An axiom: sustainability means systemic commitment. This also applies to the textile sector. The heads of sustainability at Arper and Kvadrat explain it

It is no coincidence that to talk about ecological impact in the field of textile furniture the interview is double and involves the sustainability managers of Arper and Kvadrat.

The two brands carry on a conversation of exchange of data and information and of strategic reciprocity on the topic of sustainability. A privileged, almost univocal dialogue, which is the basis for systematizing practices that truly contribute to reducing CO2 emissions. And, above all, to build critical mass so that choices have ever greater weight on the health of the planet.

Philine Kriependorf of Kvadrat and Andrea Mulloni explain why the industry must consolidate shared and widespread strategies to obtain tangible results in terms of sustainability, also for the textile part of the furniture.

Why is it important to act pragmatically when talking about Life Cycle Assessment in the furniture industry?

Philine Kriependorf: “Kvadrat's interest in sustainability is not a new fact: the brand has started to ask itself questions on the issues of recycling, waste of raw materials and upcycling for almost two decades, before many others.

The time factor represented an advantage in terms of analysis and strategy. At a later stage it was clear that there were opportunities to create new businesses within a sector considered primarily one of services.

By collecting data, figures and numbers, we were able to concretely understand where to intervene and how to identify opportunities for saving resources, reducing emissions and saving raw materials. Thus was born the spin off Kvadrat Really, a brand that produces panels solids and acoustic felt for the furniture sector starting from end-of-life post-production and post-consumer yarns.

A product that precisely meets the typological expectations of a top: resistance, aesthetic standards and 100% recyclability. This is the frame in which we try to move to contribute to reducing our impact, in addition naturally to sustainable sources, to constant advocacy practices within our network of chain suppliers and customers".

Andrea Mulloni: "In this historical moment, the choice to pursue sustainable innovation is a commitment of human and economic resources that falls entirely on individual industrial entities.

It's not just about doing research in order to make or improve the production, technological or market performance of a brand, but about collecting data and analyzing processes to concretely understand how to move to a regenerative economy capable of restructuring the environment and dealing rationally with a better use of resources.

It is a progressive work, which involves building a shared vision within management and with the supply chain. 90% of Arper's carbon footprint comes from its supply chain and transportation. These are invisible data, we need a holistic vision of production to measure its dimensions and scope.

Factuality becomes concrete only if the problem is faced collectively, by every actor in the production network. To put it more clearly: it is not enough to power your factories with renewable sources, the supplier must also do so. From here it is a very short step to understanding that the strategic inclusion of long-lasting and reliable partners".

Is sharing common medium and long-term strategies therefore decisive?

Philine Kriependorf: “It is a necessary step that offers a number of advantages. But it is important to be aware that this is a work that requires time and complex skills in reading technological, market and distribution trends. Strategic proximity, which in the past was almost exclusively geographical, is transforming into value proximity because one cannot be truly influential on the topic without a strong basis of partnership with local service companies.

It is humanly impossible to have control over every part of the product life cycle: goods travel all over the world. Therefore, it is essential to declare one's value choices, select reliable partners, rely on local service providers for the post-consumption collection part and seize every strategic opportunity useful for corroborating relationships. , including commercial, interesting, profitable and concretely useful".

Andrea Mulloni: “Arper relies on global distribution and it is clear that laws, habits and perceptions on the topic of sustainability change from region to region. The solution, currently partial, is to include our requests on the life cycle of the products in the contractual agreements, in the same way as prices and delivery methods. It is a way to sow awareness and support an ecological mindset aimed at prolonging the life of products.

In a similar way we are working on different fronts, one of which is the disassembly to ensure the correct disposal of the product and especially the repairability and maintenance. In fact, we are working with several European partners to be able to offer a repair service of our products, as it would be unthinkable, especially from an impact point of view, to convey the pieces that we want to restore to a single centralized hub.

Local partnerships are an absolutely viable and rational solution and allow to reason in terms of sustainable development of production."

The repairability and durability of products are another important theme in design when it comes to sustainability. In economic terms, how is it addressed by Arper and Kvadrat?

Philine Kriependorf: “From this point of view, communication to end customers is fundamental. Encouraging consumers to maintain, repair or more simply clean fabrics and coverings is a guarantee to consume less, produce less and reduce problems related to end-of-life and disposal.

Inevitably this translates into higher costs for end customers and the responsibility of spreading a different concept of consumption and purchasing.

On the consumer side, however, it is imperative to take concrete responsibility for the possibility of restoring a fabric by offering adequate services. From the companies' point of view it is counterintuitive and the role of the head of sustainability is also to spread internally a mentality different from the one we have been used to for decades.

With patience and the willingness to start explaining from time to time the reason for the choices, which is pragmatic as well as ethical, and how the brand is sharing them with the entire supply chain".

Andrea Mulloni: “There are alternative strategies in this sense. A long-lasting piece of furniture, designed to resist time and wear, has different design contents than a disposable object. Content that has a cost that end customers sometimes cannot afford or do not believe they want to invest in. The operative rental option is an interesting alternative for both parties and allows greater control over the services connected to a more rational and sustainable consumption of design products".

What are the difficulties of your work as head of sustainability in a design company?

Philine Kriependorf: “

The task involves anticipating trends in various areas, including the market, strategic, consumer, and technological ones. We work well in advance, like all design brands. This translates into a series of unknowns that concern not only the market, but also from the point of view of LCA the application methods of post-production and post-consumption recycling.

At the moment Really uses a mechanical technology, a reduced color chart to avoid adding dyes to products and, consequently, the manual separation of fabrics.

There is a chemical complementation to the current mechanical process, but we do not know the real effects on the environment, we do not know in which direction the process will evolve and, in any case, production must grow and spread in order to scale costs and investments. And this is only a small part of Kvadrat’s entire sustainability strategy. We need a propensity to work with unknowns, the pleasure of doing it daily”.

Andrea Mulloni: “In Italy the most obvious difficulty for a company, and consequently for anyone involved in sustainability, is political discontinuity. There are times when the reduction of carbon imprint is at the top of the government’s agenda. Other times when the subject is not even mentioned.

Investment in sustainable innovation is therefore often left to entrepreneurs. I am convinced that it is worth taking the risk and the expense, because serious work on building a regenerative economy will certainly be rewarded in the future. But it takes stubbornness and a strong ethical conviction, as well as a stubborn and optimistic personal commitment".