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Furniture company EFG succeeded in instituting a circular business model

How can we combine circularity with a sustainable business model? This was a question that Andreas Mattisson of furniture company EFG had given a great deal of thought to. It was only after chancing on a lecture on future adaptive design by Thomas Nyström of RISE that the pieces began to fall into place. 

Andreas Mattisson, EFG

It all started in 2006, when Andreas Mattisson, head of product development at the Tranås-based European Furniture Group (EFG), began to devote a great deal of time to pondering circular design. While he found the idea very inspiring, no matter how he looked at it, he couldn’t make it add up.

“In a circular economy, even the furniture already sold is considered as a kind of inventory but, if the customer buys a conference table from us and later replaces it with a new table from someone else, who bears the cost for returning the old one? And who are we supposed to sell it to when it’s no longer fashionable? I pondered and pondered, but couldn’t find a solution.” 

Chance takes a hand 

This state of affairs continued until 2020, when Mattisson was invited to an event on circular economy and design arranged by the Furniture Cluster in Tibro. One of the speakers was Thomas Nyström from RISE, who gave a presentation on circular product architecture. This proved to be something of an aha moment for Mattisson. 

“I thought to myself, yes, we could actually work like this! The working method presented by Thomas gave me the key to how I should approach the issue.” 

The concept in question is future adaptive design; although developed by RISE specifically for the furniture industry, it can also be applied to many other product categories. 

“Our assumption is that it is not enough to simply design and manufacture well-made, durable products in quality materials, because people will still tire of them,” explains Nyström. 

“There is significant risk that people will replace furniture before it is worn out, for aesthetic reasons or because they are moving to a smaller office and no longer have space, for example. For whatever reason, the customer’s needs will change over time and so must the product.” 

Instead of replacing the entire piece of furniture, the customer can upgrade

Layer on layer means you can “keep your darlings” 

In future adaptive design, this problem is solved by viewing product architecture as a number of interacting but interchangeable modules built up in layers to create a whole. 

“Instead of replacing the entire piece of furniture, the customer can upgrade simply by replacing one module and still obtain the desired modernisation,” says Nyström. 

“This means that you can meet the customer’s needs with fewer products, while at the same time the manufacturer receives an income from upgrades and spare parts and society’s overall environmental impact is reduced.” 

In only two years, this mindset has permeated the entire design process at EFG. These days, they talk about “keeping your darlings” through layered design; the design process begins by considering which components the furniture actually consists of. 

“Take a conference table. Basically, it consists of legs, the tabletop and the frame that the tabletop rests on,” says Mattisson. 

EFG then analyses the functions of the furniture to ascertain which are most likely to change, and will change more quickly, in future. 

“In the case of tables, it’s probably the legs, as people’s requirements for table height has changed throughout history. We therefore focus on the legs, giving them a distinct design identity so that, when the table feels old fashioned or is at the wrong height, the customer can replace the legs and will feel that they have a modern and fully functional product again.” 

One solution, many benefits 

To all intents and purposes, these days EFG only manufactures furniture that can be updated as and when needs change. Mattisson sees a number of advantages to this policy. 

“In the long run, we use less raw materials, which is the greatest environmental impact of the furniture industry. It is easier to work with leasing, as an old piece of furniture can easily be adapted to the needs of a new customer. And, when we offer updates with spare parts, we also create closer ties to the customer, as it’s easier for them to buy spare parts from us than to buy brand new furniture from a competitor.” 


What is it? Future adaptive design is a working method for designing products adapted to circular business models. 

How does it work? Instead of viewing the product as a whole, it is considered as a collection of modular components assembled to make a product that can adapt to changing needs during its working life. Each layer has a specific function and can be replaced individually. This makes it possible for the customer to replace, alter or upgrade individual components. In this way, the product can be easily adapted to new functional, technical, aesthetic or regulatory requirements, and the customer can achieve the desired modernisation without incurring the environmental impact associated with a brand new product. 

Who is behind it? The concept has been developed by RISE with the aim of connecting circular design to business, production, the environment and behavioural sciences. 

Read more about future adaptive design


European Furniture Group (EFG) is one of Europe’s largest suppliers of office furniture to the private and public sectors in the Nordic countries, Europe, the Middle East and Japan. The company’s head office is in Tranås, Småland. EFG has been applying circular design principles since 2020, for the benefit of the company itself, its customers and the environment.

Thomas Nyström

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