It is estimated that in the European Union yearly 10.78 million tonnes of furniture is disposed of. With growing population and increasing home-office spaces the demand for furniture will rise. This will result in even more discarded furniture. To reduce this waste stream, a different design and management approach must be employed. Designing new furniture with circularity as a starting point and extending the lifetime of existing furniture might contribute to this reduction.

Designing for a circular economy is supported by several circular strategies. For instance: design for reduce, re-use, repair and refurbishment. But how do you know which circular strategy suits your product best? The need to discover this is the reason for this GoCI project.

Saxion University of Applied Sciences explores together with Ahrend Support BV, design agency D’Andrea&Evers and innovation studio WordLenig the circular opportunities for an office chair and ways to compare those opportunities. 

Saxion University of Applied Sciences strives to share their knowledge about circular design and lifecycle analysis on real life cases to support the uptake of a circular innovation in practice. Ahrend Support continuously improves their circularity efforts by joining up with new partners and developments. D’Andrea&Evers wants to inspire other companies to go circular with appealing examples and facilitate and contribute to the ideation phase. WordLenig aspires to learn more about how circularity is experienced by clients and users – in order to adopt better business models.

Figure 1: Ahrend office chair

The aim of the project is to translate circular strategies into product concepts for an office chair. Also, compare these concepts with regard to circular values, like environmental impact. What if the textile cover is easy to change and washable? Does the impact of this new design (with additional material and components) way up to the longer use? What if we overmold ‘old’ parts instead of first shredding them? What if we make parts interchangeable? 

By jointly making the concepts and comparing them with a life cycle analysis and additional circular evaluation tools, early stage insight is created as to what circular strategy is best for (Ahrend) office chairs. 

Figure 2: Ahrend 2020 seating, disassembled

This project contributes to the mission ‘Intensify the use of available resources’, and the transition away from wasting resources to a circular economy in which resources are reused. This is part of the ‘Energy transition and sustainability’ theme addressed by GoCI.

Foreseen impact
The functional impact of the project should be an improved design of an office chair, better suited for a circular economy where its value will be preserved. Organizations have increasing interest and responsibility in sustainable business operations, including their facility and purchasing. This is strengthened by the increasing influence of government policy on sustainable purchasing. The users of office chairs might get more responsibilities as well, in terms of maintaining and repairing the chair themselves. User-friendly adjusting of the chair and ease of repair can enlarge the attachment to the product and therefore extend the amount of years the chair will be used. 

Ahrend decided to start with a separate organization for their circular activities: the Circular Hub. This made it possible to explore and try, without having the existing organization to be hindrance or counterproductive. Within this Circular Hub chairs are revived, both from Ahrend and other companies. Collaboration is key within circular innovations. The GoCI program enables collaboration with new partners, resulting in fresh ideas, new insights and sharing of knowledge. Within this project the partners share knowledge and experience from previous circular innovations in different markets.

Nicely worded by Ahrend in reaction to the results of a graduation assignment on this topic: “Now we know which ingredients there are, so let’s start cooking and make recipes!” Preliminary conclusion is a design that fits a combination of circular strategies has high potential, for instance long life span and is easy to repair. The enthusiasm and passion for circularity of the involved partners makes it a fun project to work on. We look forward to support the design community in making informed circular designs.