Furniture, Fixtures and Fittings

Why source sustainable furniture, fixtures and fittings?

The term furniture, fixtures and fittings refers to the thousands of items purchased to fit out hotels – prior to opening, during refurbishment or simply as part of the ongoing operation. It does not include consumable items such as food and drink, newspapers or guest amenities. All furniture, fixtures and fittings have socio-economic and environmental impacts associated with their manufacture, use and disposal. By considering these issues as part of the purchasing process, you can greatly reduce your overall environmental impact and make a positive contribution to sustainability.

What are the issues?

In the past, the most important considerations for purchasing managers were whether what was being purchased was ‘fit for purpose’ and issues such as quality, effectiveness, value for money, design and product lifespan. However today, responsible hotel operators should also factor in other criteria which take into account the impacts involved throughout the product’s life cycle. They may include some or even all of the following, where applicable:

  • Whether the raw materials are responsible for any negative environmental effects.
  • That the manufacturer makes every effort to be resource efficient in the use of energy and water and reduction of waste.
  • That the manufacturing process does not involve any human rights injustices.
  • That no toxic or otherwise harmful or polluting substances are involved either during manufacture or which could affect indoor air quality during the product’s life.
  • That the manufacturer employs from the local community to develop skills and retain traditional techniques and underpin the local economy.
  • That the manufacture offsets their CO2 emissions through a reputable carbon offsetting organisation.
  •  That as few miles as possible will be involved in delivering from its place of manufacture to the point of use, using the most efficient method of transport.
  •  That the product is as water and waste efficient as possible during use.
  • That it carries a recognised ecolabel.
  • That the product’s components can be recycled at the end of its useful life.

The process of sourcing products taking into account environmental and socio-economic issues incurred by each supplier in the ‘chain’ is known as sustainable supply chain management (SSCM). Although it is necessary to set up an internal management system in order to establish an SSCM programme (see greenhotelier Know-How number 11), there are many benefits in the long term and it is an important mechanism to help your hotel to become more sustainable. Individual suppliers and businesses all act as links in the chain to provide their customers with what they need, the ultimate customer being the end-user. By helping to influence the environmental behaviour of your suppliers you can help to shape a more sustainable way of doing business.

Table 1 lists typical FFF items purchased by hotels and the criteria you can apply in order to source more sustainable products.

Table 2 is a checklist of the issues that need to be considered at each stage of a product’s life cycle. You can use this to make a direct comparison between the impacts of different products.

Table 3 lists national and internationally-recognised ecolabelling schemes, through which you can access information on certified products.

Case study: Nordic Light Hotel, Stockholm, Sweden
The Nordic Light Hotel, a design hotel at Vasaplan in Stockholm's city centre, attained the Nordic Swan ecolabel in 2007, demonstrating that thoughtful design can minimise a building’s burden on the environment and even contribute towards improving it.

The company takes an all-embracing approach to its environmental work which involves both commitment and co-ordinated effort from management and personnel as well as taking a long-term approach to reducing its environmental impact in its day-to-day operations. The requirements of the Nordic Swan mark include reduced consumption of energy and water, pro-environmental fixtures and fittings and consumables, the use of eco-labelled cleaning materials and supplies, and efficient waste handling.

With regard to fixtures and fittings, the hotel uses low energy lighting and motion detectors to ensure that lights turn off when there is no movement in certain rooms. Only beds that have received the Nordic Swan ecolabel are purchased, and future refurbishments will take full account of ecological considerations.

