R&D Material Change

Our research

The clear and present threat to planetary health is forcing us to ask new questions and demand new answers for the way we make, distribute and consume products.

As part of Pearson Lloyd’s ongoing research to improve the circularity of the mass-produced products for which we are responsible, we initiated an ongoing review of the material and manufacturing choices that we have made since we began in 1997. We were struck by how rapidly they have changed over the past 15 years, and we hope that they can inspire more designers to make commitments to circular design principles, with the confidence that they can indeed be achieved at scale.

Circular thinking

The role of the designer has often been limited to the user experience, form and functionality of products. Circular design expands our responsibilities to consider material sources, supply chains, distribution models and the processes of reusing, repairing and recycling.

Design with data

The decision making process of circular design goes far beyond the simplistic matrix of form, function, quality, time and price. Different materials, manufacturing techniques and supply chains can have global warming potentials that vary by as much as 10x.

Understanding the relative impact of material choices in terms of carbon dioxide equivalence (CO2e) presents essential data for designers. Setting benchmarks and goals with clients gives us the opportunity to limit the impact of products on the health of our planet.

Design with waste materials

Small accessories are often made with injection moulded plastic requiring expensive tooling, carbon intensive intercontinental transportation and high minimum order quantities that lead to overstocking.

Our bFRIENDS desk accessory range designed for Austrian furniture brand Bene is made from recycled bioplastic (RPLA: 0.96 kg CO2e) food packaging waste diverted from landfill. In collaboration with agile manufacturing start-up Batch.Works, the collection is produced locally, on demand, using additive manufacturing to remove the need for tooling and warehousing, and radically reducing transportation. As Batch.Works uses recycled materials and offers a take-back scheme when their products reach end-of-life, this is a truly circular product.

Bene, bFRIENDS, 2021

Design for circularity

Plywood has been a dominant material in upholstered furniture frames for decades. As a composite material with 25% of its weight derived from glues, plywood is effectively a single-use material.

Revo presents a circular alternative to traditional upholstery framing. The structure is moulded from REPP (recycled expanded polypropylene) and assembled using reversible fixings that allow material separation, recovery and recycling at end-of-life. The fabric is attached using a drawstring, rather than staples, which allows it to be removed and reapplied without damage. The structure is demountable and 40% lighter than its timber-based predecessor, further reducing carbon emissions during transport. We reconsidered how contract furniture is made to deliver a truly circular product.

6% less embodied carbon
70% more recyclable materials
21% more recycled materials
40% less weight

Profim, Revo, 2022

Design with new technologies

Alongside our product development work, as a further exploration of the opportunities that this technology can offer the furniture sector, we are working with textile manufacturer Camira to test the limits of the 3D knitting process through a series of experimental forms.

Testing ideas around form, weight and strength, Pupa is a new expressive lighting experiment exploring the biological and technical cycles that make up the circular economy. The tensile structure is composed of regenerative and compostable wood with Camira textiles made from 100% post-consumer recycled polyester that includes 75% SEAQUAL® yarn, which recycles plastic debris floating discarded in our seas.

Camira, Pupa, 2023

Design with new technologies

Traditional upholstery techniques use layers of different materials to create an often inseparable stack of composite subframes, foams, springs, glues and textiles.

The potential of 3D knitting to replace composite upholstery with a demountable mono-material fabric on a lightweight frame is an example of how technology can support the transition to a zero waste and low-carbon future. An ongoing 3D knit research project with Canadian furniture brand Teknion will be launched in 2024..

Teknion, 2024

Design with bio-based materials

Most soft upholstered furniture is designed to use polyurethane foam for comfort, which, as a thermoset plastic, cannot be easily recycled.

Our Edge Free sofa for Modus rediscovers traditional upholstery processes using biodegradable and regenerative materials to reduce the amount of extractive resources used in furniture production. The foam-free seating comprises pocket springs, Cocolok (coconut fibre and natural latex) covered with a layer of felted wool. Using bio-based materials reduces the industry’s reliance on fossil-fuel raw materials, which delivers a significant CO2e saving per product and its impact on global warming.

106 kg CO2e vs conventional 308 kg CO2e
65% less embodied carbon

Modus, Edge Free, 2022

Design for self-assembly

In the past, almost all quality furniture was delivered to the customer as a finished and complete product. As brands have globalised, this model created highly inefficient transportation networks.

By transferring assembly to the user, it’s possible to radically reduce the carbon and financial costs associated with transport and enable repair of the product at a later date when damaged or worn. Our Cross Chair for B Corp TAKT is posted in flat packages directly from the factory, significantly reducing shipping costs and carbon emissions as well as the price to the end user. During the design phase, we searched for an archetypal form for the solid oak and veneer chair that would immediately communicate to the user how the design should be assembled – and repaired – almost without instructions.

TAKT, Cross Chair, 2018

Design with mono-materials

Moulded-shell chairs are traditionally manufactured using glass-fibre reinforced plastic to deliver enough strength within a lightweight form. These composite materials cannot be broken down into their constituents to be recycled, creating huge amounts of waste.

We designed SixE for HOWE using 100% fibre-free polypropylene, which can be recycled for reuse, by creating a compound three-dimensional form to provide natural stiffness and comfort in the shell. This design allowed us to introduce 100% recycled material into the chair production when the supply chain became available.

To further prolong the useful life of the product, and overcome polypropylene’s high static quality, we designed an easy clean pattern on the rear surface of the chair as an alternative to standard textures, which can attract dust and dirt.

Howe, SixE, 2012

Design for repair

Learning environments across university campuses are often being furnished with hospitality lounge furniture that is not fit for purpose. Complex upholstery is a barrier to maintenance and repair, which shortens product life cycles and creates extreme waste.

We designed CoLab, for Senator, to ensure each component in the system is repairable. Exposed fixings promote easy assembly and on-site replacement of parts. With reversible assemblies, parts that do reach end-of-life can be removed and recycled.

Senator, CoLab, 2023

Design on a longer timeframe

Contemporary outdoor furniture is mostly made of painted steel, which degrades to failure without regular and costly maintenance.

Sand-cast bronze is a material whose appearance improves with age. Combined with unfinished oak slats, our benches for the City of Bath can be easily maintained and recast in future should requirements change. The bronze material retains its own monetary value, which can also be recouped.

City of Bath, Street Furniture

Yorkton Workshops

Encompassing our design studio, workshop, archive and gallery space, Yorkton Workshops is our award-winning home in Hackney, London.

From the outset, we were determined to minimise the environmental impact of the project. In collaboration with Cassion Castle Architects, we minimised demolition, potential landfill and virgin materials, ensuring existing materials were retained or reused. We repurposed bricks, steelwork and timber joists, supplementing via reclamation yards wherever necessary.

Our retrofit approach resulted in an estimated 43% reduction on existing emissions, and 66% reduction in embodied carbon emissions in comparison to a new-build (timber) structure (source Structure Workshop).

Yorkton Workshops is available for hire as a gallery, event space and location.


Design together

Our understanding of sustainable and circular principles is always evolving thanks to knowledge sharing within the design community.

At the exhibition, we invited visitors to pin-up notes of their best references. case studies and sources of information. You will be able to find this co-created bibliography on our channels.

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We would like to acknowledge our ambitious partners who have collaborated with us to include the planet as a stakeholder in the development of these projects.

Thank you to our sponsors who have made this exhibition possible.