A dispatch from Designer's Saturday in Oslo: a panel on circularity in the furniture industry at the launch of Minus Furniture.
September 12, 2023
Could it be that Norway, with its closeness to nature and flair for EVs, is poised to be the leader in sustainable furniture manufacturing?
Coming off the success of the family-owned manufacturer Vestre and its environmentally friendly furniture factory “The Plus”, there is a new company on the scene. A brand with the audacious goal of capturing more carbon than they are emitting — all the while producing elegantly designed wood furniture.
The company is called Minus Furniture, and they were the reason I rolled into Oslo early Friday morning, stepping out of the Nationaltheatret train station and into a foggy but beautiful Norwegian capital.
The sidewalks of Karl Johan were lined with flags for Designer’s Saturday, the Design Week-type event energising the city with showroom openings, product presentations, and parties. I was invited by Minus Furniture to host a panel talk titled “How to design for circularity: Moving away from the Take-Make-Waste culture”. Being a young design company with a hip staff, the venue for the event was naturally a pop-up exhibition space in the bustling area of Grünerløkka, home to cool bars, vintage shopping and the Acne Archive store.
Coolness aside, the conversation taking place in the packed exhibition space was nothing short of deadly serious. How can we manage to turn the shockingly linear practice of procuring furniture into a truly circular affair, from material harvesting to manufacturing, distribution, and selling?
I had a great time trying to navigate this big topic, and it was made easy by a cleaver panel, consisting of Minus co-founder Kristian N. Harnes, designer Thomas Jenkins, and Cathrine Barth, Head of Circular Economy, Natural State and founder of Nordic Circularity Hotspot.
A few things I took away from the conversion:
• We need to get away from the “Made in Italy” mentality. If we want our stuff to be more sustainable, we can’t ship 5-seater sofas across the globe. The solution might be a “Designed in Italy” approach, with local manufacturing and locally sourced materials.
• The designer’s role in circularity is more important than ever. Choosing the right materials, in the right amount, with the right functionality to adhere to production and distribution, as well as making it attractive and comfortable enough to last a century – that’s a tough job. Thomas Jenkins seemed to lean on his background as an engineer working for Dyson when tackling the task.
• Cathrine Barth pointed out that the need for designers has been underscored by higher office, as Ursula von der Leyen called for a “new Bauhaus movement” when announcing the EU Green Deal. “This systemic change needs its own aesthetics – blending design and sustainability”, the President of the European Commission wrote in an op-ed in 2020.
• We must start valuing products long after the three years it takes to write it off from the books. A pine tree takes 100 years to grow, furniture made out of pine should last as long.
• We must stop putting the cost of a product on the first user. New business models like subscriptions will even out the cost of a product on several individuals, providing an answer to how we shall finance circular products that tend to be more expensive to make.
Will the last part really work?
Well, we need mavericks like Minus Furniture — founded by two former musicians, who are now raising millions to realise their vision — to shake things up and move things forward.
• On the plane back from Oslo I was seated next to a Finnish guy in his mid-forties, dressed in a black t-shirt, worn-out blue jeans, and unassuming shoes. He looked completely ordinary, except for a rugged Louis Vuitton hardshell briefcase, complete with the monogram pattern, that he placed in the seat between us. He informed me that the model is called ”President”, and that if you are lucky you can find them for €800 plus shipping online. “I sometimes say that I inherited it from my grandfather but it isn’t true. I’m actually obsessed by them. I have eight.“
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We finally had our friend Ola Gejde on the pod. The co-founder of Stockholm-based consultancy Diamon Retail discussed how brands can use their Nordic heritage as leverage when expanding abroad, and why beauty has become more of an identifier for consumers Listen here.
• The Creative Act by Rick Rubin. I got this when it came last spring and keep coming back to it. Full of true and actionable sayings, that you can meditate on: “Do what you can, with what you have. Nothing more is needed, and there are no excuses.” He did several good podcast interviews, the one by Ryan Holiday is really good.
• Still reading the excerpt from Gay Talese’s new book in Airmail. Part II here.
• Many people are leaving Renewcell, including Harald Cavalli-Björkman and Nora Eslander, who spoke at Transformation Conference last year. The company seems to have some problems according to this article (in Swedish).
• I first met Swedish Elonroad, a startup making roads that charge the vehicles while moving, when I interviewed the founder on stage in Dubai last year. Now they struck a huge deal in France.