re-use, reposition, re-imagine

As our focus on sustainability grows, we’ve (hopefully) learned to question how our furniture and goods are produced and call out fake green credentials as greenwashing. Ignorance is bliss, but the truth is often uncomfortable.

This week I chatted with a friend who works for a large organisation. This organisation orders goods in huge quantities to satisfy diverse operations, departments and estate. As with most modern organisations, the procurement process has become much more sophisticated in recent years. Sustainability experts are employed to research, set measurable standards and check these standards are understood and met by supply chain bidders. Recycled chair parts look good at first glance, but not when they’re shipped across the world to achieve reincarnation. No likey, no lightey.

I digress. I was chatting to my friend remember? Well what really caught my attention is that there is a role within his organisation, let’s call it a Chief Repurposing Officer. This person is tasked with considering the changing requirements of the vast business empire, noting obsolete FF&E and finding ways to repurpose them within their facilities. Upcycling, recycling and adapting. I’m not talking about facilities management here, this is a job 100% focused on repurposing FF&E investments that have become obsolete.

We’re surrounded by mass consumption and disposables, and the knowledge alone that something is made of recycled or recyclable parts shouldn’t let us off the hook. Our focus needs to continually seek out problematic surplus products and find new ways to use them. And we need to do this where they are, using local support. Suppliers need to be involved in solution-finding for these conundrums rather than simply selling replacement clobber. This is the difference between a supply partner and a supplier.

Sustainable design leader Sep Verboom

Socio-sustainable design

I was fascinated to read about designer Sep Verboom in Nomad magazine. Rather than purely designing products, Sep identifies waste materials and finds ways to re-use and repurpose them. This can mean turning oyster shells disposed of en masse by the fishing industry into lampshades, or weaving new products from old ship’s ropes. Not only does Sep identify such problems and create solutions to them, having discovered a viable second life for the material, he then teaches poor communities in places like the Philippines how to earn themselves a living from this process via workshops and training. This not only creates value and positive socio-economic impact, but also results in a true cradle-to-cradle cycle.

Fan Lamp by Sep Verboom for Adorno

Verboom also collaborated with Vincent Sheppard to create Rattan furniture made by Indonesian craftsmen and has built an online platform – Livable World – to promote the ideas, the projects and the results. Not only creating commerce, but awareness.

‘Too often we measure success and profit in terms of economic values. What happened to the importance of people’s well-being and health of our environment?’

Sep Verboom

It goes on. ChopValue are a Canadian company who collect the hundreds of thousands of discarded wooden chopsticks that are thrown away daily in major Canadian cities (100,000 per day in Vancouver metro area alone!).

Little consideration is given to this single-use utensil

that has travelled approximately 9,000 km and

served its purpose for only 20 minutes of a meal.”

chopvalue on disposable chopsticks

These chopsticks are sorted, treated, baked in industrial ovens at high temperatures to kill germs, then pressed together to form a huge range of goods from dominoes to desktops, coasters to cupboards and resold to the consumer as a circular economy. The business aims to inspire others around the world to do the same.

Chop Value wall shelves containing recycled wooden chopsticks

Enough is Enough

Swiss company Impact Acoustic, who upcycle PET bottles to create acoustic solutions, are taking a stand against the irresponsible big business, namely the beverage industry. Impact Acoustic, who supply recycled products to large commercial interior projects, has announced it will stop supplying products to Nestle, Danone, Coca-Cola, Pepsi Co and Suntory to raise awareness of global plastic bottle pollution. Whilst big strides have been made to recycle and re-use PET bottles, co-founder Sven Erni admits the recycling process is still not the ideal solution in terms of sustainability.

More worrying is the vast majority of PET bottles aren’t recycled and instead end up being shipped out to poorer countries to be burnt, dumped in landfill sites, or into our oceans.

Naturally, our products made of recycled PET bottles are not the only solution in the war against single-use plastic. 

sven erni, impact acoustic

Calling out the big boys as greenwashers is a bold step to take, especially when you consider that businesses like Nestle and Coca-Cola offer considerable potential revenue for interiors firms. And of course, they are intrinsically linked to their own product raw material. Well done Sven and Jeffrey for taking a bold stand and good luck!

As we re-emerge from our consumer driven, Uber Eats one click caves, let’s look to repurpose where we can and support those who do. Our governments bow down and roll over to big corporations with big tax revenues, so instead creative businesses and individuals need to take the lead.

Take a leaf from Sep Verboom’s book – solve the problem and then teach others how to replicate. And I can’t be the only one worrying about what will become of our disposable facemasks….