• 4 min read
Haworth's circular economy journey toward sustainable product design and lifecycle management
by Haworth, Inc.
In a circular economy, products are made with materials that flow in closed loops—through reuse, recycling, or repair. But what happens if a product outlives its original purpose? How can our products adapt if user needs change? Or, if the way offices are used changes? Here lie some of the challenges of designing circular products that allow for reuse and recycling. It’s a challenge Haworth embraces by innovating with circular economy methodologies.
From the inception of a product, we’re considering ways to both reuse and repurpose materials. Through our Sustainable Product Criteria, we analyze the product starting at the end of its planned life and identify ways to optimize its resources.
Haworth products are designed for long life starting with high-quality materials. Plus, our products are built to be easily dismantled so worn parts can be replaced and materials can be recycled. For example, can a chair be refurbished by replacing high-wear components like wheels and arm caps? Is the used upholstery recyclable or biodegradable? Where can we use reversible bonding mechanisms to facilitate reuse and repair?
Questions like these—addressed before a product makes it to the assembly line—ensure that we maintain materials in closed loops at the highest quality. But to advance further on our journey toward a circular economy business model means reimagining Haworth products, processes, and services. This includes, for example, building appropriate structures for reverse logistics.
Our Core Commitments are ambitious targets that include a commitment to a circular economy. In the shift from a traditional, linear economy (cradle to grave) to a more circular approach (cradle to cradle), we are dedicated to maintaining product value, keeping resources in use, designing waste and pollution out of the system. We’re developing and scaling up two key programs to help us advance our circular services.
First, the Haworth Take Back Program offers sustainable solutions for customers’ used furniture, including reuse, repair, refurbishing, recycling, and/or remanufacturing.
Second, our Workspace as a Service Program allows customers to lease products or pay per use. After use, the products are returned to us for refurbishment, then made available for another customer to use again.
One circular service success story is how we worked with Schneider Electric to reuse existing furniture and help them progress toward their net-zero waste ambitions. In 2022, they reused Haworth furniture in 7 projects, which prevented 144,000 pounds of furniture from going to landfill, avoided the release of 1.1 million pounds of CO₂ eq emissions, and conserved almost 300,000 pounds of raw materials.
Another circular service success story is our partnership with Label Emmaüs, a French cooperative that relies on e-commerce to give people a second chance for employment and to reuse products of all types. At their recently inaugurated warehouse, Label Plateforme 47, we provided workers with skills training so they can recondition used Haworth Zody chairs.
The results of our circular service partnership with Label Emmaüs? Each reconditioned Zody chair reduces embodied carbon emissions by up to 80% compared to a new chair. For every 50 reconditioned Zody chairs, 1 ton of waste is avoided. And the quality of the refurbished chairs is so high, Label Emmaüs offers buyers a 2-year warranty.
A third success story is the product of our collaboration with a large global client to provide comprehensive reuse and refurbishment services close to the client’s locations to minimize environmental impacts and save on CO₂ emissions. To accomplish this, we worked with local circular service partners in Netherlands and the UK to do a large-scale carbon assessment. Our joint report provided carbon footprint data for all new furniture deliveries as well as impacts from cleaning and refurbishment efforts.
At the client’s Scotland site, we looked at approximately 3,000 furniture products. From this group, 42% were identified as second life (with 17% cleaned and reused, and 25% refurbished). The remaining product share (58%) consisted of new products provided by Haworth.
At their Netherlands location, with approximately 2,500 furniture products, 58% were candidates for second life (19% cleaned and reused, and 39% refurbished)—even more than in Scotland. The share of new products was 42%. In both cases, reuse supports a circular economy and the client realized significant carbon savings by buying fewer new products.
Our environmental stewardship is a labor of love—for both people and the planet. As we pursue truly circular service from cradle to cradle, we will advance with quality products that are suitable for recycling or allow the recovery of materials to serve as components in new products. We won’t be satisfied until we reach our circular economy goals.
We’re Working to Make the World Better
Find out more about Haworth’s commitment to sustainability and a circular economy in our latest Corporate Social Responsibility report.
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