Sustainable Innovation

Social impacts of products

Underpinning company mission


An important reason to start measuring social impact is to underpin a company mission. More and more companies define company aspirations in terms of social impact. Take for instance Danone, that has a dual mission of business success and social impact. Philips aims to improve the lives of 3 billion people. And L’Oréal strives with its ‘Sharing Beaty for All’ program for all its products to have a social or environmental beneift. It is  important to substantiate these goals with tangible examples and report on progress based on solid metrics. How to do so?

Learning from NGOs and philantropy

Social progress is the ‘raison d’etre’ for Non-Gouvernemental Organisations (NGOs) and philantropic organisationsFor NGOs it would be unthinkable not to track the number of people lifted out of poverty, the income generated for small holder farmers or the number of girls educated. A number of tools and guidelines have become available to forecast and track progress , for instance those ‘Global Impact Investing Network’. The reporting guidelines of the Global Reporting Initiative provide inspiration as well for companies that wish to steer on social impact. However, these type of guidances do not always provide the level of granularity needed to steer the social impact of products.

Social impact through products

Companies can create the largest positive impact with their products and services. Through products companies have the ability to create the most significant impact in society: billions of end-users are reached, manufacturing processes can be changed in own organisation and supplier organisations. The choices companies make for their products have a direct effect on the impacts the products have on the planet and people. These impacts are created in all stages of the product life cycle from extraction of raw materials – all the way to the producten, use phase and the end of life of a product.

Life cycle approach

The impacts created by products can be related to all stages of the product life cycle, .’Life Cycle Analyses’ have become a common methodology to assess the environmental impact of a product. Take for instance the standard defined by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) for life cycle assessments in the chemical sector. It is also possible to assess the social impacts along the life cycle. If you wish to integrate ‘people perspectives’ a good source is the Handbook for Product Social Impact Assessments developed by a group of industry peers.

Better for people and planet

DSM strives for products and innovations to be measurably better for the planet (Eco+) and people (People+)  based on a life cycle approach. By 2020 65% of DSMs products should be ‘Brighter Living Solutions’, measurably better for planet or people. Some examples:

  1. Alpaflor® Edelweiss is a personal care ingredient. It contributes to better skin health and comfort, and is sourced in a very socially sustainable way, contributing to good working circumstances and prosperity of farmers in the Swiss Valais region.
  2. Synthetic chains made of Dyneema® used for marine structure mooring are 8 times lighter and 70 times less noisy than steel chains. Users experience a safer and more comfortable use, shipping companies report improved operational efficiency.
  3. Medical gowns reinforced with breathable Arnitel VT® contribute to the protection of surgeons against virus and bacteria in high risk hospital environments, and allow surgeons to work in a comfortable way.
  4. Decovery® is a plant based and waterborne paint ingrediënt for paints. It is a solvent free and low odor product, and reduces health risks of the people involved in production and the users of the product.

Benefits of social impact measuring

Social impact measuring is useful to underpin company missions. Life cycle assessments can be instrumental to spot new innovation opportunities and business differentiators. They also help to train product developers and sourcing managers to choose the most sustainable alternatives, and marketeers to communicate the differentiators in a balanced way. More about business benefits here.

– based on the earlier published article by Karen Maas (Academic Director Impact Center Erasmus) and Jacobine Das Gupta (DSM Corporate Sustainability) in Dutch for NRC Live Impact Day


Dutch Business News Radio Interview

Why do customers want green?

This week I have presented my new book on the Dutch radio in the Business News Radio program ‘BNR Duurzaam’.

Presentator Mark Beekhuis, Jos Cozijnsen and I exchanged about sustainability news and strategies, employee engagement, cultural differences and the new book.

For those who understand Dutch find hereby the link to the radio emission:

France develops Social Product Indicators
November 30, 2010, 4:30 pm
Filed under: Sustainability in France | Tags: , , ,

The Grenelle Engagement 201 aims for environmental and social product labels. These labels should help consumers to make better informed choices, hopefully resulting in preferences for products and suppliers that create a positive societal and environmental impact. Concepts for new Eco-Labels will be tested as of July 2011. Currently product labels indicating social impact are under construction.

The French Ministry of Ecology, French normalisation institute AFNOR.

