Michelle: What we’ve started to do is to send a questionnaire that goes to all our suppliers and dealers. So, whether it is a carpet tile or a chair, they fill in this matrix, which has about 45 questions – and these questions go right down to things such as transportation and packaging, the whole story from start to end. We then have a traffic light system, where we score these products and companies. This is just what we do in-house right now – but you certainly don’t want to be on the ‘red list’ because we will simply move on to the next supplier.
I do think it is the responsibility of the designers and the end users to ask these questions. I also think that we already know a lot of the answers to a lot of the questions – we just haven’t written them down and evaluated them before.
Tim: I did a job many moons ago for a major British client in Salford Quays. They wanted to do everything via British suppliers. We also had a traffic light system, which asked several really pertinent questions. One British supplier had absolutely no information when it came to corporate social responsibility – and so initially scored ‘red’. What this did is to focus their business – to start shouting out that they did employ people from different backgrounds etc. There are still some manufacturers out there who are horrendous when it comes to sustainability, ethics and morals – but will all score ‘green’ because they are so good at ticking boxes.
As a dealer, we’re stuck in the middle sometimes. How do you balance that? I think, if you’ve been in the industry long enough, you can turn around and call people out. It is a difficult one though. It’s not acceptable to ship stuff in from China, in a plastic bag, and call yourself a British manufacturer. We have some amazing design talent and we’re brilliant at making stuff – we just don’t make enough of it, and we don’t make it cheaply enough.