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Formway Furniture represents an important example of how corporate commitment, strategic planning and phased practical implementation can deliver sustainable design solutions in the office furniture sector.
The Wellington-based company – which exports to the world – has been proactively evolving its sustainable design methods for several years and has recently begun a more comprehensive sustainability programme.
Formway has come a long way since its modest beginnings as an engineering company making steel furniture for the New Zealand market in the 1950s. Today, it is an international company with over 200 employees, showrooms in Auckland, Wellington, Sydney and Melbourne, and manufacturing plants in both New Zealand and Australia.
All production of goods has an environmental impact and office furniture is no exception. The production process is materials intensive drawing on both natural and synthetic resources from wood-based products and metals through to plastics and textiles. Through the smarter and more responsible specification of all material types, Formway is striving to cut emissions, reduce solid wastes as well as eliminate and/or significantly minimise the presence of potentially hazardous substances in products and processes.
At Formway environmental performance and sustainability are important issues from the top down:
“At Formway we continually look for ways we fulfil our mission to be a leading company in environmental performance. Formway is a design-led company and we firmly believe that excellent design and making sustainable decisions go hand in hand.”
Alan Buckner – CEO, Formway
In particular, the company has a reputation for innovative, people focused, elegant design solutions. For more than 10 years Formway has enjoyed strong growth in both products and distribution. This has included significant expansion into Australia, vertical development of its distribution channels and entry into new markets through the design and launch of ranges of work stations, high performance seating, and soft seating and storage products.
Formway’s environmental strategy is being implemented in five environmental management programmes:
Formway has employed Jake McLaren, a former UK EcoDesign specialist, to develop and implement the new programme.
“The first necessity for making ‘green’ products a commercial reality is a real desire and enthusiasm from the management level to make products and services more sustainable. Marketers, designers and engineers need to be encouraged to look for opportunities that add value to a company and benefit the environment simultaneously.”
Jake McLaren - Environmental Manager, Formway
The programme includes a range of associated measures and services such as:
“Our environmental management programmes are owned and implemented by teams in design, production, supply chain management and end-of-life. Collectively these people share their environmental learning, develop new tools, techniques and best practice.”
Keith Hilligan - Chief Financial Officer, Formway
The environmental improvements Formway has made across its major product ranges are mostly available at standard cost not ‘optioned-up’ premium cost add-ons. For example, in Australia, it uses MDF board rated EO for reduced formaldehyde content and sourced from certified sustainable forests in Victoria. This is now the standard material for all Formway workstations in Australia.
The Life Chair is one of Formway’s most influential and commercially successful products in recent years. Formway personnel collaborated with Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and Product Ecology to develop a detailed EcoDesign brief which aimed to eliminate and/or minimise a range of life-cycle environmental impacts. Specific design considerations covered areas such as:
The following summary outlines several key Design for Sustainability outcomes related to the Life Chair.
The ongoing and future challenge for Formway as it bolsters its sustainability programme is to get the balance right between qualitative and quantitative aims, objectives and outcomes. In other words, the need to create products and services that are ecologically responsible, economically necessary, socially desirable and culturally acceptable. Getting such a balance right is what makes a company and its products ‘sustainable’ as opposed to merely ‘environmentally-improved ’.
“Our designers are always looking for ways to make environmental product breakthroughs, for example really exciting progress is being made in the development of biopolymers. These materials are getting close to the stage of replacing petrochemical polymers in high performance applications.”
Bob Stewart – Design Manager, Formway
The journey for Formway is likely to become more interesting and positive over the next few years as major external pressures and drivers demand much higher levels of environmental performance from the commercial furniture sector. Formway sees ahead several specific opportunities that will help focus further attention on sustainable design and ‘greener’ furniture over the next five years, for example the development of the New Zealand Building Council GreenStar Interiors tool and publication of the Environmental Choice New Zealand ecolabel for furniture. Formway has experience working with Australian clients and the existing Australian GreenStar tool, and looks forward to the development of similar tools in New Zealand to assist the local architecture and design community.
There is little doubt that opportunities will continue to emerge, and Formway will continue to use them as a catalyst for innovation and good design, now and into the near future:
“Everything we do at Formway has an environmental consideration, from product design and right through the supply chain. Creating a sustainable future is a key component of our design philosophy and company values.”
Alan Buckner – CEO, Formway
Formway is grateful for the support of the Foundation for Research Science and Technology, in assisting with the development of the Formway environmental programme.