Measuring social impact of products is a rather complicated question. What to measure ? How to present the information ? A label or sticker ? There are already so many labels on the market that show that products respect certain ethical, environmental or social requirements .. How should this new label fit in ? How to measure social impact ? Impact on end-users, the employees of the company, the society as a whole ?

The taskforce ‘Affichage Social’ lead by the French standardisation institute AFNOR has defined its objectives as follows (1) :

  • Informing and encouraging customers and public and private purchasers on social aspects
  • Creation of tools for enterprises that are already rather advanced in monitoring social conditions
  • Encouraging enterprises to make sure social conditions are sufficient (producers, distributors, ..)

Various parties are at stake whilst looking at social impact. The United Nations workgroup UNEP-SETAC Life Cycle Initiative uses the Product Life Cycle Analyse as an inspiration for assessing social impact. Product life cycle analyses are known as a tool to analyse (see the ‘LIDS-wheel’ (2) applied for the company Arféo). When used to investigate social impact, the UN Group identified 4 major type of stakeholders  (3):

  • workforce (working conditions, remuneration, accidents,..),
  • local community (healthy environment, non-toxic, human rights, improved infrastructure),
  • users of the products (concerning the use-stage) 
  • society (national and/or global)

AFNOR has chosen to focus on social conditions of workforce, in the Production and Transport life stages. This means that thereby the social impact of the product on its users and society, and the impact in the end of life stage will be excluded. It is understandable the French workgroup needs to set some limitations to its scope of ‘social impact label’. At the very same time it brings up new questions about developing complementary indicators that, for instance, represent indicators of social impact of products on users and society, such as health, security or economical progress.

The key principles of the Taskforce ‘Affichage Sociale’ were presented by Eric CORBEL, of the French Ministery of Ecologie and Rim CHAOUY of AFNOR (1)  :

  1. Volontairy principle : A guideline of ‘Best Practices’ with a framework for measuring and presenting social conditions on product level, published April 2010 (5).
  2. No indication on the product itself, but on Internet, a brochure, given the ‘label jungle’ already existing.
  3. Transparency about the Value Chain : the producer will explain how the value chain is being built up.
  4. Mentioning the date and refreshing the information on a regular base like the Carbon Footprint Calculations.
  5. Qualification of the information : Self-declared, Evaluated by a third party or Miissing..  
  6. Addressing 8 social aspects (Principles of the UN International Labour Organisation) : 1. Liberty of association & right of collective negotiation, 2. no forced or obliged work, 3. no children work, 4. no discrimination (work and profession), 5. respect of working hours, 6. respect of laws on hygiene/health/security/working conditions, 7. proper remuneration, 8. social protection.

Emmanuele BERTIN of the cosmetic company Terre d’OC has tested the new framework . Based on the product ‘l Huile Argan bio 50 ml’ she specified the social conditions aspects, using the new guideline called ‘BP X30-025’ published in April 2010 (4).


Cosmetic oil ‘Argan Bio 50 ml’ of the cosmetic company terre d’Oc, test product for the 1st ‘Affichage Social’, and picture of the ‘Argan’ nuts, the source products for the Argan Oil.

Mrs BERTIN has questioned all suppliers and transporters of the (sub) products. For that she needed to trace back the origins, production and transport of the glass bottle, the Argan oil, the metal cork and the cardboard box.

The resulting schemes show a breakdown of product components against the primary social indicators, applied for the Product Life Stages Production and Transport. See below a part of the large scheme for the Production Phase. Following the guideline, for every element, Mrs BERTIN has indicated :

  • 0: no information
  • 1 : if the supplier has directly supplied the information
  • 1bis : if the supplier has supplied the information from one of his suppliers
  • 2 : if the information has been validated by a third party
  • 2bis : if the information has been validated by a third party controlling a supplier


Findings and discussion Mrs BERTIN shares her experiences with the audience of interested people at AFNOR in St Denis 16th of November 2010. She remarks that, contrary to her expectations, suppliers were OK to take time to answer her questions. They are getting used to answer questions from professional customers, notably now companies are launching environmental audits for ISO 1001 certification for instance. However, despite reminders, it was not possible to find all information.

