Industry struggling with sustainability

The UK’s furnishing industry is struggling with the complexities of environmental issues, with the majority of companies not setting any CO2 reduction targets, signed up to any green pledges or the UN’s 17 sustainability goals.

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 given as reasons holding companies back: 62% said 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.

Just 24% have adopted any of the UN 17 sustainability goals – with 23% not being aware of these. Just 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.

Some 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 – Furniture Industry Sustainability Programme – launched more than a decade 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.

Only 44% of companies 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.

Companies are more active on waste with 80% measuring in house waste and 97% recycling waste. Some 58% had set reduction targets but only 73% know the end destinations of their recycled waste. 

On 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.

Almost half of companies do not have a take back scheme (48%). Of those that do, a third break down returned products to be sent for recycling; 11% send them to charities; 6% sell products second hand and 6% rework them.

‘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,’ says Jonathan Hindle, BFC chair.

The results are despite the BFC’s member trade associations having introduced a raft of sustainability initiatives in recent years and 92% of companies wanted trade associations to provide more leadership and support.

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