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Requirements for the furniture
The first thing most people think about when considering the environmental friendliness of furniture is the raw materials. However, the way raw materials are used is only one aspect of sustainability.
Long service life
An important criterion for the sustainability of products is their estimated length of use.
- Expandability and follow-up deliveries
Because the demands that office furniture has to meet often change during the period of use, sustainable products have to be adaptable to new requirements. Moreover, buyers have to know how long they can expect additional and replacement parts to be deliverable.
- CO2 emissions
As many climate-neutral materials as possible should be chosen for office furniture when products are developed.
- Material utilization
Raw materials must be utilized efficiently. Waste should be reduced to a minimum and recycled as much as possible. The materials used should be recyclable, biodegradable or, at the very least, reusable. Preference should be given to renewable raw materials and recycled materials. However, the choice of materials also affects the durability of the products, and this should be taken into account as well.
- Origin of materials
When selecting materials, one should take into account the production conditions (e.g. wood from sustainable forestry) and the routes along which the materials must be transported.
It’s equally important for users and production workers that the materials used in furniture do not release harmful gases or other harmful substances. (The smell of some new materials (such as those in new automobiles) is harmless but can be annoying. Such odours should not be dominant or should disappear within a short period of time.)
All of these requirements apply to products as well as to packing materials.
Some types of office furniture need to be connected to an energy supply, e.g. for integrated lighting or electrical adjustment systems. These systems must consume little energy. It must also be possible to switch off the energy supply and/or there has to be an energy-saving standby mode.
When office furniture is no longer useful, as much of it as possible should be recycled. Accordingly, suitable materials should be selected, the products should be easy to dismantle, and there should be a network that enables the various materials to be returned to the resource cycle.
The manufacturer of the products must be willing to take back its products after they are no longer used so that they can be reused or properly disposed of and the materials can be recycled. However, it should be noted that the environmental costs of returning and recycling the products might conflict with other sustainability-related requirements. This is the case, for example, when the return of a product requires it to be transported over long distances.
- Water management
The water needed for the manufacturing process must be used sparingly. Preference should be given to water circuits that are largely closed. Wastewater must be treated or channelled to a treatment facility.
- Energy consumption
One should also take into account the “grey” energy (amount of energy needed for the manufacturing, transport, storage, sale and disposal of the products) as well as the energy efficiency of the production and administration buildings. The source of energy and the nature of this source both have a big impact on the environmental quality of the energy. An equally important concern is the amount of greenhouse gases that are emitted as a result of the energy use.
- Use of chemicals
No chemicals should be used that are potentially harmful to the environment or to people’s health. If this is not possible, the use of such chemicals should be reduced to an unavoidable minimum. Employees must be protected from coming into contact with such materials. This can be done by taking suitable measures or by instructing employees in how to properly handle the chemicals. The users of the products must not come into contact with harmful substances (see also the Materials/Pollutants sections). The chemicals used in products, processes and maintenance must be disposed of in an environmentally compatible manner.
Life cycle assessment
A company’s environmental performance can and must be continuously improved. This improvement must be based on life cycle assessments that use the criteria defined in EMAS II or ISO 14000, for example.
Environmentally responsible behaviour is inextricably linked to health-conscious behaviour. That’s why companies must make sure that working and living conditions promote good health along the entire process chain. This includes the direct protection of physical integrity as well as measures for promoting the employees’ sense of well-being.
Companies that claim to be sustainable should take suitable measures to express their appreciation of their employees and of the regions in which they are based.