Sustainable Innovation

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.