Perspectives on Environmental Transparency in the Furniture Industry

Liam McGill
 by Liam McGill
2022-02-10
Perspectives on Environmental Transparency in the Furniture Industry

In this piece, Liam McGill, co-founder at Copenhagen-based LCA consultancy company SuFu, shares his perspectives on transparency in the furniture industry as well as how they helped us validate the data used in our Furniture Footprint Calculator.

Signs of Greater Transparency

True transparency in regard to the climate impact of the furniture industry is currently very difficult. All parties across the furniture industry sector as with all industries must become more responsible for its climate impact if we are to not exceed the 1.5°C warming target set out by the IPCC. Transparency can only be achieved with more accurate data across the entire industry, from cradle to grave, this means from the production of the raw materials to the disposal of the furniture piece at the end of its life.

In regard to this, there are promising signs that we will be able to better understand the GHG emissions of more items that we purchase and use. In particular, in the food industry, more companies are beginning to understand the importance of providing GHG emission information both for the good of the climate and because it is an increasingly powerful marketing tool. There are now many companies offering services to calculate the GHG emissions of food items and early-mover brands such as Oatly and Quorn already show the emissions of their products. Indeed, a poll commissioned by the Carbon Trust, which certifies the carbon footprints of various products, found that two-thirds of consumers in various European countries and the USA support carbon labelling on products.

Retailers and consumers can drive this progress for more accurate GHG emission data and potential emission reductions throughout the supply chain with our purchasing power. Buying items from companies that are more transparent and who are trying to reduce emissions will hopefully force the rest of the industry to follow suit.

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Credit: Sufu

How SuFu helped Interiorbeat Validate the Data for the FFC

Interiorbeat’s Furniture Footprint Calculator aims to give insights to the climate footprint of furniture, from production to the customer. It includes greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from materials, packaging, transport, and waste, to give a more holistic view of the impact from furniture production and consumption. It aims to give furniture manufacturers and customers the tools to gain insight into their products, as well as assess how to change different inputs to reduce the environmental impact.

SuFu’s role in Interiorbeat’s Furniture Footprint Calculator was to 1) Validate the data used in the calculator, 2) including additional data on transportation, waste, and packaging GHG emissions, and 3) verify the methodology to ensure that the calculator performs a cradle-to-warehouse style GHH emission analysis. When validating the material data, SuFu looked into the different factors that determine the GHG emission factors used, such as raw material supply, manufacturing, processing. The majority of a furniture’s climate impact originates from this stage in the supply chain.

As with measuring the GHG emissions of any item, there are challenges. For furniture, this is namely lack of data. There is very rarely any specific data for specific furniture and materials, a lack of data on factory-specific processes, and a lack of data on exact shipping routes/ methods. This often leads to the need to use scientifically based estimations, but what does this mean in practice…?

For example, if you have a table that is made of Brazilian Cherry Wood and you would like to know the exact GHG emissions of growing and processing the raw materials into furniture-ready wood, you need a Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA) to know the “Emission Factor (EF)” of that type of wood. The emission factor is the amount of GHG emissions released in a particular process for a set amount of a material e.g 1kg of Brazilian Cherry Wood leads to 5 kg of CO2 equivalents (CO2e). CO2e is the standard unit that GHG emissions are measured in and it includes not just carbon but multiple other damaging greenhouse gases. However often with more specific or niche materials no LCA or EF exists, consequently, the standard practice is to choose a similar material and use that as a proxy EF. So in the case of the Brazilian Cherry Wood, you could instead use the EF for Sweet Cherry Wood, under the presumption that they have similar production techniques and would therefore have a similar EF.

To ensure that Interiorbeat’s emission calculator was as accurate as possible, SuFu utilized multiple LCA databases to find specific EF’s, as close as possible proxy EFs, and region-specific EFs to validate the GHG emissions of the furniture, waste, and transport.

About SuFu:

SuFu is a company that helps businesses understand their greenhouse gas emissions, reduce their climate impact across all aspects of their operations and supply chains. Based in Denmark, we bring the opportunity of real climate action to all sizes of companies. We strive to do what is right for the climate in line with the science for a 1.5 °C world.

Liam McGill
by Liam McGill
Liam McGill has an educational background in physical geography and climate change. International working experience in various sectors including environmental science, construction, and teaching. He currently works with SMEs to help them understand their climate impact, calculate their greenhouse gas emissions.
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