Furniture industry shifts focus towards sustainability, says BFC survey

Published on : Saturday, July 2, 2022

The UK’s furniture industry is prioritising environmental issues – but many are struggling with the complexities and need more support.

In a survey of the industry conducted by the British Furniture Confederation, two thirds of respondents stated that sustainability was a top three management priority – but for a third it was not. Just over half – 55% – thought the industry was doing OK on sustainability – while 21% thought it was not.

Costs, other challenges, customer demand, competition, government, management or simply not knowing where to start were all stated as reasons holding companies back from doing more yet, with 62% saying they needed more help – in the form of more collaboration, guidance, financial support and even consistency of approach (for example a single, agreed approach to carbon footprinting). 92% wanted trade associations to provide more leadership and support.

Just 24% have adopted any of the UN 17 sustainability goals – with 23% not being aware of these. 36% have signed up to some kind of green pledge – with the government’s SME Climate Hub, the Prince of Wales’s Terra Carta initiative, the British Retail Consortium’s Climate Action Road Map and the NBF Pledge for our Planet all cited. 64% have not so far made any pledges.

Some of the more detailed findings were revealing. 44% of respondents are accredited to ISO 14001 – but 46% are not and 10% did not know about the standard. Even fewer were aware of the industry’s own sustainability scheme – FISP, the Furniture Industry Sustainability Programme – launched over 10 years ago. 23% had not heard of FISP; 39% had joined or were considering joining FISP, while 38% were not.

Waste reduction and carbon emission reduction were top of the list of actions most respondents felt needed action – with 95% agreeing there was a need to improve the measurement, management and reduction of both – although 58% felt there were other, more important issues to be addressed.

Companies are already quite active on the waste front nevertheless – with 80% already measuring in house waste and 97% recycling waste. 58% had set reduction targets but only 73% know the end destinations of their recycled waste. 73% are having their packaging collected for recycling, while 82% are purchasing packaging with recycled content – no doubt driven by the requirements of the new packaging taxes

By contrast only 44% are measuring their C02 emissions, 60% haven’t yet set any reduction targets and 38% don’t know what scope 1,2 and 3 emissions are.

When it comes to product design and materials, just 29% claimed to have products with an ecolabel; while 85% have not adopted any kind of ecodesign principles – and those that are, are only using internal systems, not third-party accredited ones. However, 64% are purchasing recycled components or materials.

Take back schemes were split roughly half and half – 52% had them in place. 33% break down returned products to be sent for recycling; 11% send them to charities; 6% sell product second hand and 6% rework them.

Said BFC chair Jonathan Hindle, commenting on the results: “It’s evident from the results that those who participated in our survey are already actively engaged in a sustainability agenda – but a lot more needs to be done. For far too many companies, it is obviously still a low priority.”

Conversely, the BFC’s member trade associations are all increasingly activity around sustainability and have seen increasing interest and engagement from members.

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