A few years ago I set-up an outdoor furniture brand, but was afraid to mention that we designed and manufactured the furniture from plastic waste.
It was only when someone asked me about the production process and I began to tell them how it was built-up from plastic fragments that would never rot or be affected by termites, that I realised I should no longer be afraid. The thing was, recycling was a no go when selling furniture to a high-end market.
Designing with sustainability in mind is not the norm. We all know that the norm is to design things to make our life easier, and we fail to without acknowledge all of the problems that come with this. The great new documentary, Before the Flood, highlights in just 96 minutes what effect our behaviour is having on the planet.
In 2016, the appetite for sustainable products is increasing. Last year investments in renewable energy outperformed investments in fossil fuel energy by 150 billion USD and looking at the latest show models of Audi, Tesla and Mercedes, electric driving is the way forward.
Yet as sustainability gets more and more popular, the traditional furniture industry still uses more than two billion trees annually to make its products; trees cut legally and illegally. For the most part, supply chains today can be characterised as linear: materials are consumed then products are manufactured, distributed and sold, and used until they are disposed of at the product’s end-of-life stage. However, amidst debilitating environmental pressures – caused in part by the unsustainable use of raw materials – there is a growing trend towards a circular economy in which resources are kept in use for as long as possible and then reused at the end-of-life stage.
A desire to stop deforestation and my frustration with plastic pollution prompted me to start experimenting with furniture frames made from recycled plastic in 2012. After looking at strengths, sizes and colors, my designer team came up with a collection of designer outdoor furniture, which was greatly appreciated by the hospitality and events sectors, as well as by individuals.
Thousands of small developing islands (SIDS) are suffering the problems created by mass consumption, as plastic waste from many years ago washes ashore. I chose one of the islands in the Caribbean – Curacao – to become a showcase for what we believe is the new future: collect, recycle, design, manufacture and export to create a cleaner and economical healthier environment.
The recent collection of Van de Sant outdoor furniture is viewed by many as proof that a sustainable vision can lead to design and comfort. Contrary to distant solar parks and wind farms, our furniture brings sustainability right to your doorstep. Furniture is often taken for granted, though it is everywhere and, in the case of Van de Sant, it has successfully become a tool to give sustainability a greater voice.
When we look back in 10 years’ time, we hope that our innovative production processes will have shaken up the furniture industry. Trees will no longer be sacrificed for furniture frames. Instead shredded plastic bottles will be used in chair and bed frames and plastic soup will be allocated for upholstery fabric. We also envision that 3D printing will lead to Van de Sant production locations all over the world.
We make real products from plastic waste, something that we are proud of and that we believe can be replicated in many more industries. Our impact may currently be small in the furniture industry, but if we can help the industry become more innovative, we have reached our goal.
Humankind has produced a billion tons of plastic and cut down a billion trees – but the furniture industry can do something about it. We clean up what we have all left behind, and make people realise that recycling is attractive. I am no longer afraid to say that sustainability is sexy and I'm proud that Van Sant is proof of that.
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