Sustainability in manufacturing: who is responsible?

    Bisley Operations Director Paul Crutcher says sustainability in furniture manufacturing is based on a symbiotic relationship between vendors and consumers, placing responsibility on both sides.

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    Bisley Operations Director Paul Crutcher says sustainability in furniture manufacturing is based on a symbiotic relationship between vendors and consumers, placing responsibility on both sides.

    There’s no doubt that we as furniture manufacturers must lead the way in developing sustainable solutions for our homes and workspaces. However, for this to be possible, consumers must first demand it, otherwise the incentive to authentically pursue a green agenda will diminish.

    Fortunately, the manufacturing sector is now largely beginning to move in the right direction, with ethical firms clearly stating, publishing and auditing their sustainable credentials and practices.  Bisley’s commitments and strategies are outlined in our ‘Green Book’. We often use the phrase that our furniture is ‘made for life’, and while this is true of our products, we take the same ethos into every part of our manufacturing processes and company culture.

    However, while many manufacturers are living by their sustainability standards, there are those that are not. I believe many consumers may not know the difference, especially when you consider the amount of ‘greenwashing’ taking place.

    So, what should consumers be looking for when it comes to making conscious purchasing decisions about furniture?

    Reliable accreditations

    A good place to start with identifying sustainable manufacturers and brands is to look for their industry-recognised green certifications. These should be published on their websites; if they’re not there, chances are it’s because they don’t have any.

    Long-life materials

    The circular economy aims to reduce finite natural resource extraction. Our aim is to keep goods in circulation longer, so we don’t have to take more things out of the ground. At Bisley, we encourage the use of materials with a higher recycled and recyclable content. We have also been looking at the products we create from a more macro perspective.

    Essentially, when manufacturers design a new product, or review established designs, they should be answering questions like:

    • Where did the materials come from?
    • What is the expected life span of the product?
    • Is it repair friendly?
    • Can it be upgraded easily?
    • How will it be disposed of?

    All products need to be considered from a circular economy perspective – both upstream and downstream. 

    Reduced packaging

    When it comes to packaging, there is so much that can be done to operate in a more sustainable way – from managing what the raw material arrives in at the manufacturing facility, to the packaging in which products are delivered to retailers and consumers. The second of these points is something consumers are becoming more aware of, and prone to publicly calling out brands that use excessive, toxic packaging. As a result, most manufacturers are becoming increasingly savvy about.

    Simplifying transportation

    Despite the trend for offshoring production over the past 25 years, many firms which initially embraced the concept are now beginning to return home – a development that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. The onset of COVID-19 saw companies with longer, more complex supply chains scattered across the globe experience complete production paralysis. We now witness onshoring or, at the very least, nearshoring of supply bases being activated across numerous sectors.

    Economic and supply chain issues aside, sustainability factors are at play here as well. After all, shipping goods halfway around the world is not a good approach to reducing carbon outputs which is why onshoring/nearshoring is becoming more appealing to firms looking to deliver on net zero targets. With this in mind, I would suggest consumers check where goods are made and interrogate this rigorously.

    Paul Crutcher is Operations Director at Bisley, the UK-based office furniture designer and manufacturer.