The World’s Most Sustainable Furniture Plant Opens in Norway

The Plus sustainable furniture factory Bjarke Ingels Group aerial

The most sustainable furniture factory in the world doesn’t just produce gorgeous modern eco-friendly couches, tables and chairs – it’s a stunning work of architecture in its own right. Designed by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), “The Plus” is tucked into a lush Norwegian forest in the village of Magnor. In addition to its 6,500-square-meter open production facility for furniture company Vestre, the complex will function as a public 300-acre park for hiking and camping, and become a landmark for Norway’s climate goals. 

The Plus sustainable furniture factory Bjarke Ingels Group warehouse
The Plus sustainable furniture factory Bjarke Ingels Group office

What makes the factory itself so sustainable? It’s made of recycled steel, low-carbon concrete and locally sourced timber, and it’s powered by more than 1,200 solar panels and geothermal wells. Excess heat created during the manufacturing process will also help heat the complex. It’ll also employ futuristic technology like smart robots, self-driving trucks and a tablet that manages the entire factory. Overall, The Plus will use 90% less energy than a similarly sized conventional factory, and produce 50% lower greenhouse gas emissions. 

The Plus sustainable furniture factory Bjarke Ingels Group interior
The Plus sustainable furniture factory Bjarke Ingels Group manufacturing

The Plus is designed so that visitors can watch and understand the manufacturing process, getting a peek at how Vestre’s sustainable furniture is made. The building is designed to look like a giant “plus” symbol, with the four main production halls occupying each “arm.”  Those include the warehouse, color factory, wood factory and assembly, all connecting at the center. Each wing of the factory features an alternating ceiling corner lifted to create inclined roofs that provide peeks into the production halls and outside to the forests. A central hub wraps around a public circular courtyard where the latest furniture collections can be exhibited, and an outdoor plaza acts as a panopticon that allows visitors and staff to view manufacturing as it happens.

The Plus sustainable furniture factory Bjarke Ingels Group walkway
The Plus sustainable furniture factory Bjarke Ingels Group courtyard

“From all four sides of the buildings, visitors and staff are invited to hike around the facility and conclude on the green roof terrace, transforming the furniture factory museum into a campus in the woods,” says BIG. “An ADA-accessible ramp allows wheelchairs and strollers to meander the serpentine path and enjoy the immersive experience of being among the pine trees. The Plus reinforces Vestre’s vision of combining social and democratic spaces with a future enriched by technology yet grounded in history and nature.”

Designing for Deconstruction: A Way to Make Wood Even More Sustainable

Wood tends to outlast the buildings it’s crafted into, no matter how long they’re in use. Then it’s either tossed into a landfill or rescued for reuse, minus whatever damage occurred during demolition. But what if we designed every single building with the assumption that someday, someone will want to tear it down and build something new? That concept is called Design for Deconstruction (or Design for Disassembly, DfD), and it maximizes the long term usability of building materials while minimizing waste. DfD can be applied to all kinds of materials, but it’s especially useful with wood due to wood’s natural carbon sequestration properties, which help hold onto carbon instead of releasing it into the atmosphere.

“First, wood is a renewable resource and its growth takes place through photosynthesis and not through mining or extraction,” says ArchDaily. “Trees grow in almost all climates, and using local species can greatly reduce the amount of energy expended on transport. When a tree is harvested to make lumber and engineered wood, it stores carbon in the building. When another tree is planted in its place, it will also absorb and store carbon.”

“Because wood is versatile and durable, it can be disassembled and then reassembled into other buildings or other wood fiber products, sequestering the carbon even longer as long as it stays out of landfills. Even if it doesn’t have a construction use, wood can be turned into various valuable bio-based products, such as biochar, which can replace coal and also be used as an agricultural fertilizer.”

Here’s a brilliant example. The Olympic Village Plaza currently in use in Tokyo was built using 40,000 pieces of donated timber from governments across Japan, which is pretty cool in its own right. But all the lengths of  cypress, cedar and larch that make up this 5,300-square-meter temporary village were stacked together in ways that will make it easy to take them apart later, while also drawing on ancient Japanese design aesthetics. When the building is no longer needed, it will be dismantled and the wood will be returned to the municipalities that donated it to be reused in local construction projects.

