An advocate for avoiding waste, furniture manufacturer The Senator Group developed an entire ecosystem with its recycling factories. It collects outdated furniture from clients and competitors alike, transforming it into reusable material for future pieces.
An hour outside of Manchester, rain drizzles upon the chartreuse green grass. Inside a factory, Joey labors diligently on his woodworking task. A few buildings down, other robots like him schlep fabrics from a conveyer to a chair frame. Joey is just one of many robots that live on campus, 1.5 million square feet of factory space in the U.K. where furniture is not only produced, but is broken down and recycled.
A block down the street, a latch on a semi truck screeches open to disgorge a few tons of furniture. The cargo came from off-campus—from a local business, or even a competitor—as did several tons of material and furniture this year. Some is given to charity, while other pieces are taken apart.
After being broken down, plastics and wood are turned into pellets for reuse as raw materials or to heat and power the plant. Avoiding waste at almost all cost, the parent company The Senator Group produces furniture that is almost 100% recycled under its brand names Allermuir, Senator and Toresen.
We recycle an average of 1,000 items of furniture each week for our clients.
Learn more about how they recycle various materials here.
How It all Began
When chairman Colin Mustoe put passion into action in 1976 and began designing and manufacturing office furniture, The Senator Group emerged. When the company created the Trillipse chair designed by Paul Brooks, it gained immediate success and was picked up by American furniture company La-Z-Boy, licensed by Herman Miller.
“As you grow as a company, you have to become more efficient with things,” a representative from Allermuir explained to ArchiExpo e-Magazine.
As it grew, the company asked suppliers for a price decrease, only to be rebuffed. Taking matter into their own hands, (literally) the corporation began supplying all of their own raw resources, with the exception of textiles. Before long, it developed two recycling plants on its campus and established its own logistics systems.
We’d go to our customers and they’d say, Ugh, it’s going to take $22,000 to get rid of our existing furniture. We’d say, Don’t worry Mr. Furniture, we’ll take that off your hands.
Today, this recycling venture has become a business. Sustain™ collects packaging and furniture waste in the U.K., while also offering furniture remanufacture and recycling.
With around 100 semi trucks throughout Europe, it picks up furniture from clients. Some local businesses even drop waste off.
“We want to make sure that these old products are not just sitting in a landfill. We want to make sure that they’ll be recycled properly. It wasn’t designed to make a profit, but it actually does.”
Is the system perfect? The company is, “leaving a large footprint, but we’re striving to make steps towards becoming more green, towards a net zero outlook. It’ll never happen, but you can strive to try to get towards it, and, if anything, you’re still doing better than the ones who aren’t.”
“It’s a step process. You finish that, you go to the next step. Then you ask, How else can we get better? If we weren’t serious, we wouldn’t have spent millions of dollars on these two recycling plants.”
From a Designer’s Point of View
As The Senator Group’s demands for both quality and excellence are ambitious, the company insists on certain standards and principles when working with their designers. The Senator Group has set the stage for a particular working relationship with industry trailblazers.
“They have rigorous testing facilities, and strength and durability are always set high on the agenda, which means products always go to market very well tested,” commented Luke Pearson of PearsonLloyd, which has done several designs for Allermuir.
Designers are guided to consider the essence of the materials they use and to develop efficient processes. Mark Gabbertas, another designer working with Allermuir, relayed that:
We do this automatically nowadays, but one gets the distinct impression that this is not a lip service paying exercise, but an integral part of their DNA.
He also pointed out that their specific practices are reassuring to designers. “It seems to me that being an industry leader brings responsibilities, and Allermuir/Senator have embraced these. To us as designers, we don’t always have the luxury of knowing that we are working with a company that takes its environmental responsibilities so seriously, and it is massively reassuring to know this is the case.”
Over time, the company has come to stress the importance of understanding materials and the need for perfection. It also has helped designers to grow and develop in their own approach to design and to think in terms of materials. Pearson noted that he has learned to “take more time to get it right and give the right value to the process.”
This is the only way to get products to have a long life. The longer they last, the less impact they have.
Through this designer-company relationship, the designers have cultivated a keener eye in terms of production and how far one can take sustainable manufacturing and recycling. Companies today need to, “use less better and do it less often. Everybody has, over the last 10 years or so, made too much too quickly and the market should slow down a bit, ” Pearson concluded.
Gabbertas agreed that, “the most environmentally sensible approach is to design in a way that encourages people to purchase less, but better.”
Companies today have something to learn from The Senator Group and Allermuir, Gabbertas continued. “They are one of the most pioneering companies in their attitude towards a sustainable design and manufacturing process, and this then sets the bar for other companies to follow.”
Next up on the designer-collaboration forecast is Axyl, a collection designed for Allermuir by Benjamin Hubert, the founder of Layer. Debuting the designer-company coalition, the sustainability-focused furniture collection was created for Design Frontiers, an exhibition that ran parallel to the London Design Festival in September. Covering three gallery rooms, Axyl took the form of an architectural installation.