Wellbeing Through Pure Materials

The contribution that furniture makes to wellbeing is typically considered to be through its ergonomic benefits. A flexible, adjustable chair and desk will help make you feel better while you work. But Johanna Ljunggren, Sustainability Manager at Kinnarps in Sweden, tells us about a far more holistic view.

More and more people want to make sustainable choices, so we have to make it easier to choose. People want transparency. They are concerned about their own wellbeing – how furniture will positively contribute to their workspace – and also about the effect on the wider environment that the sourcing of materials, production and delivery of products has. Their own wellbeing is intrinsically linked to their personal feeling of ‘how good their office is’ from a wide perspective. The physical performance of the furniture and its provenance are important.

What surprises people is the question of what the furniture is doing to the atmosphere in which you’re working. Is it a silent danger?

Many materials in furniture products contain substances that affect the environment and people’s health. These substances may be present in the raw material from the start, or may be added in the production process. They may have an effect either through direct contact or through dispersal in the air. An investigation undertaken by Kinnarps in Sweden showed that 90% of Swedes are concerned about chemicals in various products, but only half of them are aware that furniture may contain or emit substances that are hazardous to health.

Past studies have shown that traces of chemicals used in flame-retardants have appeared in women’s breast milk. Some glues used in chipboard contain Formaldehyde, a toxic organic compound. Solvents known as VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are particularly common in the furniture industry. VOCs are present in various types of glue and lacquer, and are dispersed in the air we breathe, which can cause headaches and concentration difficulties.

The industry has been working hard to eliminate or reduce its use of potentially harmful chemicals. In the Kinnarps Group, we have reduced use of VOCs by 47% since 2012. Our products do not contain any of the hazardous substances on the REACH candidate list, which is a list of particularly dangerous substances. The padding for many of our chairs is moulded in plastic. We have eliminated the hazardous isocyanate TDI and now use the ‘kinder’ MDI. All fabrics in Kinnarps Colour Studio are free from flame-retardants and azo dyes. Instead, we use wool, which is naturally flame-retardant, or polyester fabrics with a flame-retardant fibre construction. All our chipboard fulfils E1 requirements, which means a very low emission of formaldehyde. We do not use hexavalent chrome, which is allergenic and carcinogenic, and our electronics suppliers have to follow the RoHS directive, which restricts or prohibits the use of certain heavy metals and flame-retardants in electronics.

The decision-makers of the future won’t be satisfied with buying a label. The trend is clear all over the world. People want to see what difference they are actually making. They don’t care about the symbol itself – they want to know how the company earned the label.