Rhubarb Seating’s Commitment to the Climate Agenda: A Small Company’s Journey Towards Net Zero

Like most companies in the UK, and to a greater or lesser extent across the globe, Rhubarb is travelling on its own journey towards net zero.  The reminders of climate change and its impact are daily and the urgency of everyone doing their bit is now a screaming reality.  It is a subject Rhubarb is extremely interested in, serious about and, above all, putting at the forefront of their considerations.

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The company recognises that they will not have been alone in thinking, probably for far too long, that with such a huge issue there was little that they, as a very small organisation, could do to make any serious difference; but they are now very much alive to the reality that actually the reverse is true – it is the accumulation of small individual actions that are what can make the difference, supported by global initiatives bought into at government and nation-state level.

So what are they, in their own small way, doing?

Rhubarb offer a 20yr warranty on the frame of the four leg version of Prima

Well, the obvious things that would be expected, including working towards achieving PAS 2060 which provides a robust and measurable framework to facilitate both the calculation of their carbon footprint and the development of a carbon reduction plan which they can implement and monitor.

They have found, though, that this journey everyone is undertaking to a greater or lesser degree, has a huge number of highways, byways and complexities which need to be factored into the equation and the further they get into it the more there is to consider.

Rhubarb design to minimise materials waste

Just take the whole subject of sustainability – a word that is on everyone’s lips but which means almost as many different things as the number of people you might ask for their definition: recycled, upcycled, recyclable, kind to the environment, free of toxins, increased longevity, ultra-low VOCs, compostable…the list goes on.  And yet just looking at our own contract furniture industry, many of these criteria are in direct contradiction with current compliance regulations.  Take fire retardancy as an example which, for most fabrics, requires treatment with chemicals.  Stain resistance, too, is achieved only with chemical surface treatment, which again is not eco-friendly.  The inevitable consequence is some uncomfortable balances which inevitably compromise eco-friendly solutions but are necessary to comply with regulations in the vast majority of the commercial environments in which we all operate.

Cinema seats for re-upholstery

Excitingly, there are now treatments starting to emerge which do use natural products.  Equally exciting is the growing number of fabrics which are made using natural, waste or upcycled products – one which caught Rhubarb’s attention is made from particulates filtered from the gas waste from the oil industry, without the use of water and with minimum use of energy.  The expectation is that these innovations will be a continuing trend as the understanding and full appreciation of how the approaches to pretty much every aspect of activity will have to evolve and change if businesses and individuals are to respond appropriately to the real and imminent challenges in front of us.

Cinema seats after re-upholstery

The concept of the circular economy is quickly gaining ground and for Rhubarb that has meant increased demand for re-upholstery, in some cases re-manufacturing, certain elements of seating.  The misconception that this is a “cheap” option is being replaced by an understanding that as often as not it does not actually bring any monetary saving but does bring big savings against the carbon footprint measurement and therefore in overall cost.  There are certain products within Rhubarb’s portfolio for which they are offering a full circular service.  They have also developed processes that enable them to re-upholster certain products on-site, saving the cost and damage to the environment involved in transporting product to and from site and reducing the time in which seating is unavailable to the customer.

Library chairs before and after re-upholstery

Overall, what Rhubarb sees is that people are now accepting the fact that following this path towards net zero, with all its various facets and demands, does require investment – in doing things differently, in the realisation that the sustainable option is not going to be the cheapest and that relentless focus and dedication is needed which has a human cost attached.

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About Alys Bryan

Alys is a knowledgeable design editor who is focused on instigating conversations, both online and in-person, with industry experts which challenge, educate and advance the commercial interior sector. Her training and 15 years of professional experience as a furniture designer for the commercial sector makes her uniquely placed to lead Design Insider as Editor
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