NeoCon takes on the sustainability challenge

Cambium's Carbon Smart Wood is made from wood that normally would end up in a landfill. Steelcase is using it for products in its Bassline furniture collection.

Circularity, sustainability, net zero goals, and material choice design and construction issues were primary themes, and global challenges, tackled at the annual NeoCon trade show in Chicago.

While this is not new to NeoCon, each year the topic's profile gets higher and higher, this year's use of sustainable materials and manufacturing techniques seemed to be at a higher level than ever before among the 400 exhibitors. The topic was also a high profile at numerous seminars and labs at the June 10-12 show at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago.

Woodworking Network will be looking at specific companies in the future, but here are a few examples.

Andreu World, which is well-known for its sustainable furniture products, launched what it called the Circular Design Challenge. The Spain-based company won nine Best of NeoCon 2024 awards, including:

  • Gold Awards for Axial – Seating: Benches; Axial – Seating: Modular; Flex Armchair Stool – Seating: Stools; Bolete Café – Tables: Cafék; Brezal Occasional Table – Furniture: Tables;
  • Gold Sustainability Awards: Bolete Chair – Seating: Guest; Bolete Conference Table – Tables: Communal. 
  • Silver Award winners, including, Afuera – Furniture: Seating, and Brezal Occasional Table – Tables: Occasional.

Jesús Llinares, CEO of Andreu World, said that the "climate emergency is a major challenge that requires a new industrial revolution in the way we design, manufacture and distribute globally. A challenge that we must face collectively." 

The Circular Design Challenge is a call to action to the entire industry under the slogan Manufacturing a Better World. This challenge seeks to address the urgent need for a new vision in design, manufacturing and distribution that is more sustainable on a global scale.

It is a call to adopt practices such as ecodesign, zero waste management and carbon neutral footprint, selection of sustainable materials and adherence to certifications such as B Corp, Level 3, Cradle to Cradle and Greenhealth Approved. They are oriented not only towards the environment, but also towards people's well-being and health, as well as the full integration of circularity principles. At the same time, the challenge seeks to inspire the adoption of greener approaches in industry and to encourage innovation and progress towards a positive impact on the planet.

Benjamin Hubert's Calma chair is part of the comfortable Calma Lounge line.

Steelcase's net-zero plan

At the show, Steelcase announced its commitment to a net-zero future, said it planned to reduce its carbon emissions by more than 90% throughout its entire value chain – through its products, operations and transportation – by 2050.

Steelcase, which is moving out of the MART after this year and will be housing space at the nearby Fulton Market starting next year, released an industry-first net-zero transition plan, “Power of Possibility: A Net-Zero Future Needs Us All.” This plan outlines how the company is taking action on its path to net zero. Steelcase aims to transform its entire business, reducing carbon emissions from the products it makes, how the products are made and the ways products are delivered. Steelcase also is using this moment as a call to action to accelerate its impact by engaging employees, dealers, suppliers, customers and peers to achieve a net-zero future.

Steelcase's carbon footprint is driven by its products. The company's furniture offerings make up the largest share of its overall
carbon footprint. The company said it is focused on creating low-carbon solutions in its materials choices and its design and manufacturing processes. "In our operations," according to the plan, "we will strive for greater energy efficiency, leverage renewable energy and redesign processes to reduce waste. Our system of transportation — from distribution and delivery to our business travel — will be reimagined and redesigned."

This commitment builds on the organization’s science-based targets set in 2019 to cut emissions in half in its own operations by 2030. The Science-Based Targets initiative, the leading authority guiding businesses on how much and how quickly they need to cut carbon emissions to reduce the impacts of climate change, validated the company’s near-term and new net-zero targets.

