Kinnarps has been producing office furniture since 1942. Production takes place in Sweden, which means that the company receives additional support in its substitution efforts from Swedish work environment laws. Certifications, standards and innovation are other means they employ to phase out substances that are harmful to the environment and human health
“Ecolabels and certifications are good ways to advance substitution,” says Johanna Ljunggren, Head of Sustainability at Kinnarps, who participated in the Befria Möblerna (Eng: Free the Furniture) seminar arranged by the Swedish Centre for Chemical Substitution in the spring.
This applies to adhesives and varnishes, for example, used by Kinnarps. The certifications keep track of banned substances, limit values and verification. For a product to receive an ecolabel, specific requirements are placed on its different components.
“This is particularly important for fabrics,” says Ljunggren. “Our primary means of setting these requirements is to use ecolabels such as Oeko-Tex and the EU Ecolabel. They have regulations stipulating which chemicals may be used in production and which may be present in the final product, such as dyes and flame retardants.”
Kinnarps also adheres to ecolabelling requirements for some non-certified products in the range. Compared with the legal requirement, they have halved the limit value for the allergenic substance formaldehyde, which is used in many manufacturing processes.
“We also avoid using flame retardants in fabrics and upholstery. The natural alternatives available, such as wool fabrics, are naturally flame resistant. When wool is exposed to flame, it chars, which is a good example of ingenious design in nature and which can also be used for furniture.”
Kinnarps uses an emission chamber to test how much a product ‘leaks’. This means that a piece of furniture is placed in a special room that measures the values in the air during a specific period. They are also trying to develop new, proprietary methods of substitution. One example is table surfaces with UV varnish that is completely free of solvents. However, according to Ljunggren, the most important element in substitution work is thinking carefully about the products’ areas of use.
“We strive to have the right material in the right place. If you have wooden surfaces that need to be disinfected with alcohol regularly or daily, you should not use water-based varnishes. The surface may be ruined and the product may have to be discarded, which increases the adverse environmental impact. So, this is a challenge. Instead, we recommend using a laminate or avoiding wooden handles. Sometimes we manage to completely eliminate the need for a chemical product. For example, we previously used an adhesive as a thread seal in production but found a mechanical solution instead.”
Unlike many other furniture manufacturers, Kinnarps has production in Sweden, which, according to Ljunggren, creates better conditions than if production was in Asia, for example.
“Substitution is also a work environment issue. We have strict work environment laws here and, in addition, we are certified according to ISO 45001. This constantly motivates us to find new solutions.”