Sustainability is a two way street – tasking consumers with more responsibility

Posted on 10 Jul 2023 by The Manufacturer

Sustainability in furniture manufacturing is based on a symbiotic relationship between manufacturers and consumers, that places responsibility on both sides of the supply and demand equation, says Bisley’s Operations Director, Paul Crutcher.

There’s no doubt that we as furniture manufacturers must lead the way in innovating and developing sustainability in their furniture and interiors solutions for our homes and workspaces. However, for this to be possible there is a necessity for consumers to require it. The marketplace must demand sustainable furniture solutions, otherwise the incentive for manufacturers to enthusiastically pursue a sustainable agenda based on net zero principles will diminish.

Essentially, in the modern commercial world, both suppliers and consumers have a direct role to play in ensuring the implementation of sustainable practices. And each must hold the other to account.

Fortunately the manufacturing sector is now largely beginning to move in a sustainable direction, with ethical firms and organisations clearly stating, publishing and auditing their sustainable credentials and practices.

At Bisley, our commitment to sustainable manufacturing practices, outlined in our ‘Green Book’ is core to our operating philosophy. We often use the phrase that our furniture is ‘made for life’, and while that is true of our products, we also take that ethos into every part of our manufacturing processes and company culture.

We want furniture that lasts a lifetime for our customers; made from the highest quality materials, using the latest innovative technologies and processes with minimum impact on our environment.

And we’re not alone. Across the manufacturing spectrum there are companies truly revolutionising the way they work in pursuit of a net zero agenda.

However, I often worry that while many manufacturers in the furniture sector, in which I operate, are really drilling down on their sustainability agendas, there are those who are not, and it is my belief that many consumers may not know the difference. Especially when you consider that there is rather a lot of ‘green washing’ going on out there.

For example, do consumers know the questions to ask, and the touch points to look for, when trying to identify a sustainably led furniture manufacturer or brand, from one that does little to contribute to our collective net zero agenda?

And on the flip side, are we as a sector articulating our sustainability credentials effectively to consumers, so that their knowledge is broadened? I think in both these areas, there is definite room for improvement.

So what should consumers be looking for when it comes to making conscious purchasing decisions about furniture for their homes and workplaces?

Legitimate and sector specific accreditations

A good place to start with identifying sustainable manufacturers and brands is to look for their industry recognised green certifications. These will no doubt be published on their websites, so if they’re not there, then chances are it’s because they don’t have any – a red flag. And if you’re a manufacturer that isn’t shouting about your green accreditations – it’s time to start. Remember it’s a two way street.

Fair Trade, Global Recycled Standard and Certified B Corporation are all good examples of well known accreditations that are widely recognised as denoting a sustainable company or organisation.

However, best practice certifications vary from sector to sector meaning there is no one size fits all label that clearly proclaims a company to be a sustainability champion, making it tricky for consumers to be confident in their purchasing decisions.

As a British furniture manufacturer Bisley has memberships and accreditations with a wide range of bodies, including the Furniture Industry Sustainability Programme (FISP), which is recognised as the benchmark for sustainable practices in the UK furniture industry. It is widely referenced by procurement teams and furniture specifiers as a key part of an organisations sustainable procurement policies.

The message to consumers here is – do your research. The firms that are working to sustainable standards will let you know about it and have the creds to back it up.

Materials and the circular economy

Historically, the approach to resource consumption has been very much linear (take, make, use, dispose). But things are changing as companies become more and more aware of circular economy principles, especially within the product design phase.

In essence, the circular economy aims to reduce finite natural resource extraction, so basically, our aim is to keep goods in circulation longer, so we don’t have to take more things out of the ground, and at Bisley we encourage the use of materials with a higher recycled and recyclable content.

To help achieve this, alongside general and vital energy efficiency measures within our workspaces and places, at Bisley we have been looking at the products we create from a more macro perspective.