“We are at a moment of transformation for our business and for the world we share. The reality of climate change demands that people and the planet are central to the choices we make to forge a more resilient future. This is why we already have established some of the most ambitious carbon-reduction goals at a greater global scale than anyone in our industry,” says Sara Armbruster, Steelcase President and CEO. “Yet, we know there’s more to do. We are going beyond thinking about sustainability one product at a time, to transforming the way we do business now and into the future. The commitment allows us to better serve our customers by helping them reach their own sustainability goals.”

Steelcase showcase's use of upcycled trees

Steelcase is using Carbon Smart Wood for new designs in its Bassline Collection, a line of sustainably sourced commercial tables. In addition to sustainability, the new designs offer uniqueness at scale. They can be custom-made with the option of five sizes, four species of wood and three finishes.

Every year, over 36 million trees fall in our cities and over 85% of them end up in the landfill as wood waste. Cambium is rebuilding the lumber supply chain to save these trees and redirect them to local sawmills where they are salvaged and transformed into Carbon Smart Wood.

Every board foot of Carbon Smart Wood stores 5.23 pounds of carbon, making it a carbon-negative material that customers can use to meet their sustainable building goals and decarbonize their environment.

Haworth's DesignLab

Haworth one of the most prominent exhibitors across multiple floors and even outside the building, will highligfht its DesignLab concept that highlights Haworth’s commitment to innovation and craftsmanship by partnering with talented designers as they lend their voice to the topic of circular design.

Designer Sam Klemick's Play Station communal seating line on display at Haworth's DesignLab exhibit. Play Station features simple frames made from Douglas fir lumber salvaged from construction sites around Los Angeles. The upholstery utilizes deadstock fabrics and salvaged materials, emphasizing circular design principles. 

The 2024 Haworth DesignLab participants were Bill Carrol, Justin Beitzel and Fernando Ramirez from Common Object and Sam Klemick. Their experimental and future focused concepts will focus on sustainability and circular design with debut at NeoCon 2024. Studio Urquiola and Haworth design staff are mentoring the DesignLab concepts.

For example, the company said its Haworth Cardigan lounge chair exemplifies the pillars behind its collaborative product design approach: global innovation, and sustainably made. Created in partnership with Patricia Urquiola, it was designed to support ancillary spaces with a visually inspiring, light-scale form that delivers unparalleled comfort. Its aesthetically striking design blends creativity and innovation for a simple, efficient design concept. Haworth Cardigan communicates extreme comfort and lightness at first sight in a spatial icon.

Its Breck line of office chair was a Best of NeoCon award winner in the sustainability category.

Davis Furniture

 NeoCon exhibitors like Ultrafabrics, Scandinavian Spaces, and Davis Furniture offer sustainable products made from recycled and bio-based materials. Davis Furniture, which was a 7-time winner at NeoCon 2024, employs a transparent Triple Bottom Line approach to our environmental values: to seek economic vitality, environmental integrity and social responsibility in everything we do. We’re committed to exceeding compliance with environmental
laws and regulations through continuous improvement and pollution prevention practices.

Davis's energy policy encourages the minimization of its greenhouse gas and carbon footprint through the implementation of energy conservation and efficiency improvements. Our goal is to reduce impacts to human and ecosystem health by inventory tracking, evaluation and control of chemicals of concern in our processes and facilities.

Environmental considerations are also integrated into our product design and development process. Raw materials containing recycled content are sourced for our products and we continually pursue and prioritize materials with higher recycled content while maintaining our quality requirements.







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Larry Adams | Editor

Larry Adams is a Chicago-based writer and editor who writes about how things get done. A former wire service and community newspaper reporter, Larry is an award-winning writer with more than three decades of experience. In addition to writing about woodworking, he has covered science, metrology, metalworking, industrial design, quality control, imaging, Swiss and micromanufacturing . He was previously a Tabbie Award winner for his coverage of nano-based coatings technology for the automotive industry. Larry volunteers for the historic preservation group, the Kalo Foundation/Ianelli Studios, and the science-based group, Chicago Council on Science and Technology (C2ST).