Generally speaking, the public audience fears that suppliers give political correct answers in surveys (for instance about working hours or other working conditions). In this case Mrs BERTIN is confident that due to the close relationship with suppliers one can assume the correctness of the information.

Mrs BERTIN recommends the development of a small sign or logo would be good, showing that for the given  a ‘Social Conditions’ audit has been made to be found on the companies website.

Inspiration for European application. The studies and developments around the ‘Eco-Etiquette’ and now the ‘Etiquette Social’ are not only of interest for France, but could and should also be used on an international level. Only when guidelines are being used on an international level, representations of ‘environmental’ or ‘social’ impact will gain momentum and become accepted.

The repetitive character of supplier questionnaires are starting to become an issue for SMEs with limited resources, notes Eric CORBEL of the French Ministery of Ecologie. Mr CORBEL adds that new initiatives are being set up by French industry to share best practices and redistribute information to professional adherents, eventually to avoid time-consuming repetitive questionnaires. (Comment of the author : One of this new initiatives is the ‘Observatoire des achats responsables’, a new initiative of private parties in France (5)).

 : more about Sustainable Product Development Strategy, environmental and social transparency and co-creation.

Sources : 1. Presentation ‘Affichage Social’, by Eric CORBEL of the French Ministery of Ecology, Rim Chaouy of AFNOR, Emmanuelle BERTIN of Terre d’OC, at AFNOR, 16th of November 2010 ; 2. Brezet, J.C., Hemel, C.G. van, UNEP Ecodesign manual, Ecodesign: a promising approach to sustainable production and consumption, United Nations Environmental Programme, 1997 ; 3. Griesshammer, R, et al ‘Feasability Study : Integration of social aspects into LCA’, 2006 ; 4. AFNOR Publication of Bonnes pratiques pour la transparence de l’affichage des conditions sociales de production et de mise à disposition des produits  ‘BP X30-025’; (51,35 euro ! )  ; ; 5.

French government presents new plan for boosting sustainable development

Jean-Francois Borloo has unveiled his new plan for boosting sustainable development in France. New goals are set to encourage green economy as well as backing the creation of an World Organisation for global governance on environmental issues.

By launching its new plan  ‘La Strategie National du Développement Durable 2010-2013′ government Sarkozy wants to boost the national green economy and fair trade.  The new plan is in line with the bills ‘Grenelle d’Environnement I and II that have been presented previously in 2007 and 2010 (1,2).

First of all, the French government wants to make sustainable products more accessible and to more people. As one of the indicators for this, the sales of eco-labelled products should be doubled by 2012.

Secondly, the French government wants to encourage companies to ncrease their recycling practices, use renewable energy and develop responsible products by taking into consideration the complete life cycle of products : from design, production, distribution until disposal or recycling.

Among the goals (see all here) are :

  • Reduction of Frances  greenhouse gas emissions by 20% in 2020 compared to 1990 (similar to EU objectives)
  • Increasing the part of French national energy consumption to 23% from renewable energy by 2020. Despite extensive oppositions from (fishing) communities in France a RFP will be launched for 600 offshore windmills representing 3000 MW and 10 to 15 billion euros (3)
  • Realisation of at least 1000 ‘Agenda 21’  implementations within local communities,
  • And a reduction of national poverty by 30%  up till 2012.

Special dashboards have been developed to track the progress of a variety of indicators : R&D investments, working women participation within governmental institutions, green house gas emissions, renewable energies, energie consumption transport,  life expectancy, pauvrity, working seniors, jobless youngsters, public donations and general social-economical factors like under and unemployment, income spread, demography and fertility rates.

Sarkozy is also supporting the development of a new World Environment Organisation. This new organisation should guarantee environmental governance on a global level. The next Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit 2012 is ought to be the good momentum (4).

If you want to read more about French sustainability developments I invite you to read my previous blogs on : Pacte Ecologique of Nicolas Hulot that urged for stronger governmental intervention ; Grenelle d’Environnement I focussing on Building Sector and Transport ;  Why Eco-labels are developed to help consumers make a balanced choice, CSR reporting rules extended to large SMEs ; Grenelle 2 focussing on local application ; How to turn around media saturation’ and  Why targeted examples of individual benefits of responsible products and behaviour are needed.

