The furniture sector is a very relevant sector for the EU economy, employing about 1 million workers in about 120.000 enterprises (composed at 99% by micro, small and medium size companies), generating an annual turnover of around €96 billion and producing 25% of world Furniture.
In the last decades, this sector is facing some specific threats (as, for example, the competition from low-labour costs Countries, the ageing workforce and the weak attractiveness of the sector for the youngsters, the shortages of timber and wood-based materials), to which must be added three main events that concurred to make things even more difficult in the last three years: the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine and the shortage of raw materials.
In this framework, the European Green Deal represents a great challenge, but also a great opportunity for companies to come out reinforced by the current general environmental and economical crisis: in order to reach climate neutrality by 2050, it is necessary to make recourse to green technology and implement sustainable ways of production and distribution, so to become a competitive, resource-efficient and attractive sector.
The referring model to adopt is the Circular Economy Model, an economy model that is “regenerative by the design: biological materials are designed to reenter the biosphere, and technical materials are designed to circulate with minimal loss of quality” and “restorative by intention; aims to rely on renewable energy and resources; minimize, tracks and eliminates the use of toxic chemicals; and eradicates waste through careful design” (Ellen Mac Arthur Foundation, 2014).
Eco-design principles enable the companies to create useful and desirable products reducing at the minimum their impact on the environment throughout the whole life cycle, which means from the extraction of raw materials to production, distribution, utilisation and end of life.
At an operational level, this means, for the furniture sector:
Using efficiently materials, preferring renewable and recycled materials where possible, and according to their environmental performance;
Separating different materials and parts, boosting reparability, reuse, refurbishment and remanufacturing possibilities, prioritising these circular loops over recycling and increasing the lifetime and durability of furniture products;
Using chemicals in a responsible way, avoiding hazardous substances (for example toxic flame retardants).
The social dimension is also an element that must be taken into consideration as strictly linked to environmental and economical dynamics, and the social impact of the production must be taken as a basis to implement initiatives able to return value to the territories and the communities.