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The rise of eco-practices in the furniture industry


December 12, 2023

As sustainability calls grow, see the many ways furniture brands and manufacturers are implementing eco-practices into their business models.

Furniture is a billion-dollar global market. It’s also a resource-heavy industry, with high-volume, intensive furniture manufacturing relying on vast amounts of natural resources and raw materials. The environmental impact of furniture has increased concerns about the sustainability of the industry, with heightened attention placed on the eco-practices of the furniture sector.  

In response, forward-looking furniture brands and manufacturers are transforming the way they source, produce, and market their products. This transformation is the result of increasing consumer demand for more environmentally responsible goods and evolving regulations around transparency, such as the EU’s forthcoming Digital Product Passport (DPP). But how are furniture brands and manufacturers integrating eco-practices into their value chains? Let’s take a look.  

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Sustainable-first design and responsibly sourced materials 

A growing number of furniture brands are making big, sustainability-minded changes straight from the initial drawing board. Innovative brands are transforming the way they approach the design of their furniture pieces through changes like incorporating more recycled inputs or even repurposed waste material. While several new players are taking the lead in this revolution, many existing leaders are also making waves in sustainable design. 

Increasingly, materials like reclaimed wood, bamboo, and recycled metal are finding their way into furniture designs, reducing the environmental impact associated with traditional manufacturing practices. Even non-reclaimed wood, if properly managed at the source, is a much more sustainable material than plastic or other man-made materials. 

Some manufacturers are thinking even further out of the box with their material sourcing. For example, the Danish brand Mater has introduced an entire range of furniture made from ocean waste and recycled industrial plastic, designed to give these materials that would otherwise be wasted a new lease of life. Another example is the Superpop table, made from circular materials, which demonstrates that sustainability and design can go hand in hand. 

However, there are lots of commonly used materials that furniture designers and manufacturers still need to find replacements for. This is particularly the case for materials that can’t be easily reused, restored, or repaired. Perhaps the best example here is particleboard, made from compressed wood particles. This makes it cheap to produce but not very durable. If particleboard gets wet, it swells and loses structural integrity. Manufacturers using particleboard will need to find a more sustainable alternative to improve their eco-practices. 

sofa with recycled material label

Manufacturing with circularity in mind 

In addition to using eco-friendly materials, furniture manufacturers are also adopting greener manufacturing processes. For many manufacturers, the process of greener production starts by looking closely at their existing processes and identifying any unnecessary steps they can eliminate. This could be a particular treatment to a certain material, or even changing suppliers to reduce supply chain transit needs. 

Another way furniture manufacturers are responding to calls for circularity is by improving many of their production processes. This can mean switching the energy supply in their factories to a more renewable source, introducing AI into their processes to improve efficiency, or even changing transit methods from gas-powered vehicles to electric ones. Iconic furniture brand Herman Miller has led the way with their commitment to sustainability. The brand implemented 100% renewable energy usage at its facilities back in 2010 as part of its ongoing move towards zero waste.  

Adopting a FaaS business model 

The Furniture-as-a-Service (FaaS) business model reflects a novel way for furniture brands and manufacturers to transform the use of their products and implement eco-practices into their business models. FaaS business models see consumers rent items of furniture instead of buying outright. This allows them to return or upgrade the items when they have finished using them.  

This is a popular option for those needing furniture for workplaces, temporary accommodation (such as student or worker accommodation), and events. However, the FaaS business model typically requires a much longer lifespan for items. This means that the quality, longevity, and robustness of each item need to be considered throughout the design and production stage to ensure pieces can stand up to use and reuse.  

Accessible recycling processes 

As part of their integration of eco-practices, global furniture giants like Ikea are introducing ways to extend the usable lifespan of their products. They are doing this through reuse and recycling initiatives. These include a buy-back scheme for unwanted Ikea furniture and a special area in-store where customers can purchase pre-loved pieces. This gives consumers a quick and simple way to dispose of used furniture. It also significantly reduces the amount of furniture sent to landfill.  

Smaller brands are also taking the recycling initiative, such as Bensons for Beds, which offers mattress recycling for customers. But even if brands don’t have the resources or scale to offer this kind of service, there are other ways they can integrate recyclability into their furniture designs. Modular design has emerged as a hot trend in product design for this very reason. Thinking about furniture design in a modular way potentially makes it much easier to repair and maintain products. It also facilitates more effective recycling by making products simple to disassemble. 

inriver: Facilitating eco-practices for furniture brands 

Implementing eco-practices into a furniture value chain comes with certain challenges. However, having the right software solution as your foundation is a great place to start. The inriver Product Information Management (PIM) solution powers the upstream-downstream value chain connectivity needed to meet the demands of implementing eco-practices. It does this through a fully extensible data model that provides the agility required to meet the complex needs of even the most involved furniture product catalog.  

The composable, multi-tenant inriver PIM offers the most comprehensive product information management solution on the market. Powered by a fully extensible data model that evolves with the demands placed on your products, you can be sure you have a solid foundation for even the most complex omnichannel strategy. With PIM software, furniture brands can effectively manage their product information, communicate their commitment to sustainability, and build a competitive edge in the evolving marketplace. 

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