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Interview with Tomas Reibring

You work with Möbelfakta. What is Möbelfakta and what benefits does it have for NC’s customers?
NC is a strong supporter of Möbelfakta labelling and we aim to ensure that as much of our furniture as possible is Möbelfakta assured. There are three parts to Möbelfakta: quality, environment and social responsibility. The main benefit for our customers is that when they buy an item of furniture with the Möbelfakta label, they know that it will be good quality because the products have been laboratory tested, that a great deal of attention has been paid to the environment when choosing materials and that the suppliers of the furniture have signed up to the UN’s Global Compact on human rights, working conditions, corruption etc. So, the Möbelfakta label tells you that a product is good quality and has been produced in an environmentally friendly way and that the people who have produced it have decent working conditions. One major advantage of Möbelfakta is that its requirements are in line with the Swedish Environmental Management Council’s requirements, which often makes the procurement process easier. Rather than a long, drawn-out process of finding out which of our furniture meets the environmental requirements, customers can consult NC’s list of Möbelfakta assured furniture themselves on our website and make their own decisions.

Are the requirements for Möbelfakta stringent?
The requirements are stringent but reasonable. On a personal level, as an environmentalist, as far as I’m concerned, the tougher, the better, although I realise that many people, both within NC itself and the industry as a whole, would not appreciate it if this were to be the case. But in my professional role I believe that the requirements are good. The requirements in some areas need to be tougher but I know this is under way, e.g. requirements for adhesives. Also, in the future, I’d like to see animal welfare being a requirement for leather production.

What is FSC?
FSC means that all wood-based materials used in the product come from responsible production. In practice, greater attention is paid to the environment and social during felling. For example, certain trees have to be left and stubs are kept to provide a habitat for wildlife. FSC is the only forestry label that’s approved by the environmental and social organisations.

Are the requirements stringent?
The requirements aren’t too stringent but they can involve a lot of red tape. It’s important to be able to trace all wood back to the original source in order to guarantee that the wood comes from an FSC certified forest. In order to ensure that the chain isn’t broken a great many procedures are required, although I do understand why this is necessary. But the requirements for FSC wood in themselves are good, I think, and I’m pleased that NC has chosen to focus on FSC, and that we’re one of the first companies in the Swedish furniture industry to do so.

What is CSR and how does NC work with it?
CSR stands for Corporate Social Responsibility. In NC’s case, it essentially means making sure that everyone who works for our subcontractors has good working conditions and decent terms and conditions of employment. Möbelfakta stipulates certain requirements in terms of social responsibility but NC believes that Möbelfakta doesn’t go far enough in this respect. Consequently, we visit our suppliers on our own initiative and, in consultation with management, we make it a requirement that workers have safe working conditions and decent terms and conditions of employment. I hope that the supplier reviews we carry out on site at suppliers will eventually be one of Möbelfakta’s requirements. This is essential for Möbelfakta’s credibility.

What is NC good at in terms of sustainability?
When I started working for NC I was amazed by how ambitious the company was in this respect. It was clear that people saw the commercial benefits of an ambitious sustainability programme. We’re also ISO certified but that’s more or less taken for granted nowadays. I know from my training that ISO certification in itself is no guarantee that a company is environmentally sustainable. You have to use the tool in the right way if you want to see the benefits, otherwise it’s just greenwashing. But to answer your question: for me, Möbelfakta, FSC and CSR are the key elements of our sustainability work. In the case of CSR in particular, I’m proud that we’re acting in a socially responsible way towards people in the developing world, and that we’re one of the first companies in the furniture industry that has chosen to invest in FSC. These things are the future, so it’s good that we’re working on them now.

What is NC less good at?
The hardest thing to do is to completely stop using acid-curing paint, which is harmful to the environment. What we want isn’t always the same thing as the supplier wants, and using water-based paint rather than acid-curing paint is more difficult and takes up more space, which the supplier rarely appreciates.

What links are there between environment and quality?
High quality makes a product last longer and means that it doesn’t have to be replaced so quickly, which is a major benefit for the environment. But there are also contradictions, e.g. an acid-curing paint is higher in quality than a water-based paint but is worse for the environment.

Which materials and from which countries/regions should you avoid when buying furniture?
I’m sceptical about rainforest wood even if it’s certified. Rainforest equivalent to 37 football pitches is cut down every minute! The rainforest is an important carbon sink because it absorbs large quantities of carbon dioxide and produces a lot of oxygen. Half of the world’s plant and animal species live in the rainforest, although it accounts for only 6 to 7% of the world’s surface area. How these species affect the world’s ecosystems is difficult to know, so we don’t know what will happen when they’re destroyed. One way of not contributing to the destruction of the rainforest is to avoid rainforest wood.

What are the biggest dangers for the environment in the furniture industry?
The biggest danger is taking a ”Business as usual” approach, in other words, doing things as you’ve always done them. In the short time I’ve been in the furniture industry I’ve realised that it’s fairly traditional, although things are now starting to happen. I also see a danger for the environment in not having proper control over what happens to the furniture after it’s been sold. This means that the cradle-to-cradle approach disappears. In other words, what happens to furniture when eventually it becomes worn out. We have to find new solutions for dealing with the furniture at that point, so we can close the circle and reduce the demand for natural resources.

How do you see the future?
I believe the future is in renting furniture rather than selling it. That way, we as furniture manufacturers would also have a duty to maintain the furniture, which would prolong its life, which is good for both the environment and our pockets. Many people complain, for example, that water-based paint is bad because it’s not as durable as other paint. This could be solved by us going out to the customer and re-painting the armrests and places where the paint is starting to come off every few years. Loss of adhesion etc. could also be dealt with. If furniture was rented, the customer would pay a fixed charge for a concept, in this case having furniture, and the manufacturer would decide whether the chairs could be repaired or needed replacing. This would maximise the life of the production process. The challenge, I believe, is to get customers on board and to get them to understand the benefits.

What should you take into consideration when choosing furniture for fitting out a restaurant, for example?
Choose furniture from a company that works proactively on sustainability issues and drives things forward. That’s the best way to move the industry in the right direction. When buying furniture, don’t hesitate to point out that the sustainability issue has affected your choice. And it’s a good idea to choose furniture with the Möbelfakta label, because it means you get good quality furniture that’s been produced by people with decent working conditions. And if the furniture’s also FSC certified, that’s another plus for the environment.

Who are you?
Name: Tomas Reibring
Age: 26
Duties at NC:
I work mainly with environmental labelling, the management system and environmental requirements relating to procurement. My aim is to make NC as sustainable a business as it can possibly be. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is something that’s very close to my heart. It’s crucial that everyone who works for our suppliers has decent working conditions.

BA in Environmental Sciences from Linköping University, followed by a course on CSR.
Greatest threat to the environment?
Decision-makers’ inability to make uncomfortable but necessary decisions. And also the West’s unwillingness to change its lifestyle – change is not necessarily a bad thing.
A product I never buy for environmental reasons?
Imported meat. Mainly because of the deplorable standards of animal welfare abroad but also because the large-scale meat industry can’t maintain the natural cycle of things. It won’t be long before phosphorus (i.e. fertiliser) runs out. How can we carry on growing crops when that happens? We must restore local natural cycles and re-use livestock’s natural fertiliser to grow our crops. That is impossible with today’s large-scale meat production.
A product I always buy organic for environmental reasons?
Eggs! For the hens’ sake and because of their higher Omega 3 content. Also, I always buy organic or Fairtrade bananas, coffee and cocoa, because the workers handle huge quantities of toxins which would never be allowed in the West. It’s hypocrisy for us to allow this indeveloping c