• 8 min read
the story of Haworth Cardigan
by Alex Przybyla
There is no real finish line when it comes to sustainability. Products can always be made better. There’s always a new material, a new technique, a new process. This is as exciting as it is daunting. It means the story won’t ever be over. There will always be another chapter – another product, another process.
Admittedly, this also means that no solution will be perfect – but in the climate crisis, perfect can become the enemy of the good. Anybody waiting around for the perfect is going to be waiting a long time. And there’s no way around it – creating a clean economy is going to be a long journey. Even on a long journey – or, perhaps, especially on a long journey – we must remember to celebrate our victories along the way. The most important step is always the next one – but that doesn’t mean we can’t take a moment to acknowledge the steps we’ve taken so far.
Haworth Cardigan is a milestone worth celebrating. With the knowledge and resources we have today (the early 2020s), it is the most circular lounge chair we can make. Material by material, process by process, we are proud of what we’ve accomplished with this chair.
The Circular Economy is one of Haworth’s 2025 Commitments. Our goal is for 100% of our new products to be designed using circular design principles. (There’s more information on our circular approach here as well as in our 2022 Corporate Social Responsibility Report, especially on pages 29-34.) We want to use the healthiest materials possible as we make each product; we want each product to be a beloved, helpful companion while it is with you; and we want to give each product the healthiest possible end-of-life.
Renowned designer Patricia Urquiola describes Haworth Cardigan as ‘a product without any kind of leftovers’. Patricia sees this lounge chair as one more stone placed in the long path that is the sustainable journey. (The no leftovers aspect is most realised in the knit-to-fit 3D knit fabric for Haworth Cardigan.)
Lao Zi wrote that ‘good walking leaves no track behind’. Both as a company and as a global society, our end goal is to achieve circularity in our products and processes. Circular products will leave no waste in their wake. Societally, we are not there yet – though products like this take us one small step closer.
How does Haworth Cardigan do that, exactly? Let’s look at each material.
Our 2025 Commitments
Find out how our corporate social responsibility efforts support a circular economy, making the world better for people, our communities, and the planet.
We asked our Sustainability Manager, Jessica Karp, why Haworth Cardigan is our most sustainable lounge product yet. The chair consists of a steel frame and legs, a swath of knit fabric, a plastic seat shell, a foam seat pad, and six metal screws; Haworth Cardigan implemented circular principles for each component.
Adhesives were the first theme Jessica addressed. ‘We are really eliminating any kind of glues on the entire product,’ Jessica said, describing it as ‘a first for our lounge portfolio so far.’ All bondings are reversible. The chair is assembled using six screws – that’s it. It takes only about 10 minutes to assemble. (Bonus: that means disassembly is super easy as well.)
Haworth Cardigan’s fabric is produced using a 3D knitting process. ‘There’s no cutting or sewing in the process,’ Jessica said. ‘It’s made for the exact dimensions of the lounge chair, which means there’s no waste throughout the process.’ This 3D knitting process matches the ideal Patricia Urquiola described as ‘a product without any kind of leftovers’.
The production process used for the foam is an exciting first. ‘We are using a biomass balanced foam, which means there's no fossil resources going into the production process of the foam,’ Jessica explained. ‘That's really a first for our Haworth products – to use a product that entirely avoids the use of fossil resources, but instead is using biomass like food waste.’
While the foam itself is materially identical to foam produced using fossil fuels, using biomass as the fuel source reduces embodied carbon by a staggering 80% compared to traditional foam.
This process reduces total embodied carbon for the chair by approximately 11%. With a carbon footprint of 87.4 kg, Haworth Cardigan’s carbon impact is the lowest of all our lounge chairs.
In circular product design terms, recycling is comprised of two core pillars. It concerns both the beginning and the end of a product, the first and the last chapters.
First, recycled materials are what go into the product. Working with trusted suppliers, we source components made of recycled rather than virgin raw materials. This ensures that what the product takes from the world has a positive impact, reusing materials that would otherwise go to waste. Haworth Cardigan’s knit is made of 100% recycled polyester.
Second, recyclable materials concern what the product returns. Recyclable materials allow the product to re-enter circularity when its lifecycle is done. While we expect this will be many, many years down the line, this stage will arrive for every product at some point. Sourcing recyclable components means that a product won’t end up in a landfill. This ensures that what the product gives back to the world has a strong possibility of being reused in another (circular) product. Haworth Cardigan’s steel frame is fully recyclable. The plastic seat shell is made of polypropylene, a commonly recycled plastic with a well-established recycling pipeline.
A huge portion of the carbon impact of a product lies in the journey it takes to get to you. For a product that requires shipping, this impact is unavoidable. The best we can do at present is minimise that impact using thoughtful design. For Haworth Cardigan, we minimised the logistics impact by considering packing methods and packaging materials.
Haworth Cardigan ships disassembled. Its box is shrunk to the size of its largest single component: the steel frame and legs. The other components are arranged to fit within the frame. Minimising the box size means more boxes fit in containers and on trucks. Compared to traditional lounge chairs which are shipped fully or mostly assembled, Cardigan’s box is much smaller – in fact, it is the smallest packed lounge chair in our portfolio. Based on the standard comparison of a full truck load, carbon emissions from Haworth Cardigan’s transportation can be up to three times lower than a comparable lounge chair.
The packaging materials have been considered as well. Too often, a product made with sustainable materials arrives wrapped in a ludicrous bundle of single-use packaging, going against its own environmental story. Haworth Cardigan uses only cardboard in its packaging – there are no single use plastics employed, and the cardboard is fully recyclable and made of 100% recycled materials.
Jessica explained that part of circularity is thinking through the end of a product’s life before the lifecycle even begins. First, we want to extend the life of a product for as long as possible; this is achieved by making each part easily replaceable. ‘It’s possible to do easy repair or replacement of wearing parts,’ Jessica said. And at the end of the product lifecycle, Haworth Cardigan can be disassembled as quickly as it was put together, separating out into individual components in just ten minutes or so.
Globally, the route for recycling foam is not as clear-cut as the routes for metal or plastic. Polyester fabric, in general, can only be recycled so many times. These two issues in particular will need societal development; there is not at present a consistent, global path for circularity. Biomass balanced foam is a wonderful innovation; removing 80% of embodied carbon for an individual material is a huge accomplishment.
As of today, Haworth Cardigan Lounge is the most circular lounge chair we can make. We can’t wait to see what comes next.
Read stories and learn about our journey to make the world better in our 2022 Corporate Social Responsibility Report.
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