Furniture 360 Project Leader, Mark Thomson, speaks with the Australian Furniture Association (AFA) head of Partnerships and Marketing Jason Ross about the Furniture 360 project.
Jason Ross – Mark thank you for your time. Earlier this year you were appointed Project Leader for the Furniture 360 project. What led to this appointment?
Mark Thomson – The AFA was successful in securing a federally funded grant on Product Stewardship and my interest and experience in delivering practical sustainable solutions caught the attention of the AFA CEO Patrizia Torelli. Coming after the successful AFA Chemicals of Concern project which was finalised in 2021, the Furniture 360 project was conceived to address Design and Chemicals of Concern issues which required incorporation into a future Circular Economy framework.
Jason Ross – You mentioned the circular economy. Why do you think a circular economy approach is important for the furniture sector?
Mark Thomson – The reality is that an excessive amount of commercial furniture is sent to landfill each year and past industry product stewardship systems have been largely ineffective. Our research has identified that more than 90% of commercial furniture (and much of this is timber) sold in Australia has been disposed in landfill sites across Australia. This has become an unacceptable societal problem. A circular economy would challenge the linear approach which most Australian manufacturing adopts. The Furniture 360 project will explore the process to transform and engage industry stakeholders toward circular economy outcomes.
Jason Ross – So how will the Furniture 360 project change the existing furniture framework?
Mark Thomson – All meaningful change occurs when people can envisage a better solution to a problem. Our societies climate change and environmental problems are now becoming alarmingly obvious and the desire to find solutions is now driving not only government but also our community to take strong action to take adapt and mitigate outcomes for our future.
The existing furniture sector has some great examples of sustainable and circular products, but additionally parts of the industry have adopted solutions similar to the fast fashion phenomenon which has become a problem. Consumers are encouraged to just buy new and discarded past products which is not only wasteful in materials, but it is uneconomical for both our society and the environment.
We collectively need to identify better solutions!
Jason Ross – You seem to believe that multiple solutions are required – have you concluded that there not simple solutions available now?
Mark Thomson – For many stakeholders, the solutions may be simple, however for others there may need to be changes in the materials and methods which are currently utilised.
Jason Ross – So what are the proposed phases or outcomes for the Furniture 360 project?
Mark Thomson – We have been engaged to complete 7 stages or milestones which include –
- Ascertain and review the current industry issues and product stewardship schemes
- Audit examples of challenges and opportunities to establish baselines
- Identify potential areas of training and accreditation necessary to implement change
- Create an industry network to support future opportunities
- Establish a council to oversee activities and implement appropriate change
- Develop a website and establish a media presence to share knowledge
- Develop a Business Plan to support ongoing activities for a minimum three-year period
Jason Ross – What are some of the insights that your work has uncovered to date.
Mark Thomson – The Australian commercial furniture manufacturing sector currently operates under different conditions and standards to imported products. This has created an environment whereby cheaper and often inferior imported products are chosen over and above the well-made and regulated processes which local manufacturers are required to meet. Our procurement systems are not working to deliver quality to the market, with price rather quality often being the major driver of sales.
Jason Ross – Mark, thank you for your time.
On Thursday, 8 September 2022 Mark Thomson and the Furniture 360 team delivered a webinar for AFA members and stakeholders. A copy of the webinar along with follow up interviews are available for download from https://wifm.asn.au/
About Mark Thomson
Mark Thomson is an author, sustainability consultant and recipient of multiple architecture, building and design awards. As founder of Eco Effective Solutions, a research, education, and design practices he strives to deliver healthy and regenerative work environments. Mark is a regular judge of the World Architecture Festival and the Australian Banksia Sustainability Awards and serves as a company director on multiple not-for-profit organisations including Responsible Wood and Micah Projects.
Jason Ross is the Australian Furniture Association’s head of partnerships and marketing. He also coordinates WiFM, an educational webinar for AFA members and stakeholders.
A bit about WIFM
WiFM delivers informative networking, training and upskilling events which are relevant and meaningful to practitioners and business professionals across the furnishing industry supply chain sectors.