top of page

Is the future circular?

photograph of a forest

We think it’s important to applaud and encourage those of our supplier partners who are really making an effort to protect the environment.

Following the introduction of standards such as WELL, BREEAM and LEED for the built environment, most of our suppliers are able to demonstrate reasonable stewardship in the use of safe and recycled materials, together with zero or negligible emissions of Volatile Organic Compounds.

But relatively few have invested in ‘circular’ principles. Many are working on it, but a few visionary manufacturers started this journey years ago and are considered by the Interion team to be ‘best in class’.

Senator Group

Encompassing the Senator, Allermuir and Torasen brands, Senator Group is the largest furniture manufacturer in the UK. Under the enigmatic leadership of MD Robert Mustoe, they have been thought-leaders in addressing environmental issues. Long before the world reached consensus on global warming, Senator were looking at ways to address some of the challenges, leading to a series of initiatives that resulted in a new Senator Group Division – Sustain.

Sustain takes disused materials, packaging and redundant furniture from its own customers and competitors and recycles them to ensure nothing goes to landfill.

Sustain chair recycling

The purpose-built £1.5million 15,000 sq.ft. recycling unit has recycled more than 340,000 items and diverted almost 34 million kg of waste from landfill over the last 5 years.

All furniture that comes into Sustain is stripped into its component parts – wood, metal, plastic, fabrics and foam. If possible, they are either made into other items or recycled. Old furniture can sometimes have broken parts replaced or repaired to make them like-new, keeping the embedded carbon in the product.

Furniture items recycled in 2021 (1,933,059 Kg)
Furniture items recycled in 2021 (1,933,059 Kg)
Packaging recycled in 2021
Packaging recycled in 2021
Packaging recycled in 2021
Packaging recycled in 2021

With their Wishlist Initiative, Sustain is reaching out to charities and community groups, encouraging them to apply for any furniture they may need; re-use rather than recycle is the very best way to minimise environmental impact.

We recently enjoyed a Senator-sponsored webinar ‘The Circular Economy’, featuring independent experts as well as Senator’s own team. What really impressed us was the evident commitment within the Senator team; they didn’t claim to have all the answers, but it was clear to us that they were asking the right questions, with the full support of their management team, including a commitment to become ‘Net Zero’ by 2030.

In the same webinar, expert Andrew Whyle told us that the key to achieving a circular economy is design, utilising 5 principles:

  • Refuse Is it needed?

  • Return Can it be used again?

  • Reduce Do you need so much?

  • Re-use If you can’t, can someone else?

  • Recycle Can it be turned into something else?

Dr. Chris Wilson shared some sobering statistics; we currently consume 60Bn tonnes of resources a year and recycle perhaps 5Bn tonnes. Perhaps that explains his rather dark take on circular principles: ‘Womb to Tomb’.

It’s worth having a look at Senator’s Corporate Sustainability Report, which includes further details concerning energy use in manufacture and broader areas of Corporate Responsibility.


Kinnarps blue lorry

Swedish maker Kinnarps (pronounced ‘Shinnarps’) have long been instigators of class-leading environmental practices in manufacturing. Their factories are so clean that wood sawdust can be used as a component in the infamous ‘Kinnarps Cookies’. We’re told that their natural glues are also ‘drinkable’!

Circular principles were instigated by Kinnarps decades ago, including use of wood waste briquettes to heat their factories, and use of textile and other recycled materials in new products.

Kinnarps lorry

Their Blue Fleet delivery trucks run on biodiesel, and because they control the whole process from manufacture to site delivery, they can ‘blanket wrap’ products rather than use wasteful packaging. The blankets are returned and re-used time and again. Circularity is discussed on page 46 of their very comprehensive Sustainability Report.


Dutch manufacturer Casala reflects the national interest in environmental responsibility; they have dedicated an area of their website to circular initiatives.

levels of circularity

Impressively, they commit that at end of life, any Casala product, even if supplied in the past, will be taken back and processed into new products.

Their commitment to sustainability is detailed under three broad headings:

  • Circular-Furniture Covers principles of design for long-life and easy recycling, utilising a high quantity of recycled materials in manufacturing.

  • Re-Furniture Casala products (and some manufactured by others) are refurbished to be ‘like new’ and delivered under factory warranty.

  • Outlet-furniture Furniture that is surplus to requirements (perhaps ex-display) is sold at knock-down prices rather than ‘recycled’.

Additionally, they are in the process of creating an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) for every Casala product, which will map its environmental performance based on a complete Life Cycle Analysis.


Spanish manufacturer Actiu have aspired to very high standards in energy-efficient manufacture and waste prevention. Their recently-built Technological Park has been certified to the LEED ‘Platinum’ standard, which demonstrates firm commitment to their principles!

They are consistently working on increasing the utilisation of recycled materials in manufacture (some products use 100% recycled materials) and with Gaia, have some interesting ideas to help clients monitor, measure and adapt their working environment to achieve greater employee wellbeing. While perhaps they can’t yet claim to be ‘fully-circular’, it’s clear they’re ahead of most in their commitment to our shared environment. Just two indicators are the 7,000,000 kWh of clean solar energy they generate every year, and the 12,000 cubed metres of harvested rainwater stored on site and used for secondary water systems such as WC’s.

Ocee Design

Ocee have been quietly working away on environmental initiatives and have recently launched their own ‘Take back’ scheme, which many would argue is the true pinnacle of circularity in manufacturing.

They have chosen to certify some of their products using the EU Ecolabel and have declared some ambitious goals including:

  • Conducting LCA data for the top 80% selling products – verifying as Environmental Product Declarations (EPD’s) at a later stage

  • Aiming for all products to be at least 95% recyclable

  • Sending 0% of waste to landfill (already achieved at two of three factories across the Ocee International Group)

  • Running factories and showrooms on solely renewable energy by 2022

  • Collating Scope 3 carbon data across the group, setting reduction emissions aligned with government targets

If you have an environmental story to share with us, we’d love to hear from you, and perhaps share the details in a future article.

Please contact us if you would like help identifying furniture products with the lowest possible environmental impact.

What is a ‘Circular Economy’? It’s explained in this video by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation:

bottom of page