Sources : 1. ; 2.; 3.; 4. ;

Why Ericsson is one of the greenest ICT companies

The Swedish telecoms equipment provider Ericsson has developed ambitious sustainability objectives. Recently it has been nominated by Greenpeace as one of the greenest IT providers. This article will present some of Ericsson’s Sustainability Best Practices, based on my interview with Matilda Gennvi Gustafsson,  Ericssons Sustainability Director, and desk research. Among the practices that will be discussed are Ericsson’s eco-design practices, its new calculation concepts (TCO2) and innovative partnerships with other industry peers, universities and NGOs.    


Ericsson is a world-leading provider of telecommunications equipment and related services to mobile and fixed network operators globally based in Stockholm, Sweden  Ericssons mission statement is stated as follows on the corporate website :  Communication is changing the way we live and work. Ericsson plays a key role in this evolution, using innovation to empower people, business and society’ (1).

The Swedish provider is serving customers in 175 countries worldwide, employing 82,500 people, serving 750 million subscribers worldwide and generating an annual turnover of 24,6 billion SEK in 2009 (2) (2,36 billion euro, conversion rate Dec 2009)

Ericsson has five distinct business areas (2) : Firstly, Ericsson is the worlds principal supplier of mobile network components. About 50% of the worlds commercial mobile broadband networks have chosen Ericsson as their supplier. In addition, Ericsson provides Multimedia Services that make it easy for people to activate and use services, such as telecommunication, TV and collaboration services. Thirdly, Ericsson Global Services is providing consultancy services, including network roll-out, systems integration and managed services. The joint-venture, ST Ericsson provides wireless platforms and semiconductors, which enables more than half of all mobile phones in the world. The last business area is serviced by the Sony Ericsson joint-venture that provides mobile phones and accessories to the consumer market.


More than half of the worlds mobile phones are enabled by ST EricssonSony Ericsson offers, accessories, content and applications (3).

Matilda Gennvi Gustafsson is Ericssons Sustainability Director since 2009. Mrs Gustafsson holds a degree in Industrial Management and Economics and has covered several roles within the Ericsson organisation, among them in R&D and as the Sustainability responsible at one of the Business Unit. In her role as Sustainability Director she reports to Vice President Sustainability & CR, Elaine Weidman. Elaine Weidman and her team are responsible for Ericssons Sustainability & CR strategy and the annual Sustainable & CR report  The Sustainability team is part of the Technology, Portfolio management and Research Group headed by Ericssons Chief Technology Officer, Håkan Eriksson, who reports to Ericssons CEO, Hans Vestberg.


 Matilda Gennvi Gustafsson Sustainability Director at Ericsson.

1. What are the key Sustainability & Corporate Responsibility areas of Ericsson ?

Ericsson has defined different key areas for Sustainability & Corporate Responsibility (4):

1   Enabling Communication for all : Ericsson wants to make telecommunication services more accessible and affordable for everyone, in line with the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. Among the initiatives that supports these goals is ‘Weather Info for all’. This project revolutionises weather monitoring in Africa. The project is on the fruit of a partnership with the World Meteorological Organization, the World Bank, mobile operator Zain, Orange and MTN and the Earth Institute. It aims roll out up to 5000 automatic weather observation stations throughout Africa, using Ericsson mobile networks (5).

2   Reducing Environmental Impact : Ericsson is using Life Cycle Analyses and Design for Environmental methodologies to study and reduce its environmental impact. The methodologies allow to analyse the complete life cycle, including activities at the telecom operator premises and the end-user context. Ericsson calculates its life-cycle GreenHouseGas emissions every year. In 2009 the company has managed to achieve the 10% incremental reduction it had aimed for and it on track with the CO2 emissions reduction goal of 40% by 2013 (baseline 2008) across the product life cycle.  

Ericsson closely tracks it Total Life Cycle CO2 Footprint. In all domains Ericsson has realised a substantial decrease of CO2 emissions (6).

