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Our gadgets must be repairable and recyclable

In 2015, 74,000 tonnes of textiles were burned in Sweden (both home textiles and clothing) and only 3,000 tonnes were reused through resale.

Despite the fact that the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that 60 percent of the textiles that are burned are in good enough condition to be reused.

Therefore, we must reduce CO2 emissions by satisfying more of the need for interior design in a way that does not require new production of furniture and home textiles, the debaters write.

In 2015, 74,000 tonnes of textiles were burned in Sweden (both home textiles and clothing) and only 3,000 tonnes were reused through resale.

Despite the fact that the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that 60 percent of the textiles that are burned are in good enough condition to be reused. Therefore, we must reduce CO2 emissions by satisfying more of the need for interior design in a way that does not require new production of furniture and home textiles, the debaters write.

It is no news that our society is “locked-in” to linear thinking.

Our flow-through economy requires a constant influx of resources and generates large amounts of waste and pollution. Global supply chains provide cheap goods but are exposed to various unforeseen events.

The corona pandemic shows how vulnerable we become when our goods come from other parts of the world. In addition, the current market system has failed to take into account environmental and social costs, thus sending the wrong signals to both producers and consumers.

There are growing social problems because much of what we consume is produced in countries where wages are too low to ensure a decent standard of living. This means that we, the consumers of the western world, pay too little for the products that are imported.

Studies from the UK and US also show that 80 percent of everything we own is used less than once a month. So we manufacture and import lots of goods that we buy, but barely use.

We often throw them away before they have had time to wear out because new goods appear on the market. No wonder then that consumption is responsible for 60 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in society.

So how can we reduce our impact on the planet? One solution is to find inspiration in nature’s cycle. We can rebuild our linear economy into a circular system, where we strive to reduce the overall throughput of resources by closing resource flows and designing production, products and consumption for remanufacturing, resale, reuse, repair and minimization.

The interior design industry is often overlooked in environmental discussions – which usually focus on transport, food and housing. But every year, Sweden manufactures furniture products for SEK 23 billion, which leads to emissions of 150,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

The highest levels of CO2 emissions occur in the raw material extraction phase. But in addition, the environmental impact arises in the user phase as the service life of the interior becomes shorter and shorter. Office furniture is rarely worn out during its planned life of 9-12 years. Instead, they often fall out of use due to outdated function, aesthetics and fashion, or due to relocation of companies.

Furniture is a large and heavy product that takes up space in landfills. In 2015, 74,000 tonnes of textiles were burned in Sweden (both home textiles and clothing) and only 3,000 tonnes were reused through resale.

Despite the fact that the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that 60 percent of the textiles that are burned are in good enough condition to be reused. Therefore, we must reduce CO2 emissions by satisfying more of the need for furnishings in a way that does not require new production of furniture and home textiles

So how can companies in the interior design industry change? Both waste and emissions can be significantly reduced with new, more sustainable business models. A business model is a recipe for how goods and services are produced and delivered to the customer, how revenue enters the company, and how the customer experiences the value of the product or service.

It is not enough to just stop making short-lived gadgets and start producing gadgets with a timeless design. Because then consumers will not have to buy stuff so often and then revenue for companies will decrease.

Therefore, companies need to find other ways to make money, so they need to change their business models. In the example of timeless design, where companies may make less money from the sale of new furnishings, they can instead make money on maintenance, repair and reuse.

Let us now look at the plethora of exciting examples available in the market where companies are experimenting with various innovative solutions. When we looked at manufacturers, we found two different strategies they use: circular furniture and furniture as a service.

In the field of circular furniture, work is done to design interiors that are easy to repair, recondition and remanufacture. Furniture is designed in modules to facilitate disassembly and upgrade. Timeless design prolongs the life of the furniture. Some companies design furniture collections with varying degrees of repair-renovation-remanufacturing, while others sell furniture as a service, ie through furniture leasing and rental.

Non-manufacturers also offer similar strategies, though they focus more on repair and reconditioning than on remanufacturing and upgrading. They often work with used furnishings from different manufacturers and can offer maintenance and laundry services. They produce tailor-made packages of furniture from different manufacturers for more or less short-term use.

Some offer streaming services, ie subscriptions, for both furniture and home textiles: bathroom textiles and bed linen at home. In this way, the use of water and the purchase of home textiles can be reduced. An earlier study on the environmental impact of office furniture shows that new circular business models, where furniture is repaired and reused, can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 50 percent.

Retailers play an important role in the transition to a circular economy. By selling used, repaired, upgraded and remanufactured goods in their stores, they can increase the acceptance of circular goods by consumers. An example is ReTuna in Eskilstuna, Sweden – the world’s first recycling mall with 14 stores that mostly sell used.

It is also important to increase second-hand sales as it currently accounts for only 9 percent of total furniture sales, 7 percent of clothing sales and 5 percent of home electronics sales.

But what do consumers really do with their worn-out textiles? Our study shows that most – 70 percent – choose to donate, 55 percent discard and 50 percent choose to reuse.

Only 35 percent choose to repair. To promote a circular economy, this figure must increase significantly. In addition, consumers can use furnishings more often and longer; buy used, repair and rent, buy durable goods and live sustainably.

But consumers also need political support:

  • we need to see the expansion of producer responsibility as a standard alternative for all goods, not just for individual product categories such as electrical products.
  • existing warranties must be extended to stimulate changes in product design
  • In order to facilitate repair and remanufacturing as well as information to consumers, each product must have a passport describing what its intended service life is, and where it has and should be repaired and upgraded

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