26 May 2024, 04:41
By Tom Williams Oct 17, 2023

Taking the lead on sustainability

Tom Williams, sustainability and circular economy lead at the National Bed Federation (NBF), explains how the association is working hard to encourage a greener bed sector …

In a world that seems to be perpetually either on fire or under water, the need for a more sustainable approach to life is becoming unavoidable. In our world of misinformation and apathy towards sustainability, the NBF has been working hard to ensure that a near-ubiquitous product like beds is as sustainable as possible. 

We know we can’t change everything, but what we can do is make our specific part of the world as sustainable as possible. At the forefront of this lies our Pledge for Our Planet initiative, which signifies a collective effort to commit to a journey of continuous environmental improvement at both a company and product level. By taking a proactive approach, it will help the industry to future-proof for upcoming legislation and market changes.

The pledge is by no means the only work we are doing at the NBF. Through our regular stakeholder meetings and general conversations and observations, we are looking at several areas which could make the most difference to the sustainability of the industry. We do this in a variety of ways, from providing support to understand sustainability issues to instigating research to remove key blockers to sustainability and circularity. 

Most recently we have embarked on a knowledge transfer partnership with Manchester Metropolitan University, where we will be working with a postgraduate who is going to look at ways in which we can measure the cleanliness of recovered and recycled materials. We are aiming to create an easily replicable, laboratory-free test that will quickly and easily indicate the cleanliness of a filling/product. This, we hope, will allow for more materials to be reused, but will also provide consumers with the peace of mind that reused doesn’t mean dirty. 

One of the areas we believe is integral to achieving industry-wide sustainability goals is ecodesign. This involves building ecological considerations into the design and development process, ensuring that products not only function as they should, but that they are also environmentally friendly. Ecodesign encourages innovative thinking, pushing manufacturers to rethink traditional approaches and finding new ways to minimise environmental impact.

We have long recognised that this is an important area, and have worked hard to identify the key areas for improvement and challenges to overcome. So far, we have:  

• Set up an NBF Circular Economy Committee to guide and advise us on what’s important for the industry

• Published our 10 key Ecodesign Principles for the UK Bed Sector, which is freely and openly available to all. The guide is organised into three categories: people and relationships; products and services; and processes. We have briefly described each principle and explained why it is important, along with some practical advice on how the principle might be interpreted

• Developed a practical toolkit to help members assess their products according to those ecodesign principles

• Published the NBF Policy on the Sale of Used and Reconditioned Mattresses and Used Components and Materials

• Worked with the mattress recycling sector to set up the Register of Approved Mattress Recyclers (RAMR), which was officially launched earlier this year 

• Set an ambitious target of 75% diversion of mattresses from landfill by 2028

• Since 2014, measured our progress towards that target with our mattress End of Life (EoL) surveys, which keep tabs on how many mattresses are disposed of and what happens to them. According to the most recent EoL report, published in 2022, the topline recycling rate has reached 24%, while the real (materials-based) rate is just 14%. It could take 50 years to reach our target at the current rate, without intervention!

• Worked in partnership with Zero Waste Scotland and other stakeholders in the industry to develop an outline business case for an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme for old mattresses. Currently, the Government has indicated it has no immediate plans to look at an EPR scheme for mattresses or furniture – although it will keep this decision under review. We will be ready 

• Kept governments across the UK informed of our progress – resulting in our work on ecodesign being highlighted as best practice in the Waste Prevention Plan for England, published in July 

The need for a more sustainable approach to the way we work transcends the individual company and requires a collaborative approach – collaboration holds the key to magnifying our collective impact. 

Our Pledge for Our Planet actively encourages this, by helping our members move together towards a shared goal of effecting positive change. This is important for us as a trade association as well. We need to be visible and active in sustainability conversations, to ensure that we not only represent our members’ interests, but also that we aren’t left behind.  

The journey towards sustainability and circularity is a complex and ongoing process, and the NBF recognises that perfection won’t be an immediate outcome. What we need is progress, not perfection.

We encourage readers to keep abreast of the NBF’s sustainability work by visiting the NBF Green pages on our website.

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