Sustainability at Vitra | A discussion with Christian Grosen Ramussen, Chief Design Officer

As the entire world moves towards a production and consumption behavior that shows as much respect for resources and the planet as possible, sustainability is a topic that has gained importance and makes us wonder to what extent we can be part of change.

Vitra is one of the European brands that have innovated since their inception, with an undeniable emphasis on the quality of design and its role in making people’s lives better, in all respects. We spoke with Christian Grosen Ramussen, Chief Design Officer at Vitra, about how sustainability is viewed today in the brand’s design and production strategy.

Q: Sustainability is not a new concept in Vitra’s philosophy. But how do you see, from within the company, the attention paid by customers today to sustainability, compared to 5 years ago?

Christian Grosen, Vitra: The attention paid to sustainability is becoming more and more important and we strive to inform our customers in the best possible way about our products so that they can make informed choices.

At Vitra, we are proud to say that 97% of our products are manufactured in Europe and we are putting great care and attention in ensuring that the majority of our materials is sourced as close as possible to our manufacturing facilities. We have developed long-lasting partnerships with our suppliers, many of which have worked with us for decades. Sustainability at Vitra is not a project, but a corporate attitude that finds expression in every aspect of Vitra’s work.

Q: Tip Ton is probably the star product of Vitra from the perspective of sustainability, especially due to the new Tip Ton RE model. What other products should we turn our attention to in light of the sustainable way in which they are designed and produced?

Christian Grosen, Vitra: All our products can be considered sustainable in the sense that they are all conceived with longevity in mind. They are not part of the throwaway culture and are made to last for generations.

Tip Ton RE was the first chair we launched manufactured from upcycled household waste, and it has already been followed by a series of products manufactured from recycled plastics such as: Toolbox RE, Uten.Silo RE and many others will follow in the next years.

© Vitra, Photo: Tom Ziora

Q: All Vitra products are based on the belief that a furniture product must be able to ensure the longest possible use. But how is this inclination towards the quality built to last, combined with the speed in which the market evolves from month to month? Do people still choose products to use for decades or do they prefer to change their furniture frequently as new technologies and materials emerge?

Christian Grosen, Vitra: We have observed a rise in the demand for home products throughout the Corona pandemic, as people had to spend so much more time at home, they started noticing how important the quality of materials and aesthetic was. We believe that the pandemic has made many of our customers more aware of the importance of longevity, quality or materials and craftsmanship.

Q: To what extent does Vitra aim to facilitate the recycling and disposal of used products worldwide? Are concepts like ‘Vitra Circle’ or ‘Yellow bag’ feasible for Vitra customers around the world?

Christian Grosen, Vitra: We are continuously looking for the best options to make our products as durable as possible, so that they only have to be recycled after 30 or even 50 years of use, or can be repaired and passed on from one generation to the next. That said, we are factoring recyclability in all our products by ensuring that they can be easily separated into different parts at the end of their lifecycle.

We also offer take-back programmes for some of our products, which cannot be recycled in the traditional recycling yard such as the Eames Fiberglass Chair. We have three Circle Stores so far, near Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Brussels and plan on opening more in the future. The Circle Stores contribute to the circular economy by selling used items from exhibitions, trade fairs and showroom presentations, thus bringing them back into circulation, giving the products a second life. They also offer repair stations, where used products can be brought back and repaired by specialists.   

Q: We know that at Vitra nothing is rushed, and this also applies to the development of sustainable products. What are the main aspects that the company has in mind when it aims to launch new products? Is sustainability always taken into account?

Christian Grosen, Vitra: Sustainability always plays a central role with the development of our products. Our goal is to develop products, which are durable, and ecologically sound and that embrace the principles of a circular economy.

One recent example of this approach is our new office system Comma. It is a very robust system with a long service life, which is further extended by its reconfigurability. It can be easily dismantled into individual parts that are easy to separate and recycle. The felt panels are made from upcycled single-use plastic, which is cradle-to-cradle certified.

Beyond this example, we are working hard on making our products even-more durable, by replacing certain materials for more sustainable options or by ensuring the product can be easily dismantled and its part recycled at the end of its life. A good example here is the ID Cloud task chair, some configurations of which are 100% recyclable.

© Vitra

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