‘There is more to the circular economy than meets the eye’

‘There is more to the circular economy than meets the eye’

The road to a CE product part 2

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. 

What happend in part 1

In my previous blog, part 1, I mentioned a few key elements of the circular manufacturing of products by example of the Triennial chair. In this blog, I will describe the logistical process of Triennial. There are a few elements we must not forget if we want to measure the circular value of a product, because there is more to the circular economy than meets the eye. It consists of multiple layers, which makes it difficult to rule things out when compared to each other. For example: what would be better, a fabric of 100% wool (degradable & natural) or a fabric of 100% recycled polyester (resource given second life)? Not an easy question to answer, especially when ten such choices have to be made for a single (Gispen) product. 

De productmanager

Mijn ambitie is me te ontwikkelen tot een zelfstandige en veelzijdige Product & Concept manager voor Gispen. Ik vind schoonheid in verrassing en concept, daar wil ik altijd dichtbij blijven. Mijn uitdaging ligt op het moment bij het maken van een duurzame Design Collectie. Een mooie zoektocht die ik graag met u deel.

'Ik vind schoonheid in verrassing en concept, daar wil ik altijd dichtbij blijven'

Sarah Schiffer Product & Concept manager

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Design Framework

We encountered this problem on a daily basis so therefore we developed the Design Framework (see image), together with TNO*. The Framework helps us to make the right decisions and ensures that we keep assessing in an unbiased way. We also wanted to make sure that Gispen is not the only party that benefits from the Framework. So, it is now fully available to any designer or manufacturer who is interested. * TNO is an independent research organisation that is one of the pillars of the knowledge chain that connects science with companies and organisations.

7 subjects

The framework involves 7 subjects that can all lead to a circular product. By asking crucial questions on each subject, you can come to the best possible solution: ‘a wool or recycled polyester fabric’. We use the Framework for both the process of designing new products and for improving existing products. In the previous blog I explained the modularity (assembly), materials, maintenance and upgrades. In this blog, I will expound on the logistical process of Triennial.

Design Framework | Gispen

What problems do we face?


Everything must be as compact as possible for transport. That is the best way to improve logistics and ultimately have a more circular process. The more compact your packaging is, the less ‘air’ you will move. If there is less to move, you will need fewer trucks and you will consume less fuel.

How can we achieve this?

By designing products in such a way that they form a close fit. All Triennial frames and shells are stackable, for instance. When you package these separately it is such a snug fit that there is hardly any ‘air’ between the product and the packing material. This will change radically when you transport the chairs fully assembled, taking up to four times as much space. It sounds pretty straightforward, but there are many products out there that have not been thought through when it comes to transporting them.

Another factor that comes into play is the weight of the product itself. The lighter the product, the less fuel the truck will consume. We optimised the frame of Triennial partly because of that reason. At first, the legs consisted of solid steel rods (a non-hollow pipe). Initially selected for the application of a slender tube that still has a lot of strength. We have now come to the conclusion that a hollow tube can also be applied. The Triennial chair now weighs much less, while we only had to increase the radius of the hollow tube by a single millimetre. And believe me, you won’t be able to tell the  difference!

Extra flexibility

We also gained another advantage by changing the tube. There is a far bigger market for leg glides for hollow tubes. Leg glides for solid legs are much harder to get hold of. We can now apply a universal leg glide with a felt insert for hard floors or a plastic insert for carpet. This adds flexibility which in turn gives it a higher score on the Framework chart.

Future proof

If a client wants to replace his carpeting for a parquet floor in 5 years’ time > not a problem! The chairs will only require replacement of the leg gliders. And while we’re at it, we might just as well check the covers. Any damages or spots? We will simply replace the backrest cover for you, right there on site, no problem at all! And that old cover will not just be disposed of. We have also thought this one through, and we will extend the lifecycle as far as possible. 

Tangible results

I believe that the example above is a good representation of how the circular economy can bring about many positive things. At first I found it difficult to see the benefits of it. I could not see past it being just a thought or a theory. But the more we achieved and the more tangible the results became, the more the people around us wanted to join in. They speak highly of the possibilities. Whenever you take the circular economy as a starting point, which is almost a way of life, everything will fall into place. And as an added bonus, the circular economy offers advantages in many more ways than you would think of. But you cannot do it on your own, you really need each other if you want to close the loops.

Current Gispen Triennial models

Preliminary conclusion

It goes without saying that we, at Gispen, would want nothing more than to manufacture timeless products that no one would ever want to throw away (such as the 101 dining room chair and 412 armchair). I have learned that that is a bit unrealistic, however. What am I to do with the fabric that remains when the Triennial covers are really at their end. I need someone who can take these fabrics and create something else out of them. And if there is a market for it, the fabric that was once considered waste will now become a resource that is worth money. Hold on, a business model! Waste does not exist: all resources that have been used will keep their value which will prevent them from ever being discarded, or in any case prolonged for as long as possible. There is that theory again in which you must believe in order to see the spot on the horizon…which is a good thing, I’m a believer!

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.

Advice & project management

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!

‘‘There are other ways of doing things!’

Rick Veenendaal Manager circular economy

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