Circular furniture flows
In Sweden, furniture is produced to the sum of about 23 billion SEK a year . About a quarter of this is office furniture. Although much furniture is of very high quality, many are disposed of well before their technical lifetime has come to an end. This can be due to relocation of business, furniture being outdated in their designs or functions, or simply because the business and its needs have changed.
Office furniture production in Sweden is expected to contribute to climate impact with more than 150,000 tons of CO2 equivalents per year. This climate impact and resource consumption can be substantially reduced if shifting from today’s linear to circular business models. An environmental assessment of the developed business models show a potential reduction of raw materials with around 50% and of CO2 equivalents with around 30% compared to existing practices. When introduced in the entire sector, this amounts to a reduction of 45,000 tons CO2 equivalents annually, in Sweden alone. This saving is substantial and corresponds to a car driving 6000 laps around the world, or 8% of the emissions from heating all housings in Sweden, or 3% of the chemistry industry emissions in Sweden, or 810 000 iPhone7, including use in 3 years.
In addition, the new business models will generate local work opportunities, such as new jobs in trading and re-distribution of furniture, remanufacturing, maintenance and repair. The amount of needed local work staff is judged to be substantial and well above 100 after 5 years.
Replace the linear system with circularity
Today’s linear system often leads to well-functioning furniture being disposed of when they are considered to be outdated, have a need for repair or no longer meets a need in the existing organization.
We think we need to use circular economy, and more specifically: circular furniture flows, where the furniture is being renovated, repaired and sold again.
By circular furniture flows, we mean production and consumption systems where furniture or parts of furniture are reused and/or repaired to return to the system at different stages.
Recycling of materials uses circular flows but implies production of new furniture with recycled material. The idea in this innovation is to make the loops in the system as short as possible to preserve the greatest amount the value already worked into the product, for example, through refurbishment or reuse. In this way we use the basis of the concept of circular economy fully as we see it.
One expectation is that these shorter loops simultaneously increase the system’s environmental, economic and social sustainability. In this way it is possible to use a smaller proportion of natural resources, impact on climate is reduced, raw material and production costs are cut, and local jobs are created.
From ad hoc to applied practice
The idea of circular economy has been highlighted and tested in a number of industries and applications. Examples include new business models and designs, e.g. in renting services in all from printers to cars, to modularly designed phones or remanufactured components. What is unique in this innovation is that we collect partners from the complete value chain of the system, to jointly design and test new business models and lower the barriers for success. This includes a range of manufacturers and large customers, together with retailers and industry associations. This is one key factor supporting and making circular economy go from a few ad hoc examples to a new accepted and applied practice for the business. The most significant improvement to status quo is that the entire industry now is discussing the need of this shift in mindset, and how to make it happen in a broad scale.
A circular economy will not be realized unless new business models are developed, accepted and adopted by both producers and customers. Our innovation is a furniture industry with new collaboration among actors, based on new business models and new product design, which has made flows of office furniture more circular.
The initiative is funded by Vinnova in Sweden.
 Reference: TMF.
 Reference: SP-rapport 2017:32.
 Reference: Trafikverket.
 Reference: Naturvårdsverket.
 Reference: Naturvårdsverket.