Table 1: Typical FFF items purchased by hotels

Item Criteria to apply
Art and decorative items Support local artists and craftspeople by purchasing and/or displaying their work for sale
Baths, basins and WCs Low impact in manufacture, low water consumption in use
Boilers and HVAC equipment Aim for the highest energy efficiency rating possible. Only use models with the least environmentally damaging refrigerants (see Refrigeration equipment)
Carpets (natural) and woven floor coverings Use natural wool and at least 80 per cent minimum wool content. Source as locally as possible. Even international companies are now working with local artisans to help develop sustainable communities. Coir, jute, seagrass and sisal are alternatives for certain areas and are biodegradable
Carpets and carpet tiles (synthetic) Look for recycled content and suppliers that will take back and recycle the carpet at the end of its life
China and earthenware Should be made with local materials and labour if possible
Electrical equipment (e.g. hairdryers, vacuumcleaners, irons, kitchen and office equipment etc.) Aim for the highest energy efficiency rating possible
Electronic equipment (computers, TVs, mobilephones etc.) Ensure that the supplier will take back for recycling at end of use. Ask for models that have energy-saving modes and use rechargeable batteries
Fabrics and linens Use organic cotton and other natural fibres that do not involve use of pesticides; look for good employment and community practices by manufacturer. Stain resisting and fireproofing finishes must have minimal impact on indoor air quality
Faucets (taps), showerheads and other bath fittings Avoid chrome plating if possible as it is a toxic process (see metal items)
Floor coverings (non-woven) Choose natural, breathable coverings that involve minimal use of glues and solvents and which minimise energy and water use in manufacture. Natural cork, linoleum, bamboo and reclaimed wood tend to have lower environmental impacts. Flooring made of recycled rubber tyres is another alternative
Floor coverings (quarried products) Quarries are very energy intensive. Either source natural stone, slate etc from local quarries or import from companies known to operate an ethical policy
Garden ornaments, pots and tubs Avoid planters made from lead. There are many different types of ‘faux’ lead planters made from fibreclay (a mix of clay and other natural materials). Try to select ornaments, urns and pots that are made locally
Kitchen and food preparation equipment (ovens, hobs, microwave ovens, toasters, fat fryers,extractor fans, dishwashers, food processors, hot trolleys, waste disposal units etc.) Select products with the highest efficiency ratings for energy and water consumption
Light bulbs (lamps) Use compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) in place of incandescent versions and new LED alternatives to dichroic lamps. Dispose of broken lamps carefully
Light fittings Give preference to products using wood from sustainable sources or other natural materials in preference to metal
Metal items e.g. radiators, door and windowhandles and fittings Ensure that manufacturing processes are clean and minimise air emissions and water pollution. Avoid metals involving cadmium or cyanide-based plating, especially zinc, copper, brass, bronze and silver plating, chromium plating and lead and lead-tin plating if possible
Paints and varnishes Purchase water-based products with low or no emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in preference to oil-based paints, and select products which have been coated using the above
Plastic items (e.g. waste bins, furniture) Look for products made with recycled content. Ask if they can be recycled after use
Refrigeration equipment (chilled, frozen andambient storage and ice-making machines) High energy efficiency rating and use of latest, least environmentally damaging refrigerants. Note that Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) are ozone-depleting and their use has been phased out; Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are non ozone-depleting (zero ODP), but have significant global warmingpotential (GWP); Natural refrigerants – Ammonia has zero ODPand zero GWP; Hydrocarbons (HCs) have zero ODP and negligible GWP.
Upholstered items (sofas, padded chairs) See Wooden items and Fabrics and linens. Avoid foam products where chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), or methylene chloride have been used as blowing agents
Wallcoverings (wallpaper, tiles) Source breathable (i.e. not vinyl or PVC) products with recycled content, if possible, and which do not involve adhesives that compromise indoor air quality. Consider wall tiles made from recycled glass
Wooden items (chairs, tables, desks, stools,wardrobes, doors, windows) Look for Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or other certification guaranteeing sustainable re-planting and growing methods; use of indigenous species; no use of insecticides or fungicides; use of recycled or reclaimed wood. Avoid plywood that has been made using formaldehyde glues


Table 2: Checklist for comparing life cycle impacts between products

This list is for use in discussion with manufacturers and/or suppliers to help you to identify the most environmentally-preferable furniture, fixtures and fittings. You may wish to adapt it to suit your particular situation or the products that you wish to compare. Work through the questions relating to each stage of the life-cycle and use the right-hand columns to tick the answers and note any specific issues that are of concern. When you have completed the questionnaire, count the number of ticks that appear in the boxes that are tinted. Products with the greatest number of ticks in the tinted boxes satisfy the greatest number of environmental and sustainability criteria.


Manufacturer______________________________________  Contact details_______________________


