‘When you ask questions new questions will arise, and new questions after that’

‘When you ask questions new questions will arise, and new questions after that’

The road to a CE product part 1

We give tangible form to sustainability via a circular economy. A comprehensive working method that Gispen has adopted into its main corporate philosophy. But what does this really mean to us? Have we figured out how it all works yet? Well I, Sarah Schiffer - Product & Concept manager at Gispen, can be very brief about this… No. But, what we do know is that sharing knowledge is a vital part of the circular economy.

My experiences have taught me that this can be a real quest, but I am certain that we are on the right track. I want to elucidate this quest by showing you the stages of development of the Gispen Triennial chair. You can read the first part of my blog in the section below.

The professional’s thoughts

It’s my ambition to become an independent and versatile Product & Concept manager for Gispen. I find beauty in surprise and concept, and I want to stay true to that. My challenge for the moment is to create a sustainable Design Collection. A great quest I would like to share with you.

‘I find beauty in surprise and concept, and I want to stay true to that’

Sarah Schiffer Product & Concept manager

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The path towards closing the loop

Design and sustainability are key to me as a product manager. These two features should be used as a starting point for the development of any product. If something is not in line with our ‘design’ or ‘sustainability’ philosophy, it will not be carried through. But that is easier said than done, because there are many more factors to consider. I have made it my mission to find the right balance in this matter. Design and sustainability have once again been on my mind during the development of the Gispen Triennial.  

The designers take care of the ‘design’ part; Anke Bernotat and Jan Jacob Borstlap are discerning, dedicated and precise. This is important because they have a certain vision on design, and that vision will affect every decision that is made. When you ask questions new questions will arise, and new questions after that.

The ‘sustainability’ part is my responsibility. But fortunately I don’t have to do it alone, I greatly value the help of my colleagues, the designers and the producer. 

Current Gispen Triennial models

A look behind the scenes

Triennial has been part of our collection for almost a decade, and on that note we thought it was time to make a series out of this chair. The design has the potential to become a real family. This was the perfect opportunity for us to make some improvements, especially with the circular economy as a spot on the horizon. And right off the bat, the designers got to work with our plans.

Now, over a year has passed and we have got the most wonderful series to show for, a result we can all be proud of. We managed to achieve many of our goals in sustainability, but certainly not all of them. Below you will find a number of criteria against which our products are evaluated, including the bottlenecks and improvements regarding Triennial. 

What problems do we face?


One chair can be modular, but only within its own function. It doesn’t go any further than replacing a seat or fixing a leg. It will only be truly modular when its exchangeability can also change its function. When you can make an office chair out of a conference chair, or even a bar stool. This ability will extend the lifespan of the product because if you can change its function, discarding it will no longer be an option, you just give it another purpose. This is exactly what we had in mind for Triennial, and we have succeeded. The frames and shells are interchangeable and additional components can be added at any time. Mission complete!


This is what we don’t want: pollution, waste, CO2 emissions and the exhaustion of fossil fuels. What we do want is: sustainable, natural, degradable and recyclable products. This is a controversy, however, because what you want is not always available or affordable. Triennial’s upholstery is durable and its frame is made of recyclable steel. The shell is made of plywood, which is covered with a foam that cannot be removed. For now, we have decided to manufacture it in this way. Why? Because there is no affordable alternative. Will we continue searching for one? Of course!

Maintenance & upgrades

One of our objectives for Triennial was to make sure that the fabric is not glued to the shell and that it is possible to swap covers on site (also by the client himself). There are two reasons for this objective.

1. It is easier and more cost-effective when you can ship a separate cover to the client instead of having to return the entire chair to the factory for reupholstery. 

2. The fabric is removable and therefore recyclable, which would not by possible if the fabric is glued to the chair. So, a real must for a circular chair. We have succeeded in giving both the shell and the backrest a zipper. We have had several meetings with the manufacturer and have tested many concepts, but in the end, we succeeded. Mission complete!

Our conclusions so far

What it all comes down to is that you must challenge each other to become more sustainable, and to think of solutions that really make a difference. On the other hand, you must have patience because closing the loop requires a lot of energy and you must realise that you cannot do it on your own. Gispen, as one of the early adopters, still runs into a brick wall from time to time, but it also breaks down a lot of barriers. Needless to say, I am very proud of what we have achieved with Triennial so far, and with the right focus and attention we will accomplish even more.

Follow-up story

Read all about how I continue on my journey, I will keep at it until someday the loop will close. But we are definitely on the right track! Would you like to learn more or do you have any questions about the applicability of Triennial? Please, let me know. By sending me a personal message. Use the contact block on top of this inside story!

Or send a personal message to my colleague Rick, Manager circular economy. By using the contact block below.

The professional’s thoughts

Gispen is in a transition. REUSE > LOSS PREVENTION > LESS WASTE PRODUCTION > Key words when we speak of a circular economy. I believe in these circular principles. I am convinced that well-designed pieces of furniture, both new and used, are the starting point for a sustainable interior. But also that optimum use is achieved by the right combination of extending product lifecycles and responsible use. I also believe that you need to take responsibility for the arrangements you make, and that you need the right incentive to close the loops. There is much to be gained!

Rick Veenendaal Manager circular economy

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