3 Enabling a low-carbon economy : Ericsson believes that the ICT sector can play an important role to reduce other sectors emissions by offering solutions that can facilitate other sector developments with carbon-low alternatives. One industry study, SMART 2020 (7) estimates that ICT has the potential to reduce overall CO2e emissions by around 15 per cent by 2020. It can do this across many areas of society through solutions such as virtual meetings, smart buildings, e- and m-health, smart grids, smart metering, e-and m-learning, smart consumption and de­materialization

Ericsson wants to support these developments with factual analyses and CO2 measurements, such as its recent study ‘Measuring Emissions Right – Accessing the Climate positive Effects of ICTs. The whitepaper describes a methodology, key findings and case studies of calculating carbon emissions of ICT services. Ericsson estimates that smart use of broadband-enabled services can reduce CO2 emissions by a factor of 10kg to 100kg; in other words : The use of a telecom service that emits 1kg of CO2 may enable a 10kg to 100kg reduction in CO2 emissions.


Elements to consider when assessing the CO2 emissions of an ICT service (Ericsson whitepaper ‘Measuring Emissions’ (8)).

4  Conducting Business Responsibility : The Ericsson Group Management System (EGMS) includes policies, directives and guidelines for business processes and risk management applied globally. 

Caring for the community: Ericsson targets projects that are aligned with its business goals for affordable, accessible communication for all and environmentally sustainable technologies. The Ericsson Group sets the underlying criteria for sponsorship activities, the innovation and decision-making take place at the local level as greatest impact can be achieved where local needs are understood. Ericsson Response is the global initiative that deploys employees and technologies to support the UN and other humanitarian organizations when a disaster occurs. Among the actions are the rapid deployment of communications solutions encompassing Ericsson technologies and skills to support and respond to the communication challenges of each disaster (9).

2. Are Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility (CR) drivers for Innovation for Ericsson ?

Sustainability and CR indeed drives innovation at Ericsson, says Matilda Gennvi Gustafsson. The fact that the Sustainability & CR department is part of the GF Technology & Portfolio Management shows that Sustainability is a central part of Ericsson research and innovation roadmap.

Partnerships. Ericsson is partnering with a variety of NGO’s and scientific partners. Ericsson is supporting the UN Global Compact, founding member of the Global e-Sustainability Initiative, as well as member of ‘Solving The e-Waste Problem initiave (STEP) and the UN Global Alliance for ICT and Development. In addition, Ericsson has also been one of the telecom vendors providing input to the GSMA report Mobile Green Manifesto that has set out its plan how mobile manufacturers want to reduce their greenhouse emissions (10) .

GSMA report Mobile Green Manifesto presents the mobile telecom industry plans to maintain CO2 emissions by 2020 mitigating the expected 70% increase of mobile (10).

Products that reduce carbon emissions. Ericsson continues to develop and sell to the network telecom operators a variety of services that could reduce green house emissions. The end user services developed by operators may replace individual travel and/or reduce energy consumption and therefore contribute to a reduction of carbon emissions. Examples are e-health distance services, virtual meeting services like web conferencing, distance learning and smart grid logistic and equipment and even includes managed services to network operators : Ericsson operates the network on behalf of its customer (11).

Calculation methods. Ericsson has developed a new TCO2 concept to calculate both the Total Cost of Ownership as well as carbon emissions of solutions. With this concept, network operators are better informed about the greenhouse gas emissions of their existing or new networks, which they need to report and manage. They are informed how to reduce power consumption on a node level and put more traffic through their network (12).

Scheme of the Ericsson TCO2 concept that combines financial and carbon footprint calculations (12).

[Note : Ericsson is combining financial and ecological in an inspiring way. If you are interested in other examples of combining TCO and ecological impact calculations, I invite you to read the examples of in waste treatment at the French Veolia Environnement as well as the Dutch Chemical Company Akzo Nobel who combines financial and ecological impact figures for large investments].

The 50/50% Joint Venture Sony Ericsson, operating independently of the Ericssons company, has been recently awarded in the Greenpece ‘Guide to Greener Electronics’ as one of the most Green ICT providers. Greenpeace comments (12) : ‘Sony Ericsson It is the best performer on the toxic chemicals criteria [….], first to score full marks on all chemicals criteria. It also does well on energy. All Sony Ericsson products are already free from PVC vinyl plastic and brominated flame retardants (BFRs), with the exception of [..] components [..] being phased out. Sony Ericsson has already met the challenge of the new criterion on chemicals by banning antimony, beryllium and phthalates from new models launched since January 2008. Moreover, Sony Ericsson is one of only two companies [….] that is proactively lobbying in the EU for the revision of the RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances in electronics) Directive to adopt a 3 to 5 year timeline for further restrictions on organo-chlorine and bromine substances’.



