Sofas showcase circular opportunities

As a socially responsible organisation, Vanderlande is continually exploring innovative ways to integrate sustainable practices into our business model. Such opportunities can sometimes come in the most surprising of places and the reimagining of our depreciated baggage carriers proved to be just that.

A large yellow baggage carrier used at a 2016 trade show in Amsterdam was due to be discarded. However, at the exhibition, Vanderlande representatives met Tessa van der Meer, of We Beat the Mountain – a company that transforms waste into new products – and set out to find a new purpose for it.

Initial prototypes

Tessa, along with office designer Desko – co-owner of We Beat the Mountain – refashioned the carrier into a striking, contemporary circular sofa. Our baggage carrier formed the seat, which was placed on salvaged spruce wood and finished with cushions developed from reclaimed yarn.

The first two sofas developed for Vanderlande are now at Schiphol Airport, which received it as a gift for their centenary celebrations, and Vancouver Airport. These initial prototypes came with a high production cost. However, knowing that we wanted to produce more, we worked with We Beat the Mountain to develop solutions to overcome this challenge.

One year on, the bright yellow sofas can now be found all over the world, with ambitions for more: “We estimate that there are approximately 500 carriers available that could be used as raw materials for sofas,” says Vanderlande Lead Engineer Sustainability Cor Goelema. “While there is a cost to reclaiming these items, we also feel an increasing sense of responsibility for the products we create.”

Circular economy

Vanderlande hopes that the knowledge gained from creating the sofas, will stimulate further innovation to start moving the company further towards the ‘circular economy’.

Businesses and consumers are increasingly being urged to move away from the traditional linear economy of make, take and dispose. While investing in smarter solutions for waste and finding ways to reuse raw material is not yet governed by regulation, it is increasingly an ethical issue for many companies.

“Finding new purposes for the waste we produce is not currently an acute problem,” explains Cor. “However, what we have seen from the circular sofa project, is an opportunity to take responsibility and to ensure that our materials last longer.

“The products we create are essentially a temporary storage space for a material. At the end of their initial service life, if we can recover and regenerate the raw materials, then it’s not being incinerated or going to landfill. To do this, it will be essential to look outside of our own line of business, because that expands the range of possible solutions.”

Material passports

Deciding not to immediately write off waste and create a wider circular economy within the business will be challenging. However, by taking this concept into consideration right from the primary design phase, some hurdles could be overcome.

With this in mind, Cor has been developing ‘material passports’. These will be connected to each sofa and facilitate the further recycling of the raw materials at the point at which the sofa is no longer serviceable.

“Material passports list what the sofa is composed of,” says Cor. “If people want to dispose of the sofa in ten years’ time, then this information could avoid it being incinerated and keep the material viable for as long as possible. This information will be especially relevant if the sofa is sold to private individuals and Vanderlande has lost track of the owner.”

This concept could be applied across future Vanderlande products as an enabler to growing our circular economy. Material passports, as well as being more transparent about our waste resources, could provide a vital link between supply and demand.

Based on an article by Rianne Lachmeijer for