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Sustainability means an end to take, make and waste

Governments and companies are moving towards a circular economy

Just because you’ve been in business a long time doesn’t mean you can’t adapt. Rather, it’s because you can adapt that you get to be in business a long time.

It’s something the team at Farrell Furniture knows well. For more than 60 years the Louth-based, family-run furniture business has embraced innovations that ensure it is both environmentally – and commercially – sustainable.

As an active member of the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC), Farrell only uses FSC certified wood, chipboard and MDF. It sources as much of its other materials locally where possible.

When working with veneers its designers opt for sustainable cherry and oak where possible, as opposed to over-forested mahogany and teak. They use solvent-free polishing and varnishing techniques. The company is a member of Repak and has full end-to-end recycling of packaging for goods inwards and out.

Investment in circular business models and production processes will be incentivised through new supports

It adheres to the Weee recycling scheme for electrical machinery and appliances, has installed energy-efficient LED lighting throughout, and uses wood waste and offcuts to generate heat. When required to use metals, it opts for aluminium rather than steel, as the former is easier to recycle. It uses low-emission glues during assembly and adopts lean principles throughout to reduce waste.

The company, which employs more than 100 people in Ardee, and seven in the UK, successfully applied to the Circuléire Innovation Fund to pilot a new strategic initiative called “Do More With Less”.

The project is run in collaboration with the Office of Public Works and GMIT Letterfrack’s National Centre for Excellence in Furniture Design and Technology. It will see old furniture made by Farrells for the OPW decades ago taken back and given a second life.

"For example, 30 years ago what was required was L-shaped desks. Now the demand is for rectangular ones," explains Paul Farrell, joint chief executive at Farrell Furniture. The pilot could see each old desk turned into two new ones.

It will, he says, “enable us to extend the useful life of furniture, and hopefully inspire others in the industry, academia and the public sector to rethink how we look at furniture”.

It’s a good example of the circular economy in action, driven by recognition that one person’s waste is another’s valuable raw material.

Currently Europe uses eight gigatonnes of materials each year, almost all of which ends up as waste. Less than 10 per cent is reused or recycled. The production and use of these materials is responsible for a quarter of Europe's greenhouse gas emissions, and a third globally.

Governments are taking action. The EU’s new Circular Economy Action Plan makes sustainable products the norm. Under it, for example, new electronics products will have to be easier to repair and upgrade. Clothes will be made to last longer and single-use products phased out where possible.

Investment in circular business models and production processes will be incentivised through new supports such as the government’s Circular Economy Innovation Grant Scheme (CEIGS).

Among the first recipients of this was Novelplast Teoranta in Co Meath, which takes in industrial plastic bi-product, reconstitutes it and sells it back to the companies that supplied it.

Novelplast, like Farrell Furniture, is a member of Circuléire, which was established in 2019 to help business owners see how the circular economy could be applied to their business and supply chains.

As well as a €1.5 million Circular Economy Innovation Fund, it hosts Ireland’s first accelerator for circular economy ventures, fresh alumni of which include Sensi, the world’s first Smart Reverse vending machine, and IFF Plastics, which turns waste plastics into fence posts using a closed loop recycling service.

"Going on the journey to embrace circularity can be daunting and Circuléire provides a range of supports to businesses, from MNC to SME, micro-enterprises and new ventures. This ranges from internal capacity building around what the circular economy means for our members' businesses or sector, to catalysing implementation of circular innovation opportunities," says Geraldine Brennan, its head of circular economy.

She believes that not only does circularity reduce the risk of climate change, but it presents a wealth of opportunities for business. Indeed, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates Ireland uses 100 million tonnes of materials annually and that implementing even a 5 per cent material improvement across the economy represents an annual €2.32 billion opportunity.

Paul Farrell puts it another way. “I’ve five grandchildren. I want them to have five grandchildren too – and a planet to play in.”