Sony Ericsson has been awarded as one of the most Green ICT providers by Greenpeace ‘Guide to Greener Electronics’ (13).

3. How does the economical crisis effect the Sustainability Objectives of Ericsson ?

Matilda Gustafsson explains that the Sustainability objectives remain unchanged. However with the increasing focus on cost control, energy efficiency has become even more important since that drives operational cost. 

 4.  What are outlooks for Ericsson ?

Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility will continue to play a key role within the company, according to Mrs Gennvi Gustafsson. Being part of the central innovation department of Ericsson, the GF Technology & Portfolio Management, Mrs Gennvi Gustafsson and her colleagues are cooperating with all departments on sustainability & CR challenges and improving processes and products that respond to these challenges.

The fact that Ericsson is rooted in Swedish culture and is supplying customers on a worldwide scale since more than 130 years, helps Ericsson to be one of the greenest ICT companies, states Matilda Gennvi Gustafsson. Sweden is one of the countries in the world where the citizens, city officials, executives and media are the most aware about the planets sustainability challenges.

An illustration of Swedish front leading Sustainability role is the city of Stockholm, where Ericsson resides: Stockholm has been recently nominated as the first European Green City 2010 (14).

  • Stockholm has an extensive integrated City administrative system that guarantees that environmental aspects being considered in budgets, operational planning, reporting and monitoring.
  • Taxis are driving on biogas, waste is recycled or used for district heating, sea and waste water are used to heat or cool buildings, transport on bike is encouraged, all buses run on biogas, to name just a few initiatives.
  • The City has cut carbon dioxide emissions by 25 per cent per inhabitant since 1990
  • Lastly it wants to be fossil fuel free by 2050.


Stockholm, European Green City 2010.


Sources :

















New Era has arrived : Higher business performance becomes main driver for Sustainability

Today’s CEOs are determined to create sustainable business. ‘Social Responsiblity’ remains a driver. The new ‘Leitmotif’  however is truly commercial : higher business performance through lower costs, stronger customer relationships and increased revenues.

Accenture and the United Nation Global Compact have recently published the results of their global study based on 750 surveys and 50 in-depth interviews with CEOs of large companies (1, 2).

‘A New Era’ has arrived, according to Accenture and Global Compact : Sustainability is now considered to be business critical from now and onwards. Among the key conclusions of the study are :

No less than 93% of the interviewed CEOs believe that Sustainability will be critical to future success of their business. 72% say actions on sustainability issues are important to strengthening their brand, customer trust and company reputation.

Economical downturn has raised the importance of sustainability, according to 80% of the CEOs.

CEOs urge now to actively engage and create sustainable solutions after the ‘defense’ mode due to the economical crisis.

Customers are considered to be the most important stakeholders when it comes to Sustainability, according to 58%. CEOs observe an increasing demand for products and services that address sustainability concerns. And there is no time to waste !

Employees are the second important stakeholders (45%). Hence the importance of internal training on Sustainability issues.

Implementation of Sustainability Strategies. 88% of the CEOs state that sustainability should be implemented through the value chain. Oly (54%) admit that this has been properly done in their own entreprise.

Among the recommendations of Accenture and Global Compact are :

  • Customer research on requirements for sustainable products is essential to make the right choices in new product development.
  • More and accurate information should be provided to customers, leveraging new technologies such as social media where appropriate.
  • Sustainability principles should be built into innovation agendas from design and throughout the lifecycle of product development.

The recommendations match well the findings of The Green Take following interviews with Sustainability Directors in Europe in 2009 and 2010, of which highlights have been published on this blog.  To name three of them :

  • Sustainability is seen as a business opportunity and a way to survive the (next) economical crisis.
  • Customers are considered to be the most important stakeholders to drive Sustainable Development. They request sustainable product alternatives that help them to to manage or reduce their environmental footprint and perform in a socially responsible way.
  • Customer Driven Innovation,  Life cycle analyses, Design for Environment and Co-creation will be key for successful sustainable innovation. 

