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Measured, by HØLTE

When planning a fitted kitchen, most of us think in three dimensions: height x width x depth. Here at HØLTE, we believe there is a fourth dimension that should be equally important: environmental impact.

Sustainability in kitchen design

We have always been conscious of waste and committed to using the most sustainable and responsibly sourced materials available, but the task of discovering the true impact of our products seemed insurmountable until we discovered MÅLBAR. The Danish sustainability specialists have created a pioneering tool allowing us to calculate the exact CO2-e emissions for every product we manufacture. Armed with this, we are committed to uncovering the true environmental cost of a modern fitted kitchen.

 

The climate cost of convenience

Before the early 20th century, a kitchen was typically a collection of standalone furniture – a range, a sink, a table and a dresser – that would likely be with you for a lifetime, moving from house to house. In 1926, the arrival of the Frankfurt kitchen, designed for compact post-war housing, paved the way for the kitchen as we know it today – fixed, inflexible and ultimately disposable.

The convenience of the fitted kitchen has brought with it an enormous environmental compromise. The panel-based construction and material demands of fitted joinery necessitate energy-intensive production processes, generating extraordinary amounts of carbon. Today, even the products made with ‘eco’ and recycled materials are still tremendously climate-damaging in emissions terms.

 

Calling for revolution

In an industry prone to greenwashing, our move towards total transparency may seem surprising and perhaps commercially foolish. However the issue is too big to ignore. Henceforth, HØLTE customers will be made aware of the full climate emissions of all our products for their proposed kitchen, allowing them to make more informed decisions – even if that risks causing them to bury their heads and go elsewhere.

 

The science

The carbon footprint of a product is the total quantity of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with its complete full lifecycle. This includes the impacts associated with raw materials and emissions from manufacturing, transport, in use and at the end of its life. Calculating the sum of these emissions is called a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA).  

LCAs have been around since the 1960s but have suffered from a lack of regulation, resulting in obscured data and results that cannot be compared. The Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) is a new methodology and standard, initiated by the EU, that will steer organisations to perform more reliable environmental measurements. Like an LCA, a PEF analysis is science-based but it is accompanied by a set of Product Category Rules, specific to different industries and products. These rules allow for more product specificity in environmental impact measurements and thus lead to consumers being able to directly compare the impact of different products. You can read more about the development and implementation of the PEF here.

The tool

MÅLBAR’s tool calculates climate footprints according to PEF rules and presents them according to EN 14067 (Carbon footprints of products) using data from one of the world’s largest environmental databases, Ecoinvent. The data in the tool covers the emissions of multiple greenhouse gasses, including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. The impacts and effects of these gasses on the atmosphere over a 100-year period are measured as a single unit known as carbon dioxide equivalents (C02e). You can read more about how MÅLBAR’s tool works here.

In HØLTE’s case, the total emissions of our products are spread across eight areas:

– Carbon storage in materials
– Consumption of raw materials including production waste and material transport
– Surface treatment, including waste
– Production, including energy, resources and waste disposal
– Packaging, including its disposal
– Transport from our factory to your door
– Use phase (e.g. cleaning)
– Disposal

So far, we have reached the first step. As we continue on the journey we will dig deeper with accurate production information, waste and transport details to achieve even more accurate (and most likely lower) calculations. In addition to this, environmental sciences are constantly corrected and improved while green transitions in energy and waste sectors are gradually leading to lower climate emissions too.

Sustainability is a weighted word that covers multiple environmental implications including climate change and global heating, air pollution, land pollution, deforestation, biodiversity and soil quality. MÅLBAR has started with climate change as this is the main driver for the challenges we all face. The next step for this pioneering company will be to bring measurable data on the other aspects into these discussions.

Short-term change

In response to the data we are uncovering, we have already overhauled a number of our practices and production methods to reduce emissions – and are looking for ways to do more. Some immediate changes include: 

– Ceasing the use of environmentally egregious materials including Corian
– Switching from Formica to Arpa Bloom HPL which uses 50%-lignin resin
– Transitioning to using only water-based lacquers and paints
– Bringing the manufacture of components (such as handles) that were previously produced offshore back to the UK
– Liaising with manufacturers to encourage more sustainable production practices and more efficient waste streams

Alongside this, we believe there are ways in which you can help. The first priority is to try to think longer term, plan as far ahead as you can and think of others as well as yourself and your family. If you don’t plan to stay in your home longer than five years, consider whether you could either put up with the kitchen that is there or make minimal changes (e.g. replacing only the fronts). If it is past the point of repair or refurbishment or the layout or location doesn’t work, focus on installing a kitchen of the highest quality you can afford, well designed and laid out and timeless rather than trend-led in style. Where budget will allow, the big three areas in which to invest are:

– High-quality and durable products that will last longer
Good design to create a kitchen that looks beautiful and works well
– Better trades people and craftsmanship to ensure a higher standard of installation

 

Hope for the future

At the same time as progressing through the MÅLBAR process, we are actively using the tool in our own development to ensure future products are as low-impact as possible, and to find ways of adapting existing products and materials. Our long-term vision is to develop an affordable modular kitchen system that uses low-impact materials and processes and is treated more like furniture than fitted joinery. Such a system will be built to last, and will be able to move and adapt with its owner – rather than being ripped out, tipped and replaced as soon as someone new moves in.

We want to encourage consumers to change their priorities and we want to challenge the industry – including ourselves – to make better kitchens, to find new ways of doing things, to stop designing for obsolescence, and to develop kitchen systems that will last a lifetime.


What do you think? We’d love to talk to you about our work, please get in touch: hello@holte.studio