Mark is a regular judge of the World Architecture Festival and the Australian Banksia Sustainability Awards and serves as a company director on multiple not-for-profit organisations including Responsible Wood and Micah Projects. And he is co-author of The Environmental Brief: Pathways to Green Design.
Earlier this year he was appointed project leader for the Furniture 360 project, after the Australian Furniture Association (AFA) was successful in securing a federally funded grant on product stewardship.
Coming after the successful AFA Chemicals of Concern project, which was finalised in 2021, the Furniture 360 project 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,” Thomson says.
“Our research has identified that more than 90 per cent 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.”
The Furniture 360 project aims to explore the process to transform and engage industry stakeholders toward circular economy outcomes.
All meaningful change occurs when people can envisage a better solution to a problem, he says. 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.
“Parts of the furniture sector have adopted solutions similar to the fast fashion phenomenon…consumers are encouraged to just buy new and discarded past products which is not only wasteful in materials, but it is uneconomical for both our society and the environment,” he said.
Thomson 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 our society and the environment.
“We collectively need to identify better solutions!”
For many stakeholders, the solutions may be simple, however for others there may need to be changes in the materials and methods which are currently utilised.
The Furniture 360 project 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 whereby 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 quality often being the major driver of sales.
- Mark Thomson is the founder of Eco Effective Solutions, a research, education, and design practice; he strives to deliver healthy and regenerative work environments.