Stage of life cycle Questions to ask about life cycle issues Tick as applicable Problems identified
No Yes N/A
Raw materials Do any of the raw materials originate from environmentally sensitive areas?
If so, have appropriate measures been taken to minimise environmental problems?
Do they damage the local environment when they are extracted?
Does extraction require a high energy input?
Are long distances involved in transporting raw materials or inefficient modes of transport of materials involved? (e.g. road or air versus train)
Does the product contain any recycled or post-consumer waste?
Were any exploitative practices such as child labour or poor rights/safety for workers involved?
Manufacture Does the manufacturer have an environmental policy and programme in place?
Does the manufacturing process involve high energy input?
Is current, energy-efficient equipment in use?
If waste is produced, have efforts been made to reduce it?
If the generation of liquid effluent is involved, is the supplier working to reduce this?
Are solvents, glues, chemicals, varnishes, paints or other finishes (e.g. chrome) used that are toxic or pollute the air?
Are any heavy metals released during manufacture?
If refrigerants (e.g. CFCs, HCFCs, HCs) are used are they the least environmentally damaging?
Is waste or effluent recovered for re-use in the process or for recycling?
Are any exploitative practices such as child labour or poor rights/safety for workers involved?
Does the manufacturer offset the carbon emissions created during production?
Does the product carry an ecolabel or other guarantee that it has been responsibly produced?
Transport and delivery Will the product have to travel a long distance from the manufacturer/supplier to the hotel?
Is the most efficient mode of transport being used over this distance?
Are any hazards created during transport?
Have efforts been made to minimise packaging?
Will the supplier collect used packaging to re-use/recycle?
Use Does the product have a good energy efficiency rating?
Does it minimise water consumption?
Does it have a negative affect on indoor air quality?
Will replacement parts have to travel a long distance?
Will it give long service before it needs replacing?
Disposal, reuse and recycling Does the product present a threat to the environment at end of its useful life?
Are there any special requirements for safe disposal that you doubt can be properly met?
Can you re-use all, most, or some of the material or components?
Can you recycle all, most, or some of the material or components?
Is it possible to return the product to the supplier for recycling or reuse?
Total number of coloured boxes ticked out of 34 (add the two columns together for final score)

Case Study: Apex Hotels, UK

Apex Hotels owns and operates three hotels in Edinburgh, one in Dundee and one in London and has won several awards for its environmentally proactive operation. The company retains an architect responsible for sustainable hotel design in its new developments and refurbishments.

During refurbishment, it is a matter of policy to re-use existing products wherever possible – for example by recovering chairs. However, often with year-round high occupancy they may not be in a sufficient state to meet guest expectations. Furniture that cannot be reused is donated to local businesses, charities, schools or to staff. Other considerations include installing energy-efficient products; using environmentally preferable paints; maximising the use of natural light and natural ventilation in the internal design and investigating whether there are benefits to be gained by re-wiring the room to introduce master switches or to make it easier to shut off various components.

In 2007 the company upgraded the bathrooms at the Apex International in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket and the Apex European in the city’s West End, with the emphasis on ensuring that the refurbishments were ecologically sound. Noteworthy actions taken included:

  • Upgrading the thermal insulation to the existing bathroom pipework to reduce heat loss.
  • Cleaning, retaining and reusing the WC, WC seat and bracketry in each bathroom and installing new low-volume cisterns with dual-flush action.
  • Basins were initially considered for retention but when installed in a 'mock-up' bathroom they looked dated and chipped, so were upgraded to new contemporary fittings. All the old granite vanity tops were recycled.
  • Removing the baths from 50 per cent of the bathrooms at the Apex European (and 10 per cent at the International) and changing them to shower only.
  • Cleaning and reusing the shower/bath screens and replacing the seals.
  • Retaining the light fittings and replacing dichroic lamps and transformers with their new LED equivalents to make substantial energy savings. This involved calculating the life cycle and payback period and testing light levels in the 'mock-up' bathroom to ensure guest comfort.
  • Replacing taps with new fittings with aerated heads.
  • Fitting new surface-mounted thermostatic valves to showers for ease of maintenance and flow regulators. Not only will this reduce water use but it also saves gas consumption by reducing the amount of water to be heated and drawn.
  • The bathroom/shower rooms were all completely tiled with large porcelain tiles, reducing the area of grouting and providing a surface that will last a long time and which is easy to keep clean.
  • All new fittings are of high quality stainless steel and the majority of unwanted fittings made of stainless steel were recycled.

Table 3: Product ecolabelling schemes

The following organisations are responsible for the ecolabelling of products or the components of products. Many of the websites below contain searchable lists of certified products to help you practice greener procurement.

Blue Angel (Germany)

Eco Mark (Japan)

Ecomark Scheme (India)

Environmental Choice (New Zealand, Canada),

Environmental Label of the Republic of Croatia

Environmental Labelling Program (Korea)

EU Ecolabel

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)

Good Environmental Choice (Australia)

Good Environmental Choice (The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation)

Good Green Buy (Sweden)

Green Key (Netherlands)

Green Label Program (Thailand)

Green Label Scheme (Hong Kong)
web: eng/greenlabel/intro.asp

Green Mark (Taiwan)

Green Seal (USA)

Nordic Swan (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden)

Singapore Green Labelling Scheme

US EnergyStar ecolabel
More Information:

Global Ecolabelling Network

International Labour Organisation

Tour Operators Initiative for Sustainable Tourism Development (TOI)

US Environmental Protection Agency

US Green Building Council

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