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Eco-architect Mark Thomson: ‘fast fashion’ running rampant through our furniture sector

Brisbane eco-architect Mark Thomson is an author, sustainability consultant and recipient of multiple architecture, building and design awards.


Tue 03 Jan 23

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He has just returned from the 15th annual World Architecture Festival in Portugal’s capital Lisbon where he was chief judge of the timber awards.

Five Australian projects were among the 20 recipients across categories including completed buildings, future projects, interiors and masterplans.

The festival is the largest global annual event of architecture and interiors, bringing together members of the international design community in one city to celebrate the most prestigious achievements in architecture and design.

Mark Thomson is a regular judge at the festival and the Australian Banksia Sustainability Awards and serves as a company director on multiple non-profit organisations including Responsible Wood.

Mark Thomson… a circular economy would challenge the linear approach which most Australian manufacturing adopts.

As founder of Eco Effective Solutions, a research, education, and design practice, Mark strives to deliver healthy and regenerative work environments and is co–author of The Environmental Brief: Pathways to Green Design.

Mark emphasises the importance of a good project brief and client communication for project outcomes. This is often achieved through great teamwork, a persistent focus on the critical issues and managing project risks.

Earlier this year, Mark was appointed project leader for the Furniture 360 Project after the Australian Furniture Association secured a federally-funded grant on product stewardship.

Coming after the successful AFA Chemicals of Concern Project, which was finalised in 2021, Furniture 360 was conceived to address ‘design and chemicals of concern issues’ which required incorporation into a future Circular Economy framework.

“The reality is that an excessive amount of commercial furniture is sent to landfill each year and past industry product stewardship systems have been largely ineffective,” Mark Thomson says.

“Our research has identified that more than 90% of commercial furniture (and much of this is timber) sold in Australia has been disposed of in landfill sites across Australia. This has become an unacceptable societal problem.

“A circular economy would challenge the linear approach which most Australian manufacturing adopts.”

Furniture 360 aims to explore the process to transform and engage industry stakeholders toward circular economy outcomes. Mark says all meaningful change occurs when people can envisage a better solution to a problem.

“Climate change and environmental problems are now becoming alarmingly obvious and the desire to find solutions is now driving not only government but also our community to take strong action to adapt and mitigate outcomes for our future,” Mark says.

“The existing furniture sector has some great examples of sustainable and circular products, but that some parts of the industry have adopted solutions similar to the fast-fashion phenomenon which has become a problem. Consumers are encouraged to just buy new and discarded past products which is not only wasteful in materials, but it is uneconomical for both society and the environment.

“We collectively need to identify better solutions.”

Mark says for many stakeholders, the solutions may be simple. However, for others, there may need to be changes in the some of the materials and methods used. Furniture 360 has been engaged to complete seven stages or milestones which include:

• Ascertain and review the current industry issues and product stewardship schemes. • Audit examples of challenges and opportunities to establish baselines.

• Identify potential areas of training and accreditation necessary to implement change.

• Create an industry network to support future opportunities.

• Establish a council to oversee activities and implement appropriate change.

• Develop a website and establish a media presence to share knowledge.

• Develop a business plan to support ongoing activities for a minimum three-year period.

To date, it has uncovered some alarming insights, including that the Australian commercial furniture manufacturing sector currently operates under different conditions and standards to imported products. This has created an environment where cheaper and often inferior imported products are chosen over and above the well-made and regulated processes which local manufacturers are required to meet. “Our procurement systems are not working to deliver quality to the market, with price rather than quality often being the major driver of sales,” Mark believes.

  • Mark Thomson is the founder of Eco Effective Solutions, a research, education, and design practice; he strives to deliver healthy and regenerative work environments.

Authors

  • Jason Ross

    Jason Ross, publisher, is a 15-year professional in building and construction, connecting with more than 400 specifiers. A Gottstein Fellowship recipient, he is passionate about growing the market for wood-based information. Jason is Wood Central's in-house emcee and is available for corporate host and MC services.

  • Mark Thomson

    Mark Thomson, eco-architect, is a regular judge at the World Architecture Festival, the Australian Banksia Sustainability Awards and is a director of Responsible Wood and Micah Projects. He is co-author of The Environmental Brief: Pathways to Green Design.

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