When you look at the building, you can see how it’s constructed almost like a puzzle. Slotting materials together in ways that meet building codes and could last for many decades but also enable the reuse of almost every component is the future of building, and finding creative new ways to do it could lead to some awesome new designs.

Read all about Design for Deconstruction and why it’s so important for the future of architecture at ArchDaily.

Coming Soon to Mainstream Fashion: Wood-Fiber Clothing

The world is embracing wood as one of the most sustainable materials on the planet. Soon, we’ll even start seeing wood-based clothing on the racks at mainstream retailers like H&M. Suzano SA, the world’s largest wood pulp maker, is collaborating with Finnish startup Spinnova to build a commercial-scale facility producing a new wood fiber that could compete with cotton. H&M joins Chanel and other fashion brands to participate in the development of the material in exchange for the honor of being among the first to offer it to consumers.

Suzano, based in Brazil, is primarily known for providing wood pulp used to make paper cups and tissues to companies across the globe, and currently has a team of nearly 100 scientists researching new applications that could replace environmentally harmful products like plastics. 

“It is not a niche market for us,” Vinicius Nonino, Suzano’s new business director, said in an interview. “We want to be a relevant player. We will compete with cotton with sustainability advantages and also with price.”

Business of Fashion notes that the pulp provided by Suzano to create this new wood fiber has one major difference from an existing wood pulp textile fiber known as viscose: it’s processed without chemicals. To make viscose, cellulose is treated with caustic soda and carbon disulfide, then dumped into a chemical bath of sulfuric acid. This is an energy-, water- and chemically-intensive process that’s also highly polluting. The new Spinnova material will be mechanically processed instead using a technology that’s been in development for 15 years.

“As well as bridging the cellulose gap, the Spinnova fibre also helps fight climate change,” says Spinnova. “Created with minimal water and emissions, it offers a solution to other huge megatrends challenging our planet and worsening the climate crisis; fresh water shortage and CO2 emissions.”

Want to Lower Your Carbon Footprint? Use More Wood

Across the world, demand for wood is through the roof. Lumber, biomass and paper products are just a few forest products flying off production lines right now, putting pressure on timberlands and mills to produce a steady flow of this popular resource. On the surface, that might sound like a bad thing. Doesn’t it mean we need to cut down too many trees? Actually, no – as long as forests are sustainably managed. 

Wood is a sustainable and renewable resource, and new breakthroughs in science and technology are allowing us to use it in all kinds of spectacular ways, not the least of which is high rise construction. Manufactured forms of timber like CLT are proving to be as strong and durable as steel and concrete, giving it the potential to dramatically transform what urban architecture looks like.

As The New York Times recently reported, more and more developers are turning to wood, partially for its versatility and partially due to concerns about climate change. Demand for CLT is so high, the number of construction projects using it is projected to double annually to reach more than 24,000 by 2034. CLT makes use of trees that are 12 inches or less in diameter, which happens to align perfectly with recommendations for forest thinning to reduce wildfires. (A recent study found that Eastern White Pine is ideal for use in CLT!)

While steel and cement generate massive shares of greenhouse gases during every phase of their production, wood stores carbon by absorbing it from the atmosphere, offsetting the emission of greenhouse gases. That’s true both in the form of growing forests and even in finished wooden structures and products. In fact, wood products continue to store much of this carbon indefinitely, keeping it out of the atmosphere for the lifetime of the structure. And when the life cycle of a wooden building is complete, its components can be recycled into new objects to keep that carbon locked away.

The American Wood Council explains a little more about carbon storage in working forests:

“When a tree is harvested, some of the carbon stays in the forest and some is removed in the logs. Some carbon is released when the forest soil is disturbed during harvest, and as the roots, branches and leaves left behind begin to decompose. However, once the harvested area is regenerated, the forest once again begins to absorb and store carbon.”

“According to The State of America’s Forests report, less than 2 percent of the standing tree inventory in the U.S. is harvested each year while net tree growth is close to 3 percent. In Canada, less than 1 percent of the managed forest is harvested annually and the law requires regeneration. In both countries, responsible forest management has resulted in more than 50 consecutive years of forest growth that exceeds annual forest removals. As a result of these trends, forests in both countries have sequestered fairly high levels of carbon in recent decades.”

On top of all that, wood is an excellent insulator that can help improve energy efficiency – and people just love it. 

