The UK’s furniture industry is prioritising environmental issues - but many are struggling with the complexities and need more help, according to a survey of the industry conducted by the British Furniture Confederation (BFC), to which two thirds of respondents responded that sustainability was a 'top three' management priority – but for a third it was not.
Just over half - 55% - thought the industry was doing OK on sustainability, while 21% thought it was not.
Costs, other challenges, customer demand, competition, Government, management or simply not knowing where to start were all stated as reasons holding companies back from doing more yet, with 62% saying they needed more help – in the form of more collaboration, guidance, financial support and even consistency of approach (for example, a single, agreed approach to carbon footprinting). The majority (92%) wanted trade associations to provide more leadership and support.
Just 24% have adopted any of the UN 17 sustainability goals – with 23% not being aware of these. Over a third (36%) have signed up to some kind of green pledge – with the Government’s SME Climate Hub, the Prince of Wales’s Terra Carta initiative, the British Retail Consortium’s Climate Action Road Map and the NBF Pledge for our Planet all cited. Two thirds (64%) have not so far made any pledges.
Some of the more detailed findings were revealing. In all, 44% of respondents are accredited to ISO 14001 – but 46% are not, and 10% did not know about the standard. Even fewer were aware of the industry’s own sustainability scheme – FISP, the Furniture Industry Sustainability Programme – launched over 10 years ago. Indeed, 23% had not heard of FISP, 39% had joined or were considering joining FISP, while 38% were not.
Waste reduction and carbon emission reduction were top of the list of actions most respondents felt needed action, with 95% agreeing there was a need to improve the measurement, management and reduction of both – although 58% felt there were other, more important issues to be addressed.
Companies are already quite active on the waste front, nevertheless, with 80% already measuring in-house waste and 97% recycling waste. Over half (58%) had set reduction targets, but only 73% know the end destinations of their recycled waste. Nearly three quarters (73%) are having their packaging collected for recycling, while 82% are purchasing packaging with recycled content – no doubt driven by the requirements of the new packaging taxes, suggests the BFC.
By contrast, only 44% are measuring their C02 emissions, 60% have not yet set any reduction targets, and 38% do not know what scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions are.
When it comes to product design and materials, just 29% claimed to have products with an ecolabel, while 85% have not adopted any kind of ecodesign principles – and those that have are only using internal systems, not third-party accredited ones. However, 64% are purchasing recycled components or materials.
Takeback schemes were split roughly half and half – 52% had them in place, 33% break down returned products to be sent for recycling, 11% send them to charities, 6% sell product secondhand and 6% rework them.
BFC chair Jonathan Hindle, commenting on the results, says: “It's evident from the results that those who participated in our survey are already actively engaged in a sustainability agenda – but a lot more needs to be done. For far too many companies, it is obviously still a low priority.”
Conversely, the BFC’s member trade associations are all increasingly active around sustainability, and have seen increasing interest and engagement from members.
The BCFA has been running twice-yearly Sustainability Forums for its members since 2019, and over the last three years and has seen a notable increase in the number of members taking positive steps in their sustainability journeys. In 2021 the BCFA launched its BCFA Members’ Sustainability Strategy, which guides members through the initial phases of setting up their own sustainability and Net Zero plans.
Last year, the BFM held two roundtables looking at the key sustainability issues in the industry. This was followed by Sentiment of the Sector & The Road To Net Zero, a 36-page insight report.
Key findings revealed that 75% of the industry see the management of environmental challenges as a key priority. In response, the BFM is putting sustainability centre-stage of its new strategy, with clearly defined actions and activities to help members achieve their sustainability goals.
For the Furniture Industry Research Association (FIRA), sustainability across the lifecycle is key within recent projects. At a design level, Horizon Scanning: Guide to New Hardline and Softline Materials highlighted alternative materials, while the FIRA/REMAN001: 2019 – Remanufacturing standard supported end-of-life. Operationally, 2021 saw the release of a carbon footprint calculator and Packaging and Sustainability: Guide to Alternatives. These reflect the Government’s stronger emphasis on the environment and sustainability through policy and long-term plans - a theme which continues in the next member-only project.
The Furniture Makers’ Company has launched a Climate Change and Sustainability Committee, which includes sustainability experts from businesses across the domestic and contract furnishing markets. The committee will facilitate greater environmental awareness within the livery company, promote initiatives within the furnishing industry and identify opportunities for knowledge sharing.
The National Bed Federation's (NBF) Circular Economy Committee, set up in 2014, has overseen the recent launch of the NBF’s five-point Pledge for Our Planet, and will be actively supporting members which sign up to achieve its two- and five-year targets. It is also about to launch its ecodesign product assessment tool, based on the ecodesign principles for mattresses published in 2020.
The BFC received 66 responses to its environmental survey.