Responsible Retail Spotlight:
Materials

Raw materials and their extraction source are the most opaque area of data for reporting on retail fixture sustainability. We make every effort to understand where our materials come from, but it isn’t always possible to trace to the root source.

Retail concepts that we design and manufacture are predominantly made from raw, virgin materials from within the EU. Sourcing decisions for raw materials are currently driven by the following;

• Fixture design and performance requirements. 

• Material certification. For example: whether solid woods are to be FSC, panel materials, fire rated, or materials that need to comply with retailer or country specific legislation. 

• Standard or non-standard sizes and finishes. 

• Client order date and material availability. 

• Order size. 

• Manufacture lead times

Whilst various systems exist to measure the impact of using different materials (based on the furniture industry standards), our vision for the retail industry is to improve decision making with more valuable data on the source, and impact of, material product types.

What were doing to track our materials.

We are developing a tool to provide transparent information on the impact of certain materials to inform clients about their choices. We aim to be able to report on carbon rating, material volume per product, recyclability, ease of reuse, traceability, certifications and chemical content. 

We believe this information will positively influence the selection of materials through the design process, allowing our clients to make informed choices about the environmental impact and suitability of a material.

Taking a snapshot of materials in retail.

Fashion and trend forecasting have consistently driven the approach brands and designers have taken to materials and how these have been brought together within retail fixtures.

Brand categories significantly affect design choices for materials and construction. Retail fixtures have come to develop stereotypical ‘material standards’ that signify their category with inherent environmental and recycling impacts; 

Our vision for the retail industry is to improve decision making with more valuable data on the source, and impact of, material product types.

Bad habits of retail.

The cosmetic industry makes high use of laminates and resin materials bonded to MDF or similar panel products that are very hard or impossible to recycle. Metals are often chromium plated which has been proven to be highly hazardous to factory workers. This sector also uses a significant volume of illumination (usually LED, which is a positive) that are complex to dismantle at end-of-life and recycle.

The outdoor retail sector sees a high use of steel and aluminium (in various forms) with a high carbon footprint, and wood veneered man-made boards, which use low hazard resins, but are hard to recycle and are often burnt at end-of-life.

How to make an impactful decision.

Materials choices within retail design are almost boundless and designers will naturally gravitate to the ‘new’. This isn’t a bad thing in itself, but questions should be asked regarding it’s source and sustainability. 

We advocate that any design concept and fixture programme has, at its core, a ‘material sustainability target’ through which the designers, engineers and manufacturers can judge and report on the likely impact of the design and subsequent material selection.

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