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What makes a sustainable design?

29 November 2019

Explore the future of design.

A passion for protecting and conserving nature has always been a driving force behind our steam bent designs. Here at Tom Raffield we believe that sustainability is of utmost importance; embedded in our ethos and be at forefront when crafting new designs.

But what actually makes a design sustainable? We've caught up with Tom to discuss this widely used phrase and get to the bottom of its meaning.

Our skilled team have created innovative ways to make products that involve small laser cut sub-components (such as our Arame Pendant) to avoid the use of glue in our workshop.

Why do you focus on producing sustainable designs?

TR: Every new design starts with an idea. The more products that are designed with sustainability in mind, the quicker we can move away from the high-wastage, consumerist culture that is having a harmful impact on our environment. Innovation of process and product, the use of sustainable materials and the intended longevity of a design are the key factors that our team always consider when creating new products.

“I truly believe that sustainability should be synonymous with good design, much like quality and function, and that this is the answer to over-consumption and the environmental challenges we face. It’s fantastic to see consumer expectations changing to recognise this too and I hope sustainable design principles will become more widely adopted by leading designers as time progresses”

- Tom Raffield, Founder.
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Our Scots Pendant has been designed to be handcrafted from the wooden off cuts of other lighting designs.

Sustainability evidently depends a lot on the choice of materials - do you ensure you have an ethical supply chain?

TR: Having a well managed, diverse and ethical supply chain is pretty much key to running a sustainable business. This means knowing exactly where the materials you are using in the manufacturing process are sourced from and understanding their carbon footprint. Sourcing components and wood from eco-conscious companies (who provide detailed information and are traceable) is a high priority for our team.

Furthermore, spending time forging honest, open relationships is so important when you work with varied suppliers. Usual supplier relationships are reliant on high minimum order quantities (that often deliver a better unit price) but here at Tom Raffield we value high quality, well sourced materials above anything else and try our very best to not conform to industry pressures.

There are a lot of companies who are now starting to prioritise their corporate social responsibility over buying the cheapest option available and consequently, many are finding that adopting an ethical supply chain saves money in the long term and ensures higher quality materials. It's really worth investing time to get supply right!

We work with small local suppliers whenever possible. This helps the local economy and allows us to find the most sustainable, highest quality materials.

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The ceramic bowls for our Green Range Planters are supplied by Keramica - one of Stoke-on-Trent's greatest potteries.
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We source sustainably sourced wood, including oak from the Pyrenees where the forests are cautiously managed and sustained.

What about the importance of sustainability in the workplace?

TR: We believe that an ecologically sound manufacturing process is a crucial part of producing sustainable products. There's three main areas of green manufacturing that we consider to be of utmost importance here at Tom Raffield...

Low energy – minimising energy consumption across the board (whether that be in the studio or workshop) is key to achieving a more sustainable workplace. More specifically, reducing consumption of non-renewable energy whilst shifting energy use towards renewable sources is really important to us as a business.

Water consumption – Not wasting excess water should also be a priority of every business. Fortunately, there are a many easy ways that companies can reduce the amount of water associated with the manufacture of a product. Simple things such as reusing water whenever possible, installing water meters to monitor use, and installing taps and toilets that minimise water use. Lowering water consumption will also save companies money in the long run. Find out more about how the Tom Raffield team are making a conscious water-saving efforts here.

Waste not, want not – Reducing waste is one of the most effective ways to make a workplace (and product range) more sustainable. Simple things such as recycling waste paper and eliminating single-use plastic bottles from the workplace can reduce waste dramatically. Cutting down on packaging and switching out anything that is plastic, is also a fantastic way to make a design more sustainable. 

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Our studio and workshop are based in a BREEAM Excellent rated building which provides economic, environmental and social benefits (a BREEAM Excellent building is expected to reduce carbon emissions by 33%).
Built to last with nothing wasted: the frame of our Arbor Armchair stands proud in our Cornish workshop.

How does longevity come into a sustainable design? 

TR: We believe that the very best designs are high quality and will stand the test of time. Kicking back against consumerist culture by creating products that will last for years to come and consequently, never have to be replaced, is a great way for companies to be more sustainable. Schemes such as ‘Right to Repair’ are also helping turn the tide against the wave of cheap, low quality products that lead to high volumes of waste and pollution.

At Tom Raffield, we are committed to creating beautiful products that are built to last. We use only the best timber in our lighting and furniture ranges. This ensures that our pieces will last for generations, and also reduces the amount of waste we produce as a result of broken or damaged wood.

Posted: 29.11.19
Updated: 08.06.23

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