Sustainability is a complex matter. And the more we learn about it the more complex it seems to become.

Not many years ago, the environmental impact of furniture products was measured by the volume of its recycled content, its recyclability, and perhaps its impact to indoor environmental quality. Today that is not enough. It is not just about the composition of the materials we select, it is also about the processes required to transform those materials, where they come from, where they will end up and what will happen to them when they get there. It is about the impacts to human and environmental health, aquatic toxicity, resource depletion and climate change. It is a lot to keep on top of.

At Coalesse we’ve more than covered the basics. We’ve assessed literally hundreds of products, in multiple iterations, for recycled content and recyclability. More than 80% of the product portfolio has been screened against the ANSI / BIFMA Furniture Emissions Standard (M7.1 / X7.1 – 2011) and California Specification 01350 (Standard Method v1.1), and certified by SCS Global Services. All of this, as well as location of manufacture and contribution toward LEED points, is communicated in an extensive library of Product Environmental Profiles (PEPs) which are constantly being updated.

These single points of reference measures, however, are giving way to more holistic approaches.

Over the past few years, hundreds of new “eco labels” have emerged globally. While it isn’t possible to maintain a comprehensive knowledge of the detail behind every one, universal concerns have emerged that we endeavor to address and reflect in our products.

Each new product development project includes a “sustainability brief” that identifies goals and targets, assigns accountability, and measures success. A “Design for Environment” framework is used to ensure that in the earliest stages of design we are considering and addressing:

  • Material composition, source and supply
  • Transportation
  • Process energy
  • End-of-life (recycling / disposal)

While this life-cycle thinking begins in the design phase it also includes, with equal weight, Marketing, Supply Chain, Operations, Logistics and Finance. For technical expertise we rely on internal lifecycle analysts as well as on ongoing relationships with institutions such as Stanford University and Minneapolis College of Art & Design, who provide valuable insight into the evolving science of lifecycle assessment.

As we incorporate this approach, we apply the learning from one project to inform and benefit the next, not to eliminate complexity, but to design products that recognize and respect it.

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