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Did you know that in the UK alone, 22 million pieces of furniture are discarded each year, the majority of which goes directly to landfill. That amounts to an estimated 670,000 tonnes of furniture wasted, where a significant portion could be recycled and reused. (Source)

It’s clear to see the need for a more sustainable approach to furniture design, manufacture and lifecycle, which is where today’s guest, Design Conformity, come in.

Design Conformity live and breathe circular design, the process for creating products sustainably from the beginning, and offer a Life Cycle Assessment Certification Process which has already led to significant carbon reductions.

Mel is joined by Adam Hamilton-Fletcher, Founder and Director at Design Conformity, to discuss the application of circular design within the furniture manufacture industry and explain how their Life Cycle Assessment Certification process can help businesses reduce their carbon footprint.

You’ll learn

  • Who are Design Conformity?
  • What is circular design and how does it help companies reduce their carbon footprint?
  • What are the benefits of Design Conformity’s certification?
  • Can sustainability be of financial and environmental benefit to business?
  • Examples of circular design in practice

Resources

In this episode, we talk about:

[00:25] Introducing today’s guest – We welcome Adam Hamilton-Fletcher, Founder and Director at Design Conformity, onto the show. Design Conformity are currently setting the standard in retail sustainability, particularly in relation to the furniture industry.

[01:30] Who are Design Conformity? Adam worked in the manufacturing industry for about 15 years, designing lighting systems for major retailers like Boots, Next, Marks & Spencers and Morrisons. He worked primarily with the lighting used in displays, and had been tasked with selling lighting products. In order to do so, he needed to develop a specification to help understand customer requirements, which would then be used to develop their ideal solution.

The problem: There were little to no Standards in UK and Europe for the retail display industry.

Which directly led to the creation of Design Conformity – who started out as an electrical and lighting Standard certification company, that developed into a full carbon certification company.

They aim to become the gold Standard for sustainable furniture design.

[03:10] What is Circular Design? – Circular design is born out of this principle of a circular economy. To compare, a linear economy is when we take a raw material, use it, process it, and then it’s just disposed of, usually straight to landfill.

Whereas, circular economy is where we take that waste product and we design it so that it can be repurposed and refreshed and reused. Those materials can then eventually be recycled – so the goal is to not use any raw materials at any point.

Circular design is the intent to minimise environmental impact, to design equipment that could be reused and repurposed, and then at the end of its life be recycled.

[04:05] How do Design Conformity operate? – Design Conformity look at the way that companies design their furniture and then take them through a learning process (online course).

They help businesses to understand how to design a product in such a way where it can be repurposed or reused, where raw material usage can be reduced and where the shipping requirements can be reduced.

They provide guidance and advice on recommended materials, including the provision on an online carbon calculator.

They also provide reporting in alignment with existing carbon standards, such as ISO 14064, for product evaluation.

[06:55] How can the Carbon Calculator help? By selecting a product of a particular type, you can use the estimator by entering the details of where and what you’re manufacturing, and then it will give you a carbon footprint for that, which you can use to compare that against other industry designers.

It displays these other designers anonymously, but you can get a feel for if your product is above or below the average for carbon emissions. 

[08:55] An example of the Carbon Calculator in practice –  Design Conformity recently worked with Costa Coffee, who were looking to reduce the environmental impact of their of their shops and coffee lounges. The beginning of that process is to work with their manufacturers, to identify the environmental impact of the furniture that they’ve got.

They used the Carbon Calculator to help create an initial benchmark, which highlighted key indicators that can lead to carbon reductions.

[09:35] Design Conformity’s Certification – They’ve borrowed the concept used by existing Energy Performance Certificates, by having a carbon efficiency index, ranging from C1 – C7.

Their score is a bit more unique however as it incorporates elements of circular design. Their score is based on a products total carbon emissions, divided by it’s size and total lifespan. An Ecolabel is then awarded based on the final score.

[11:45] What are the benefits of Design Conformity’s certification?:-

  • It’s a mix between carbon reporting and a carbon rating.
  • It’s easier for consumers to understand the benefits in comparison to companies that advertise compliance with ISO 14064 and PAS 2060.
  • Not just a green label, as reporting is a key component of gaining certification.
  • It provides a cradle to cradle analysis on a products carbon footprint and translates that into something that is recognisable.

[14:15] Are businesses right to be skeptical about the value of the cost versus the value of environmental certification?– 100%! It’s not uncommon for eco labels to be more of a marketing tool rather than a tool for tangible carbon reduction. A lot of them out there are unregulated and are contributing to green washing.

That’s where Design Conformity’s differs, as they actually collate and process real data to provide tangible value and add credibility to their claims. 

[16:10] Will there be a time where sustainability can be of financial and environmental benefit to businesses? – Yes, absolutely!  And if there is a way to do that, it’s through Circular Design.

As an example, if you’re a manufacturing company that’s producing shelving, you need to buy in steel, which can fluctuate a lot in price at any given time. But you don’t need to buy more steel every time, where instead you could get your original product back, reprocess and redistribute.

Adam has experience of suppliers who are practicing this, they purchase their products back at 40%-50% of the price, saving a lot of money in raw material!

[19:00] Examples of companies who have embraced circular design –

Tesco: They’ve introduced a policy whereby they purchase metal shelving, use it for 5 years, then take it back out of the store to get powder coated, cleaned and reintroduced to the store. That reduces the carbon footprint by 70% in comparison to buying a new shelving set!

Boots: Their beauty halls wanted to introduce a lot of new brands, which meant a lot more displays were needed. Boots started working with Design Conformity towards earning their certification, specifically in relation to the lighting they used in stores. With Design Confomity’s help, they managed to reduce the carbon footprint at selected stores by 39%!

[21:20] Circular Design Guide – 14 people were involved in creating this guide, which is designed to give you an introduction to and overview of circular design. Access it over on their website.

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