Our Future: Furniture in a “closed-loop system”
The Use-It-Wisely project enables European manufacturers to produce products and services capable of adapting to rapidly changing markets and customer goals by demonstrating the state of the art methods, which enable life-long adaptation of high investment product-services. The focus on life-long adaptation combined with services is the backbone of the collaboration of TNO and Gispen within the project. Gispen believes in circular principles and the reuse of existing products. The research conducted in Use-It-Wisely created the opportunity to put circular principles into practice.
Product design has traditionally been aimed at production (efficiency) and sale (turnover). The design
process needs to shift focus to the entire lifespan i.e. the entire use period of a product (functionality). Equally, it is no longer sufficient to only avoid environmental impact at the end of the product’s life, the entire lifecycle of a product becomes relevant. To act more sustainably; repair, re-use and remanufacturing of products and materials have to become part of design requirements. Therefore, a closed loop system through smart product design has the following goals: 100% Re-use, 100% closed loop system, 0% use of virgin materials, 0% waste, 0% energy consumption.
The Design Framework accounts for existing requirements or so-called “branch standards” that currently determine the end-user’s expectation of the quality of a product, for example, general requirements for a task chair for safe use. All of these requirements will be met when designing a product, but will not be taken into account in the end result of this method. The grey block (figure 1) therefore is presumed to be met and serves as base requirements in product design. All other topics are related to environmental impact and the possibility to prolong use-time of the product (hence circular design). These topics, ‘Design for’ and ‘Process’, are scored by means of a checklist method in the Design Framework. Figure 1 shows all the design aspects addressed. The list of questions has been assembled based on existing and tested checklists on the various topics. For example design for assembly is a known and well researched area of which existing checklists have been used. Other less researched areas like maintenance and upgrade are a result of research done in the project. Through testing and careful deliberation the final list of relevant questions has been compiled. The list is considered to be a ‘living list’, therefore lessons learned will lead to an improved, even more valuable system.
Due to the Design Framework it is now possible to compare products and designs amongst each other based on, not always aligning, goals for sustainable and circular product use. The extent to which a design meets requirements for repair, upgrades and re-use is expressed in a single score.
Circular Life Cycle Assessment
Calculating environmental impact using Life Cycle Assessment tools has become standard over the past years. These kind of tools are widely used and provide an accepted way of calculating environmental impact, the result of the way we act as a society. In the traditional tool the process of TAKE-MAKE-WASTE is calculated and can be expressed in various measuring units, for example CO2 or Euros (shadow costs). Since there is no standard method to measure the environmental impact of reuse scenarios, research executed in the Use It Wisely (TNO & Gispen) project and has led to the development of a so called Circular Life Cycle Assessment (hereinafter C-LCA).
The standard LCA database structure has been adapted by Use-It-Wisely researchers (TNO) to enable various reuse and remake scenarios. Adaptation to extend a product’s life can be realised in various ways, for example by means of maintenance, repair or remanufacturing. The C-LCA tool creates the possibility to assign materials and processes to the following scenarios:
- Manufacture: the initial production process
- Clean and re-use: used for cleaning and simple repair efforts
- Revitalisation: used for major adjustments and remanufacturing
The tool calculates the environmental impact of a particular piece of furniture based on one of the scenarios expressed in CO2 or in Euro. For example, linear use of a desk versus a re-made desk can be calculated in CO2. The comparison supports the end user and Gispen in making sustainable choices. In one graph it becomes clear if it is more sensible from an environmental point of view to opt for a new production product or a remade product. Furthermore, it becomes clear which elements need attention to prevent further pollution because the results include a breakdown for pollution categories like transport and production.
Concluding, the C-LCA tool creates the possibility to act responsibly and to be accountable for the choices we make in adapting furniture throughout its lifetime. Transparency with regard to our own actions and at the same time make the choices comprehensible for the end user.
ALLIANDER DUIVEN: CIRCULAR ENTREPRENEURSHIP AND REUSE IN PRACTICE
Network provider Alliander distributes gas and electricity throughout the Netherlands and has serious ambitions in terms of sustainable entrepreneurship. The company has realised its ambitions in the form of a new positive-energy building at its existing location in Duiven. Gispen pitched in by providing the furniture, all according to circular principles.
Gispen took care of refurbishing and technically updating 750 pieces of Alliander’s existing workstations. Many of which have been joined together on-site to form dual workstations, including an optimisation for cable management purposes. Tabletops have been replaced and the old pieces have been altered to be used as workstation dividing screens or reused for the construction of locker cabinets. Furthermore, various components of the seats will be easy to reuse at some point. The lighting has also been procured and installed according to circular principles, which saves energy every day. In time and if needed, the furniture will be repaired, replaced or returned but most of all, reused.
Mark Hamstra, Chain Manager Facility at Alliander: “Our project in Duiven was the start of a collaborative journey into the unknown. Our relationship and achievements have inspired us to continue on this journey, and to further develop and share our knowledge in the field of circular interior design.”