Source : 1. Nieuwsbrief Duurzaam Ondernemen,, 2. A new era, an Accenture and Global Compact survey,

Office Furniture Manufacturer Arféo Using Cradle2Cradle Principles

The French office manufacturer Arféo offers a fully sustainable office portfolio. No ‘green product extensions’. 


Arféo was founded as ‘Air et Feu’ in Argenteuil, near Paris, in 1849. The first products of  ‘Air et Feu’ were glass and mechanical tools. The company moved to Chateaux-Gontier in 1961, which is 300 km south west of Paris. Office furniture became core business as of 1967. The company was rebranded in 1999 to ‘Arféo’ (1).

Within Top 5 of French office suppliers. In 2008 Arféo has established a position among the top French office suppliers, with 274 employees, an annual turnover of 30 million euros and three production centers; in Chateau-Gontier (metal plate furniture, 17000m3), in Chinon (wooden cabinets) and in La Pommeraye (melamine and stratified furniture).


Mrs Metivier, Manager Sustainable Development and Mrs Caillard, Directeur Marketing

Colette Metivier is Manager Customer Satisfaction and Sustainable Development. As of 2009, Mrs Metivier is responsible for the companies sustainable development action plans, customer satisfaction and environmental audits. 

Sylvie Caillard holds the position of Marketing Director at Arféo as of 2008. After having covered other marketing and communication positions in the office furniture sector, Mrs CAILLARD is as of 2008 responsible for Arféo’s Marketing and Corporate Communication, including Sustainable Development Communication.

Arféos office furniture portfolio

Arféo produces office furniture (meeting tables, cabinets, lockers). They are made of melamine, fabric, wood (ebenisterie) and steel.


Arféo office furniture and meeting tables  

Customers of Arféo

A variety of public organisations and enterprises are customers of Arféo. Among them La Poste, Mairie de Paris, PSA Peugeot Citroen, Renault and Societé Generale. At the moment, Arféo equipment is well perceived notably of its high quality image and robustness. An increasing number of customers is now favouring Arféo as well because of the sustainable character of its products.


 Some of Arféos customers

Principles of Sustainable Development at Arféo

Fortunately, Arféo has always been honest and very precise about its ecological performance, states explains Marketing Director Sylvie Caillard. The company has never passed a ‘Greenwashing’ stage where ‘ecological promises’ were made without proven facts. The ISO 14001 certification proves this, as well as the many specific facts about the production and end-of-life treatment on the website and the brochures.

Key principles of Sustainable Development. Colette Metivier and Sylvie Caillard explain how Arféo uses different principles to guarantee responsible development :  

1. Measuring and reduction of the environmental impact. Arféo closely tracks its processes, energy and water use and is also calculating its carbon footprint. The objective is to measure and manage all production processes.

 2. Keeping up with national and international standards, as it is ISO 14001 and ISO 9001 certified and production centres are labelled ’ICPE’ (French Label by Ministery of Ecology in France). Arféo is also expecting soon to be certified NF Environnement for its metal caissons and its Sis-Téma portfolio.

 3. Reducing waste by recycling as much as possible. Arféo works closely with suppliers, public and industry  partners to minimise and return materials waste and to minimize energy and water use. For instance Arféo provides an extensive taking back and recycling process in cooperation with suppliers and recycle centers.

3. Developing Eco-Responsible (Cradle2Cradle). All life cycle stages are kept in mind whilst developing products, production and transport : from development phase, via production and transport up till use and end-of-life phase,. See next paragraph on Lifecycle Design Strategies.


Caisson ‘Nomade’

5. Mobilising employees. Employees are very much involved, due to Mrs Metivier efforts. Arféo encourages employees to recycle their household waste and ban paper advertisements from their post boxes. Arféo has posted its candidature for the European week ‘Reduisons nos Dechets’ contest, with the Stop Pub Employee Campaign and the new Painting Lane. Madame Metivier is informing employees about environmental trends and informing them about daily ‘eco-gestes’. An example :


Part of Arféo’s employees internal environmental mobilisation : affiche that asks employees to reduce their water consumption.

