Our General Manager of Global Upholstery Solutions, Lee Ness, was one of the guest speakers at the inaugural BCFA Sustainability Forum to share our Sustainability journey.
Although Sustainability is a very serious subject, we think the pursuit of Sustainable objectives should be enjoyable, engaging and fun – so we had a recycled, remanufactured and repurposed jacket made just for this event. At Global, we love improving our sustainability performance and we hope we shared that with the attendees.
When Christians have a difficult choice to make, some of them will often ask themselves, What Would Jesus Do?
There is even a hashtag, #WWJD!
For sustainability though, there is only one question. What would Greta Thunberg do?
Great Thunberg is a true hero of our age. For us, an imaginary Greta Thunberg sits in judgement on any of our initiatives and challenges us to consider – are we doing enough? Of course the answer is invariably ‘no’ so Ms Thunberg pushes us to do more. In our heads anyway.
We start where everyone probably started – waste. We try to reduce waste at source by using CAD to maximise fabric and wood layouts for our CNC Wood and Fabric Cutting machines.
With the waste we do generate, obviously, everything that can be recycled is recycled, and everything else is waste-to-energy.
When we tested this against imaginary Greta we got nothing back. Nothing, because this isn’t even hitting the baseline. Everyone does this. Home and business. It’s the equivalent of phoning it in. It has to be done, but it is a bare minimum.
Next, is energy use. Can we improve our energy use? Of course the answer is yes. All the factory lighting is replaced with intelligent LEDs that not only have sensors for movement, time programs and low power settings, they also sense the amount of light coming into the factory through the skylights and adjust their levels accordingly.
Our vehicles are tracked to ensure they are driven safely and efficiently and scores are monitored for harsh cornering, braking, acceleration, idling and driver reports are sent out. Anyone scoring over 5 points per hour is put on the naughty step.
So, back to Greta. How are we getting on? Hmmm mediocre it seems. We are only doing what everyone does domestically anyway. Again, still bare minimum so Greta is still not impressed.
Okay, what about that energy though? I saw a post from a competitor that 10% of all their energy came from solar panels they had purchased. Initially I thought this sound great! 10%. But then my sneaky engineer brain kicked in and asked ‘What about the other 90%?’ Good question, pesky brain. They could be burning dolphins or white rhino horn for the other 90% as far as we know.
Imaginary Greta is less than happy. What can we do? If only we could supply 100% of our gas and electricity from sustainable sources. Imagine that! But we’d need a massive solar farm and ….Oh hang on. Maybe someone has already thought of this. Turns out they have. We’re in the process of switching to the SSE Green energy tariffs. 100% of the electricity comes from sustainable sources such as solar, hydro and wind, plus 100% of gas comes from agricultural waste gas collection. 100%. That’s a definite tick for Greta, surely?
The next blindly obvious step, and I know everyone reading is already ahead of me, is to eliminate single use plastics. Plastic cups for drinking water was a quick and easy change and we eliminated them practically overnight, supplying everyone with aluminium water bottles.
But we did a study on single use plastic bags, specified by our customers. We were using over 110,000 single use bags per year. Starting with our biggest customer, we have managed to virtually eliminate single use bags either because they were unnecessary or by replacing with recycled paper bags.
Our aim is to keep giving our customers options, obviously we can’t force them, and hoping we can slowly remove everything. We are trialling alternatives to bubble wrap of course and where possible we are looking at returnable packaging.
How about incoming supply? We have the weird paradox where we are buying eco fabrics in single use plastic wraps, which create a lot of waste!
Obviously, we recycle that waste, but wouldn’t it be amazing if there was something we could use to wrap the fabric in, something durable, hard wearing and reusable. Then if we could find someone with a process that could make it into a bag, that would be……..oh wait.
How’s that Greta? Wow, real progress. That’s almost a smile.
Next step for us is what we’re making. Again, our customers dictate what we make and what with, but we can use our expertise, purchasing power and supplier network to give options. Foam is obviously a environmental ‘problem’. A product of the petrochemical industry, that needs lots of chemicals to achieve fire retardancy and then an end of life nightmare.
We’ve been working hard on sourcing an alternative for over a year and can happily say we are now working with Enkev to give us a whole range of sustainable alternatives, our favourite being Cocolok – a product made from Coir, the waste product from Coconut farming which is fully biodegradable and can even be put onto your compost heap at the end of life.
We have also worked with our supply partners Panaz on an eco fabric. We buy hundreds of metres of fabric a week from Panaz so they were happy to work with us to find a perfect eco fabric. The process took around 12 months to complete until we had a product everyone was happy with and EcoTwill was born. EcoTwill is made from recycling plastic bottles so removes waste from the system.
Our reason for requesting EcoTwill was for a project that didn’t come off, but our design agency blackswan has since developed a whole range of fabric designs inspired by the waste plastic that it is made from (X). Panaz will be launching the Bisophaira range around mid year and the one below is called Lonii and is inspired by Sea Turtles. There are 7 designs in the range.
One of our biggest customers has just (last week) launched a new product range of Eco products made by Global Upholstery Solutions using the Panaz EcoTwill and the Cocolok cushioning, the first in their industry and all developed by blackswan and Global Upholstery Solutions.
Greta is starting to look happier, but we’re still not there yet.
Our next step is more strategic. Global Upholstery Solutions will create a full range of Eco Friendly alternatives so that in future, on every quote, the clients will be given an alternative option using sustainable materials. We will also start to brief our customer base on the options that are available to them. We will be tying in with BCFA to make this a CPD module.
But Remanufacturing, Circular Economy Products, Cradle to Cradle methods are the holy grail and our design agency blackswan is releasing a series of concepts over the course of this year, starting next week, to demonstrate the opportunities to be had if we tackle Sustainability at the design stage.
Finally, we are about to launch Reupholstery Limited, a company that is specifically set up to reupholster or remanufacture existing products for commercial customers – hospitality, office, theatres, universities etc. We know we aren’t the first or even the only company that is doing this, but we think it is an opportunity to promote the option specifically, rather than as an alternative to an existing solution.
We’re very excited, it seems like imaginary Greta is reasonably happy, but we know this is only the start of our sustainability journey.
If you would like to discuss any of the above, are interested in the Sustainability Options CPD or the Reupholstery Limited initiative, please contact us.