Beyond Greenwashing: The challenges of demonstrating sustainability in 2023
As we celebrate our landmark 10 year anniversary, we are taking this opportunity to pause and reflect. Over the course of the year, we will be sharing ten lessons we've learned since our inception, as designers, makers, social entrepreneurs and educators.
Our second lesson centres around a subject which has always been at the heart of our mission: sustainability, and how we’ve navigated the challenges of demonstrating our commitment to the planet in an era of increasing greenwashing.
When Goldfinger launched in 2013, concepts like the “circular economy”, and even “sustainability”, were almost unheard of. Yet our founders, Marie and Oliver, had a clear vision to create furniture that was both environmentally and socially responsible. We were one of the first furniture companies that took circularity and community involvement as the starting points for both our business model and approach to design.
Ten years later, we are now well and truly living through the sustainability revolution. Businesses have become more aware of their impact on the environment, and consumers are eager to make informed choices that reflect their values.
However, as sustainability entered the mainstream, we also began to witness an increase in vague, misleading, or sometimes outright false sustainability claims made by companies eager to appeal to a changing market. This ‘greenwashing’, as it has become known, has made it difficult to know who to trust. And as a business, we’ve seen a need to demonstrate that we are truly doing our bit for the planet, to allow our customers to make educated and responsible choices.
The certification dilemma
A challenge we’ve battled with at Goldfinger is what we call “the certification dilemma”. There are an estimated 450 sustainability certifications and labels in the UK. With such a wealth of sustainability certifications out there, it can be difficult for consumers to know which labels matter. And while we understand that clearer guidelines and regulations are important, many of these certifications require an immense amount of time, money and resources for companies to demonstrate transparency and accountability. For small businesses like us, certification isn’t always possible.
We have also experienced challenges around certification in our sourcing of materials. To our frustration, we have often found that clients from larger organisations demand particular sustainability certifications, such as Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) wood, dismissing even more sustainable options that we have offered, simply because they aren’t certified. These include reclaimed wood, donated by partners across London, and timber from local trees that have been felled due to weather-related incidents, disease, or urban development (which we call ‘Treecycled’), sourced from suppliers such as Fallen and Felled. These surplus resources have a minimal carbon footprint, but sadly are overlooked by many consumers due to their lack of certification.
We hope to one day turn Treecycled timber into a new standard, seeking to connect with new partners around the country to work with us to join public and private landowners with saw mills to ensure that these trees are given a second life as furniture, rather than being burned or chipped. And after seeing the increasing consumer need for certification, we hope one day to help create a certification for this timber which would be recognised by consumers across the country.
“We believe that circularity is not just about certifications or labels, but is a holistic approach that considers the entire lifecycle of a product, from materials sourcing to production and, ultimately, end-of-life disposal, which for us, means recycling the material back into a circular economy as well as contributing to the wellbeing of local communities.”
The Muse collection, handcrafted with timber sourced from locally-felled trees, features the GPS coordinates of where the original tree once stood.
Becoming a B-Corp
Despite these challenges, we are committed to demonstrating our sustainability efforts. We are actively working on improving our impact measurement, and every year we publish our annual report, the Golden Summary, to share and celebrate our impact. We have also applied for B Corp certification, a fair, albeit rigorous, process which certifies businesses which are meeting the highest possible verified standards of social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability.
For us, B-Corp helps us to find other like-minded businesses to work with, ensuring that we uphold our values at every stage of our process. For customers, B-Corp makes it so much easier to make informed choices, knowing where your money is going, and the difference it will make in the community.
We strive to educate our community about the true meaning of sustainability. We believe that circularity is not just about certifications or labels, but is a holistic approach that considers the entire lifecycle of a product, from materials sourcing to production and, ultimately, end-of-life disposal, which for us, means recycling the material back into a circular economy as well as contributing to the wellbeing of local communities.
As we continue our efforts to make a positive impact on the furniture industry and beyond, join us in celebrating our 10 year anniversary by advocating for transparency and accountability from businesses that you purchase from. This can be achieved not only by supporting businesses with sustainability credentials such as B Corp, but also by asking three simple questions: where an object is made, who made it , and where the materials came from.
To read more about our impact, click here to read our newly launched 2022 Golden Summary.
Contributors: Camilla Hammar, Goldfinger Strategic Advisor