For example, we consider a product’s full lifecycle – from upstream material extraction and processing through to end of product life. Essentially, when you’re looking at that product, you’re not just looking at the product itself.  We should also be considering things like – where did those materials come from? And what’s the expected life span of the product? How will this product ultimately be disposed of? All manufactured products need to be considered from a circular economy perspective – both upstream and downstream.

However, from a consumer perspective – what does all of this mean and what kind of things should people be looking for? There are a number of ways to go about identifying companies that operate with a circular economy based ethos, but a few key pointers include:

  • Being repair friendly: Products will naturally degrade overtime which is when many get replaced. However furniture manufacturers can help slow the turnover process by designing pieces with easy to access/repair modular features with interchangeable spare parts and accessories, such as drawer slides or door hinges, across a wide product portfolio.
  • Can a product be upgraded/evolved easily?: Firms that can supply add-ons, product spin-offs (e.g – exchangeable doors or new hardware like handles), or refurbishment services can help extend a product’s purpose and lifecycle.
  • Take back schemes: Some firms offer take back schemes, which means that used and unwanted furniture, and their various component parts, many of which can be recycled, do not end up in landfills.


When it comes to packaging there is so much that can be done to operate in a more sustainable way – from managing the packaging that raw materials arrive in at a manufacturing facility, to the packaging in which products are delivered to retailers/consumers – the second of these points being something that consumers are becoming more aware of, and prone to publicly calling out brands that utilise excessive, toxic packaging.

As a result it’s something that most manufacturers are becoming increasingly more savvy about.

From a waste management perspective, at Bisley over the past 12 months, 98% of manufacturing waste was recycled or diverted from landfill. This includes cardboard and plastic wrap waste from input materials and components, which are collected and baled on-site then sold back to our packaging suppliers.

Our approach to the packaging our products leave the factory in is similarly conscious and baked in from the product concept stage and right through the design process, in order to minimise materials and to help maximise space and efficiency during the transportation process.

Similarly many manufacturers are also utilising packaging materials that are made in the UK in order to shorten supply chains, and trialling new, almost infinitely recyclable packaging materials. These are things that consumers will likely be less aware of, so manufacturers and brands should make a point about publishing information about their efforts to improve their packaging processes on their websites. Share positive information.

Paul Crutcher
Paul Crutcher is Operations Director at Bisley, with responsibility for Procurement, Manufacturing and Logistics.


Despite the trend for the offshoring of production across multiple sectors over the past twenty-five years, many firms who initially embraced the concept are now beginning to swim against the tide and return home, largely led by rises in overseas wages and the time and cost involved in shipping goods great distances, among other factors.

And this is a trend that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. The onset of Covid saw those companies with longer, more complex supply chains scattered across the globe, experience complete production paralysis. And because of this onshoring, or at the very least, nearshoring of organisational supply bases is being activated across numerous sectors, so products are not stranded tens of thousands of miles away, and are near, or close to, their end market in the event of a global catastrophe. It’s a trend that is already in action in the big tech sector, with firms like Apple, Amazon, Samsung and Google moving production out of China in light of geostrategic concerns.

But also economic/supply chain issues aside, sustainability factors are at play here. After all, shipping goods halfway around the world, from their production sites to their end markets, is not a good approach to reducing carbon outputs. Which is why onshoring/near shoring is becoming increasingly more appealing to firms who are looking to deliver on net zero targets.

At Bisley, a company that has always remained true to its ‘Made in Britain’ values and never offshored manufacturing, it’s a trend we welcome. And while we do export to different global territories, our largest market remains the UK, which is why we manufacture here. That and the fact that British manufacturing is a hallmark of excellence.

With this in mind, I would suggest to consumers that have an interest in sustainability – to check where goods are made, and interrogate this rigorously to avoid brand washing. Products made and sold in the UK come with a significantly reduced carbon footprint attached to them than those made in Asia for example. Not to mention a greater likelihood of delivering on circular economy principles – like the availability of spare parts and repairability designed to extend product life cycles – outlined previously.

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