The transition from consumption to reuse requires systematic change says Pieter Noorlander, CEO of innovative Dutch furniture manufacturers Gispen.
Industrial production processes pollute the environment and are finite. This realisation is nothing new, however the solution isn’t that obvious. Many steps towards optimisation, such as carbon- neutral production have been taken already, but it is not enough. We can produce more consciously and sustainably if we systematically start taking a different view of how we design, market and produce, while together shouldering responsibility for the entire lifecycle of products.
This is exactly the aim of circular principles: to design and produce for the entire lifespan of materials, thus reducing – and ultimately eliminating – consumption. The ambitious goal of the Use-It-Wisely project is precisely this expanding lifespan issue. Within this EU FP7 funded project, TNO and Gispen worked together to develop two tools that support the long-term use and reuse of materials from the perspective of creation.
Firstly, we supplemented the existing Life Cycle Analysis calculations. LCA calculations show the shadow costs or environmental costs of materials, production processes and ultimately disposal. But what happens to these costs if we qualitatively reuse materials or products? This Circular Life-Cycle Analysis (CLCA) tool is one of the first LCA calculations to include reuse and remanufacturing.
By building scenarios into the existing models, it is possible to calculate the effects of qualitative reuse, logistics and partial reproduction and to compare these against new (virgin) production. We can, for instance, calculate the environmental costs of disassembling a desk, technically examining it and, where necessary, adapting it in line with present-day functionalities, possibly refinishing it, and returning it to the user as new. This enables us to account for the benefits of qualitative reuse and express these as environmental costs or savings.
The second result of our cooperation is the so-called Design Framework. It is not only important to look at materials and processes; product design plays an equally important role. A chair of which upholstery has been glued cannot simply be reupholstered with new material, which in fact is what is desired in a sustainable philosophy. After all, the only thing being replaced in this situation is what is no longer functional. Modularity. Functionality.
Design for simple assembly and disassembly. These are all examples of design principles that will play a prominent role in making the circular principles workable. The Design Framework brings these requirements together, links objectives to them and makes these objectives quantifiable.
These two tools can be used to compare products and design choices in order to make well-substantiated, sustainable choices, and, in doing so make the transition from consumption to qualitative reuse step by step. This, for Gispen, represents the key solution for preventing waste in the office furnishing industry.
This article first appeared in the February 2016 “Circular Economy” issue of Parliament Magazine.