Challenges facing the furniture industry

The industry is facing a number of challenges in areas where TMF has identified sustainable forestry, the “chemical cocktail” and social responsibility as being particularly important for the Swedish furniture industry.

  • Sustainable forestry

Companies in the wood and furniture industry should ensure that the wooden raw material they use come from responsibly managed and sustainable forestry.

  • "Chemical cocktail"

More than 400 million tonnes of chemicals are produced globally every year of some140,000 substances. Minimising the use of hazardous chemicals is crucial to tomorrow's circular economy. The wood and furniture industry has phased out and reduced its use of many chemicals and we are heading towards even lower levels. As an example, there is growing demand for products with lower levels of VOC and many are switching to waterborne products. Eco-labelled textiles predominate and there is today a wide range of products to choose from. While wood and furniture companies have reduced their use of chemicals over time, they should be striving towards completely non-toxic products. This is essential for preparing for the circular economy of the future.

  • Social responsibility

TMF strives for sustainable competition on equal terms, where the industry's customers are encouraged to make relevant social requirements based on the UN's Global Compact when buying and procuring furniture. Improving the manufacturing personnel's work environments, offering fair employment terms and respecting the regulations on indoor and outdoor environments is cost driving and by failing to take their responsibility, these companies are competing on other terms while making their products cheaper. Social requirements are important from a sustainability perspective.

In addition to the more specific challenges facing the industry, TMF has identified a number of powerful driving forces for introducing and developing circular business models. The circular economy could constitute an effective tool for contributing solutions within:

  • Energy & climate

One of the greatest challenges of our time is climate change caused by rising levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases. The circular economy, which makes reuse and remanufacturing possible, entails a substantially reduced energy consumption compared with new manufacturing – in certain cases energy savings can reach 90%.

  • Waste – land, sea & atmosphere

By 2025 an estimated 6 million tonnes of waste will be generated globally every day. The majority of it is either put on dumps, incinerated or ends up in the sea. In addition to the severe local and global effects on our ecosystems, this constitutes a serious waste of raw materials. Wood and furniture industry companies should increase their reuse and remanufacturing, and thereby help to generate less waste while distinguishing themselves as pioneers in the development of circular business models.

  • Raw materials – PEAK EVERYTHING

Ever since the oil crisis in the 1970s, we have become aware of the limited availability of crude oil. People talk about "peak oil" which is when crude oil extraction reaches its maximum limit, after which it declines until running out altogether. Researchers argue that there is a long list of raw materials that, like crude oil, will "peak" and run out. They include raw materials such as chrome, copper, gold, indium, lead, nickel, phosphorous, platinum, silver, tantalum, tin, uranium, zinc, rare earth metals and helium. In addition to the risk of the declining availability of important raw materials, the cost of raw materials is being driven up. Together with other manufacturing industries, the wood and furniture industry needs to save and step up the reuse of components and raw materials. This is an important driving force for tomorrow's circular economy.

  • Price of raw materials

Throughout most of the 20th century, the price of raw materials has been falling until the beginning of the 21st cenury, when prices began to rise sharply – largely as a result of China's economic growth. Rising demand in combination with shortages caused by dwindling assets caused by "Peak-everything" will drive these prices even higher. One way to counter this is to use existing raw materials more efficiently in a cycle instead of as virgin materials.