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Setting New Sustainability Standards in the Furniture Industry

Lund University Sustainability Forum discusses sustainable product design and circular economy within the furniture industry with Johan Berhin, designer and founder of Green Furniture Concept in Malmö. Johan Berhin was hosting the circular design workshop at the circular economy conference in Lund on May 24, 2016.
Foto: Green Furniture Concept
Foto: Green Furniture Concept

What is your main goal or aspiration for Green Furniture Concept (GFC)? What are the core values of GFC?

– Our overall mission is to make the best sustainable indoor public furniture (for public locations such as train stations, schools, malls and airports). Choosing ‘green’ furniture rather than ordinary furniture is beneficial for the planet, and we aim to make it more accessible to the public. The vision of GFC is to create impressive, sustainably built furniture that holds timeless value of functionality, design, and aesthetics.

What inspired and led you to create this company?

– The ‘One C’ chair gained recognition for its simple, yet modern design at the Copenhagen design show, and I there found a French distributor and it became a smash hit in Paris 2007-2008. I was shocked of the smelly manufacturing process and decided to be a forerunner in sustainable furniture, changed the chair manufacturing as much as possible, and started the Green Furniture Concept to find the best eco-design out there, lift it forward, and begin manufacturing.

What production practices or specific materials (glues, coatings, flame retardants, etc) do you avoid using and why?

– We avoid non-water based paints, which smell bad and are known be toxic, and use natural hard-wax oil instead. We use wood with origin control, choose Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) labelled material, and source materials as locally as possible. For each piece of furniture sold, a tree is also planted close to our manufacturing in Sweden, at the Green Furniture Plantation. We use the Nordic Eco-label as a base level that we never go below, but most methods and materials we use exceed that.

Can you explain how GFC is using up-cycled materials (using wastes and by-products as raw materials for production)?

– The IOU series (I Owe You) is made with up-cycled wood material, utilizing scrap wood material from the floor industry in the Småland region of Sweden. Another furniture series also uses scrap materials from Swedish weaving companies to create the upholstery.

Are there many companies in the furniture industry that compare to GFC? Why or why not?

– There are not currently many competitors and not many companies that also employ sustainability on their total line of products. One other design furniture company with a similar sustainable approach is Norrgavel, but they have traditional design and sell only into the private market.

Where can we see GFC-designed furniture and what can we expect from GFC in the future?

– Our furniture can be seen at Lund central station, in the waiting areas on both sides of the track. Other locations to see GFC furniture include the Malmö Nya Latin school, Media Evolution City in Malmö, and the University of Copenhagen. GFC is also creating new furniture that incorporates planters and recycling bins. Lighting products which are sound-absorbing, consist of chemically untreated materials, and provide themes of the outdoors are also available, such as the Leaf Lamp Tree.

What was the focus of your circular design workshop at the circular economy conference in Lund on May 24, 2016?

– Circular Economy starts with design. Designers can give products qualifications for a sharing economy – reducing the number of materials and keeping them ‘clean’ in whether the natural or technical sphere, using modular design and possibilities of reconfiguration or reconditioning. Also the importance of making a design that lasts both in terms of durability, but also as a design – for people to value and treasure it, taking care of it and wanting to keep it.

An important lesson to remember is that eco-design is not worth anything if it is not as good or better than non-ecodesigned products. For example, electric vehicles are just now becoming more functional, lower priced, and equipped with fewer moving parts thus making them truly competitive in the automotive industry. In addition to genuinely embracing sustainability, there must also be a real value and quality in the product itself for it to be success.

Text: Jack Fraser, a Lund University Sustainability Forum journalist

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