Artek: Sustainability from Aalto to Dixon


From left: Henrik Duncker; Matti Pyykko; Henrik Duncker; Marco Melander

Courtesy of the NY Times, we get an up close and personal look at Finnish furniture company Artek, who've taken old-school notions of sustainability like durability and timeless longevity and updated them for the 21st century. Building on the legacy of co-founding designer Alvar Aalto, this longevity "has made Artek a Finnish institution, and Aalto a national treasure," and really shows how sustainable design is about more than green materials and efficient manufacturing.

Leading the charge these days is creative director Tom Dixon (he of the 1,000 CFL giveaway), who said, "'Aalto and his circle wouldn't have used the word "sustainability,"' says Tom Dixon, the British furniture designer who became Artek's creative director in 2004. 'But if you look at what they did at Artek with modern eyes, it has all of the underpinning characteristics.'"

Managing director Mirkku Kullberg is also on board, conceiving the brilliant 2nd Cycle project, where Artek's old chairs and stools were bought back from schools, libraries and other various homes to showcase the longevity of the products. "'The more patina they have, the dirtier they look, the more people seem to love them,'" she says.Their efforts are neatly summarized with this quote:

Sustainability is a weak spot for the furniture industry. Eco-conscious designers and entrepreneurs have experimented with it, but the big companies have merely dabbled. Perhaps the idea of reorganizing a business to prioritize the environment -- possibly by producing less -- is too much of a stretch for an industry that has thrived by creating a desire for new things, regardless of whether people need them or not. Or maybe they're afraid of the scrutiny to which any company pretending to sustainable ambitions is inevitably subjected. But until Artek, no major furniture manufacturer had made the same commitment to sustainability as, for instance, B.M.W. in the automotive industry or Britain's Marks & Spencer in retailing.

For more Artek, check out our coverage here and their website, via ::NY Times.

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