19 May 2024, 08:27
By Susan Inglis Aug 02, 2022

Tackling sustainability, one step at a time

We all appreciate the importance of sustainability in business, but the sheer scale and complexity of the issue can be overwhelming. Here, Susan Inglis, resident expert and educator-in-chief at the Sustainable Furnishings Council (SFC) in the US, explains how breaking the challenge down into manageable priorities could better position businesses to make a difference …

Sustainability is complex, with many inter-related aspects. For 15 years I have been watching eyes glaze over and minds wander as the issues are presented. I have often been asked what matters most in developing a plan for reducing corporate environmental footprint – I have tried answering in various ways, and today I will try again!  

The fact is that what matters most is that we understand there is a problem in our over-consuming world, and that we must all take some real responsibility. 

Fortunately, we can also profit from doing so. We just need to look through a different lens and we will succeed in sustaining a healthy future for our businesses as well as for our communities.

In recent years, we at SFC have tried various ways to illustrate and demystify the complexities of interrelated issues that impact sustainability, breaking the topic down into the following areas: reducing greenhouse gas emissions (especially CO2); maintaining health and wellness; ensuring social equity; managing water; reducing waste; and incorporating circularity.

We at SFC have working groups on each of these topics, so our members can learn from each other.  It is heartening to see the impact of the exchange of ideas and the sharing of experiences between companies involved in our industry in various ways – suppliers of materials, manufacturers of all kinds of furnishings products, retailers large and small, and interior design firms.  

Here is some of what we have learned from each other in the last 15 months or so:

• Reducing CO2 emissions by sourcing materials and production nearby need not cost much more that importing from the other side of the world – especially in this era of constrained supply chains 

• We are all adversely impacted by pollutants in our environment. Making a concerted effort to ask what something is made of, with an eye to avoiding harmful chemicals that occur commonly in our industry (such as VOCs, flame retardants, PFAS, antimicrobials and PVC), will make a difference to your employees’ as well as your customers’ health

• Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) training is enlightening. Plan to offer it as a team development experience for your own staff – your experience will help you talk to your vendors about the policy /social equity code of conduct that you request they adhere to

• You can save water and honour your employees by giving them an inexpensive home water-saving kit 

• Reducing waste saves money. Becoming zero waste to landfill involves learning all about your waste streams. Every company that goes through the process discovers that they throw away less money when they throw away less material

• The furniture resale market is expected to reach $16.6b by 2025, a +70% increase from where it stood in 2017. If you are not already selling secondhand furniture, now is the time to start! 

There are many issues to address!  Whatever is top of mind for you is a good place to start.  

The important thing is that we all begin – and if we have begun, accelerate. We need each other, and the future needs all of us pulling together.

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