05/16/2023 • 4 min read

Making Products with the Circular Economy in Mind

How Haworth’s design process questions the sustainability status quo

by Aaron Haworth

In this article published in our Corporate Social Responsibility report, find out how Haworth’s design teams create innovative, high-quality, sustainable products by building circularity into each component.

Circular design is a process that focuses on understanding people and how they use products, as well as challenges facing the designer and the environment. One way to achieve this is through repetitive ideation and prototyping, working to eliminate potential sources of waste each step of the way. Ultimately, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation—one of the principal creators of the circular design process—says that following the methodology “creates loyalty in customers and deepens investment from stakeholders by telling a compelling story.” The process is supposed to be somewhat open-ended.

Although there is not one solution for all products, at Haworth our new product development process adheres to a defined path with specific circular design criteria. It’s about innovation and finding unique solutions for different products to make them and their parts more sustainable. We learn from our experience to guide us for future products.

For our most recent product development projects, Zody II and Zody LX task chairs and Cardigan Lounge, circular design principles were foundational for our design teams. They constantly question the status quo and evaluate opportunities to improve the development process and sustainability of used materials.

“Change happens when the closest person to the change embraces it.”

Franco Bianchi

Haworth President & CEO

Well-designed, circular products begin with user-focused research, so that the resulting product serves its purpose well and for the foreseeable future—rather than being discarded. Careful selection of sustainable materials—high-quality, long-lasting, and suitable for repeated cycling (reuse, repair, or recycling)—occurs for every part of our products to minimize waste.

For example, extensive research led to the development of Zody II and Zody LX, always anchored around the end user experience. We integrated recycled materials into the metal and plastic components, and labeled large plastic components with recycling symbols to facilitate recycling after use, which is a standard practice across all our product lines. Zody II and Zody LX are also the first furniture products certified to Cradle to Cradle Certified® under Product Standard Version 4.0, one of the most ambitious and actionable global standards yet for developing products that are safe, circular, and responsibly made.

Our Corporate Social Responsibility Report

Haworth works to make the world better. In our annual CSR, we detail our progress toward sustainability goals and share stories about our people, the circular economy, and our operational performance.

Cardigan Lounge is made with a digital knit from 100% post-consumer recycled plastic bottles and is fully recyclable itself, along with every other component of the chair—achieved through the avoidance of any non-reversible chemical bonding. The seat material is a biomass-balance (BMB) foam, which uses organic waste in its raw materials for a 100% savings in fossil resources. It’s fully recyclable when a suitable recycling infrastructure is in place. We ensure our suppliers receive certification from independent third parties to guarantee the replacement of fossil fuels with biomass for production.

Another way to improve products’ circularity is by dematerializing them. For example, Zody II and Zody LX were designed to be upholstered with a drawstring rather than staples to make it easier to replace with modern, sustainable parts. Cardigan Lounge was designed to be particularly lightweight, with optimized packaging to reduce the environmental impact of transportation. 

In 2022, we introduced a version of our popular Maari side chair for the European market that uses 100% pre-consumer recycled resin for the black seat shell, which significantly reduces the product’s carbon footprint. These innovations further demonstrate our commitment to sustainable, circular design. For all products and parts, Haworth aims to work closely with suppliers who are aligned with our goals for advancing sustainability.

With our North American textile partners, we developed three award-winning sustainable fabrics: Scapes, Novelty, and Hobson. Scapes is Haworth’s first fully biodegradable* fabric, designed to “leave no trace” in a manner that complements textile recycling. Made from post-consumer recycled polyester, Novelty is a dual-purpose textile for use on seating or vertical applications. Each yard of Novelty diverts 17 plastic bottles from reaching landfills. Like Novelty, Hobson is a dual-purpose textile made from fiber and resin sourced from bottles at high risk of entering the ocean. The plastic that makes up Hobson is specifically taken from bottles sourced from within 50 km of waterways in developing countries, allowing us to contribute to solving the ocean plastic pollution problem. All three fabrics received the Best of NeoCon Sustainability award in 2022.

Creating quality products that align with a circular economy requires dedication and sometimes the courage to try something new. Zody II and LX, Cardigan Lounge, Maari, and our proprietary textiles are just some examples of our commitment to circular design—an essential part of our sustainability strategy and how we work to make the world better.


*91% biodegradation in 1,278 days under ASTM D5511 conditions. No evidence of further degradation.


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