6.      Social responsible employer, Arfeo invests in a good balance male and female employees and a constructive training of young candidates knowing a substantial part of the current workers population is over 50 years old.  


Constructing a metal vestiaire

Life Cycle Analyses with the LIDS Wheel

Arféo has implemented cradle2cradle principles of life cycle design principles, before it was called so. Still, one of the famous models of the lifecycle design strategies (LIDS, see below) is very much of use to pinpoint all elements and show new directions for further development :


Lifecycle Design Strategies Wheel (LIDS), van Hemel, C. 1997. “Eco- design, empirically explored’ Thesis, Delft University of Technology, 1998. 

Looking at the principles in place at Arféo we see that they are well spread over the Lifecyle of a product.

Product Life Cycle Phase Examples at Arféo
1 Low Impact Materials – panels are made of PEFC wood (French eco-label for durable wood), with less than 8 mg/100g formaldehyde (class E1).- use of vinyl glue and water solvable paint. steel at Chateau-Gontier factory are made of 30% recycled and 70% virgin material. 
2. Reduction of Materials – products are designed with a optimum thickness and robustness, thin enough to safe materials but robust enough to guarantee safety and en optimal lifetime. 
3. Low Eco-Impact Production – most effective material use of steel plates (cutting scheme)- 100% of the materials used in production are recyclable and 95% are recycled : transported back to the supplier (steel, melamine, fabric) or to a waste treatment and recycle centre (paper, cardboard, polystyrene, fabric, plastic packaging batteries).- the new GEMA painting lane has decreased paint waste from 50% down to 1 to 10%. A thin layer (60 micron) of a 50% epoxy and 50%  polyether powder is applicated using an electro-statique procedure. The paint powder that fells on the ground is reinjected in the system.                                                                                                     – the hot air produced by the paint convection oven re-used in the heating system of the factory with a thermal pump. 
4. Low Eco-Impact Distribution – packaging is limited to a minimum and just cardboard- the truck fill percentage has been increase to over 85% which means that Arféo could have less trucks on the road and reduce green house gas emissions substantially.  
5. Low Eco-Impact Use – no particular actions 
6 Optimise Lifespan – products are designed for long term use (tables > 5 ys, seats > 3 y) with a timeless design and using solid and rigid materials, a timeless design and modular construction. Renault, for instance, is using a Arféo service allowing to keep and re-use the table metal frame but only change the table melamine plate in case of need. 
7. Optimise End of Life System – extensive recycle service in place. Abandoned furniture is collected, taken apart and send to recycling centers for fabric, steel and plastics.  
X New concept development – much attention to ergonomic and safety standards- modular design allowing usage by people of different sizes 


GEMA Painting Lane : Surface preparation, painting process and oven, significantly reducing the amount of paint and energy consumption.

Conclusion : The Lifecycle Model shows that Arféo has already many practices in place in all Lifecycle Phases. The model however can help to precise and to continue to improve the product, production and recycling development process.

Trends and Developments

Mrs Metivier et Mrs Caillard foresee different trends and developments, both at Arféo and in the office furniture industry in general :

Arféo will continue to train its employees to be aware about environmental challenges. Mrs Metivier will continue to communicate about good practices of recycling, collecting separated waste and reducing water, energy and materials spend, at home as well as in professional environments.

Standardisation (ISO) and certification (Eco-Labels) are good instruments. However, the costs of certification and audits (several thousand euros each), as well as participation (!) in the certification creation workshops can be a real threshold for SMEs. This means that the large enterprises will easier obtain new labels and norms and therefore have a competitive advantage. If the French government wants to stimulate innovation at SME companies, it would be good if these prices of public institutions would lower.

Communication about Sustainable Initiatives in the sector will intensify. Arféo has been one of the first to explain about sustainability. This will certainly be followed up by the competition. However, the company is convinced to be ahead. It will therefore continue to put all efforts in improving its products, from a functional, design and environmental viewpoint. Arféo continues to monitor and manage its ecological footprint. It also continues to work with external designer to guarantee a timeless and quality design of its furniture.

 Sources : 1. ‘Mobilier de bureau Le renouveau d’Arféo, 160 ans d’existence et l’aventure poursuit ! PNP No 315,  juillet 2009.