materials are under pressure and should be used with case. Plastic and wood have distinct characteristics that can be used for different purposes and aesthetics. In the ideal world, the two materials do not compete, but each designer chooses the best material based on intended use, care and end of life. However, right now we are seeing rising wood prices, and a push for recycled materials, and in this case, we might see more plastic replacing wood components. As we learned in the talk “Closing the loop with plastic” new focus on microplastic is underway, so furniture producers and designers needs to take this into consideration when designing with plastic.

MH: Speaking about trends – re-used plastic really has entered the furniture industry. In this year’s Circular Furniture Days, a huge part of the applicants was focusing on plastic furniture. This material, weather it is post-consumer waste, fishing nets, post electronic waste or other, is – for now – easily accessible, relatively transparent in its origin and this story of origin very easy to visually communicate. It’s a total win-win for the brands as they quite easy can take a further step into the sustainable path and tell stories that the consumer understands: ‘Take waste and make new’. And it works.

Thus, plastic does have had a bad rep it seems as if the re-use of it in the furniture industry has come to stay.

But will the material flow continue? And what does the carbon footprint tell us?

Wood though, as the almost perfect carbon friendly furniture material, is not going anywhere either.

Source: Lifestyle and Design Cluster

4. Eco-design for sustainable products directive’s impact on collaboration between designers and manufacturers

On a panel discussion: ‘Prepare for a circular future: How EU’s Eco-design directive will impact furniture’, it was mentioned that designers will have to collaborate more with manufacturers to ensure that new design specifications to meet the upcoming requirements are feasible from a manufacturing point of view. Do you expect brands and designers to rethink their design process to include further manufacturers?  

JS: This depends on where they are starting out. Some brands already have great relationships with manufacturers and can adapt together. The new eco-design requirements will mandate more durable, reusable, recyclable, and repairable products made from recycled materials. If manufacturers are offering these things already or can assist designers and brands in developing new solutions to meet the demands, they will be ahead of the curve.

The transition will cost, mostly in terms of innovation and new ways of working, and all parties need to contribute to this development cost.

5. Repair, Take back & Resale

Another great discussion took place on the topic: ‘Sell twice, make once’.

Which role do you foresee for manufacturers on the fast-growing repair/ take-back and resale solutions offered by brands to furniture consumers? When manufacturing is not done locally, repair from factory will require transportation and associated carbon emissions which will impact the product environmental footprint. Are there smart solutions to avoid this?

JS: Repair and resale will be a big part of the future, when we ask the EU commission. Manufacturers can meet this demand, by thinking of easy repairability when they produce. What spare parts can be sold separately, which care-products can be sold as consumer facing products etc. In a global market, partnerships are key. Products made in one part of the world, can be repaired locally anywhere if assembly and caring information is shared alongside the right supplies.

MH: There is a stating movement in brands that work with repair/takeback and in general think circular in this area - considering services in the use-phase of a product as well as in the after-use. That together with the education and changing of mindsets of the consumer can be key in a circular future where we don’t just throw out stuff. But a great responsibility lies on the shoulders of the brands/manufacturers to design repair-friendly furniture and/or offer take-back solutions. Partnerships and digitization will play a big role in making this possible in a global perspective- as well as possible local repair hubs for those not fit for self-repair.

Source: Lifestyle and Design Cluster

About Lifestyle & Design Cluster

Lifestyle & Design Cluster works to promote innovation and sustainable growth primarily in the small and medium-sized housing and clothing companies as well as in the creative industries. We have a broad dialogue-based interface with the business community and, through our many different projects and activities, generate new knowledge which is communicated via events and here on the website via cases and news updates.

About LTP Group

LTP Group is a privately owned OEM production partner for demanding and leading Sport & Outdoor and Furniture brands, with 12 factories across 6 countries in Europe, Asia, and North America.