Worried about the potential for fire danger in high rise wood buildings? Read on:

Learn more about how demand for forest products actually helps keep more land forested:

Forest Products Can Help Tackle Both Disease and Climate Change

Image via WFPA

The coronavirus pandemic has made a few things abundantly clear. Chief among them is the fact that we need forests – and forest products – more than ever.

The loss of forests around the world is linked to the spread of zoonotic diseases, or illnesses that spread from animals to people. As global temperatures warm, disease vectors like mosquitos and ticks are pushed into new, more human-populated habitats, and milder winders are changing the seasonal patterns of disease transmission. Forests are the key to combating climate change, and ultimately reducing the prevalence of new infectious diseases.

In recognizing that we need forests to help offset carbon emissions and regulate global temperatures, we also need to acknowledge the role working forests play in maintaining healthy forests around the world. Actively managing forests in a healthy, sustainable way doesn’t result in environmental destruction. The opposite is true. 

Sustainably managed forests actually contribute to healthy ecosystems while helping to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Setting some forests aside solely for recreation and wildlife preserves is an important part of the equation, but commercial forests encourage landowners large and small to keep land forested instead of converting it to development or agricultural use.

Plus, gaining certification from third-party organizations like the Sustainable Forestry Institute requires meeting a stringent set of requirements that include maintaining forest productivity and health while protecting water quality, biological diversity and special sites.

Forests could also supply us with the hygiene products we need to combat pandemics without producing a literal sea of plastic waste. While reusable products can sometimes be more desirable to reduce waste, sometimes single-use products are necessary for safety reasons. Shifting to renewable, affordable paper- and wood-based products instead of non-biodegradable plastics could substantially reduce pollution while meeting these needs.

Learn more about how working forests help preserve the environment and fight climate change:

The Role of Working Forests in Protecting Wildlife

You might think of a “working forest” as a forest where timber is being actively managed and harvested, and that’s usually true. But these days, a lot more goes into forest management than just growing and cutting down trees. Forestry companies are increasingly integrating conservation work into their operations, hiring wildlife biologists and other specialists, and working with government and non-profit organizations to protect and increase biodiversity.

In the United States, maintaining certification from entities like the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) requires companies in the forest products industry to meet stringent standards for protecting fish, wildlife, clean air and clean water. Active forest management backed by this kind of third-party certification is a proven conservation tool, and maintaining working relationships between business interests and conservationists is critical for the health of our forests.

The Wildlife Society, an international organization working to create a better future for wildlife and their habitats, has written about the importance of these collaborations, and their success in protecting habitat for birds, reptiles, amphibians, mammals and other creatures that live in these environments.

“For the past century, forest cover has remained stable in the United States —thanks largely to private landowners. About 180 million hectares — 58% of the nation’s forests — are in private hands (Oswalt, et al. 2014). Income from forest management helps forestall conversion to other uses, allowing landowners to keep the land forested (National Commission on Science for Sustainable Forestry 2005) while providing conservation benefits. These working forests are vital for the conservation of biological diversity, including at-risk and listed species, including 60% of species listed under the Endangered Species Act.”

Private landowners ranging from huge multi-national companies to individuals are collaborating under an approach called “Conservation Without Conflict,” building trust between the public and private sectors and making a commitment to conservation in working forests. A new partnership established by the National Alliance of Forest Owners (NAFO) called the Wildlife Conservation Initiative (WCI) is dedicated to finding innovative science-based solutions that benefit everyone involved.

“There are examples of success from such collaborations. The first example — a 1,505-hectare conservation easement on property managed by Resource Management Service, LLC (RMS) — is a step toward the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service goal of conserving 3.2 million hectares of longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) by 2025. This easement will benefit multiple species adapted to open pine forest conditions such as the gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) and reticulated flatwoods salamander (Ambystoma bishopi ). As another example, the Kirtland’s warbler (Setophaga kirtlandii) has recently been delisted due in large part to a public-private collaboration.”

“Conservation Without Conflict and WCI are interrelated, collaborative efforts, much like past efforts that have successfully conserved at-risk and recovered species, including the Louisiana black bear, which was delisted thanks to partner-ships to create forest corridors on private lands connecting critical areas… This success means that we all win — the private forest community, natural resource professionals, the public that uses and enjoys our wildlife resources and, of course, the diverse wildlife communities that call forests home.”

Read the whole Wildlife Society report here (PDF).

Image of the endangered New England Cottontail Rabbit via Wikimedia Commons