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Strategy tool trial for office furniture

Abstract

Purpose

A strategic product development tool combining REACH and environmental and financial factors was previously developed for a coatings company. This paper presents results from refining this tool for an office furniture company, using life cycle assessment (LCA)-based environmental information, addressing the research questions: • Is it possible to combine information from REACH with the LCA approach to provide useful information for a furniture producer in their environmental product development process? • Does the approach developed for substances in mixtures need to be adapted for articles? • Is there a correlation between energy consumption and the environmental impacts analysed? • Will product designers get the same information independent of the environmental impact category used? – Will the strategy tool indicate the same ranking of products for all environmental impacts? – Does REACH information indicate the same set of priorities as those arising from LCA environmental data alone? (Do they agree, or is there a conflict?) • Will strategic decisions differ if different environmental indicators are in focus? The strategy tool’s purpose is to analyse company product portfolios, identifying products that need redevelopment or redesign because of issues concerning hazardous substances, or environmental performance.

Methods

The LCA data used is cradle-to-gate data from type III environmental declarations for 11 seating solutions. REACH Complexity, health hazard and environmental class indicators (based on risk phrases) are combined with financial data and LCA-based indicators. Correlations between energy consumption and environmental impact factors for these specific furniture products are investigated. Establishing any such correlations serves to simplify subsequent analysis in the product development process, by effectively reducing the number of indicators that need to be taken into consideration.

Results

Correlations between energy consumption and the environmental impacts global warming, acidification, eutrophication and heavy metals are presented. Strategy tool figures are shown for energy consumption, ozone depletion potential and photochemical oxidation potential. The results for office chairs and conference/visitor chairs are presented separately, as the two types of chairs fulfil different functions.

Conclusions

The correlation between energy consumption and certain environmental impact indicators affords a simplification of the product development process, since energy consumption can be used as a reasonable proxy for these indicators in this specific case. The results support acknowledged principles of Ecodesign. Energy and materials minimization improves environmental performance—higher recycled material content and proportion of renewable energy resources are also beneficial. Designers have to consider multiple aspects in parallel and the strategy tool is useful for this purpose; the furniture producer has gained useful product development insight. The tool is applicable for strategic choice of products for development or redesign that can be useful across many business sectors.

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Acknowledgments

The authors gratefully acknowledge the important contributions made by the companies participating in the Innochem project: Jotun AS and HÅG as, which have made this work possible, as well as the financial support provided by the Norwegian Research Council through the BIA programme and the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprises through the workplace environment fund. Thanks also to colleagues in Ostfold Research who have been important discussion partners during this work.

Author information

Correspondence to Cecilia Askham.

Additional information

Responsible editor: Wulf-Peter Schmidt

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Askham, C., Hanssen, O.J., Gade, A.L. et al. Strategy tool trial for office furniture. Int J Life Cycle Assess 17, 666–677 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11367-012-0406-y

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Keywords

  • Environmental hazard
  • Furniture
  • Health hazard
  • REACH
  • Strategic decision making
  • Sustainable product development