How Can The Office Furniture Industry Help To Protect The Environment?
Written By Rob Kirkbride, Write Office • October 24, 2022
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We live in a global world. It is a fact that we sometimes forget, but became painfully evident during the pandemic and Russia’s war with Ukraine. For the first time since the world truly became a global economy, it is facing a real test of its resiliency.
The office furniture industry and the rest of the world is learning what happens when a global economic system gets a case of the hiccups. Globalization is a topic worth discussing, especially as the industry gathers this week for Orgatec, one of the most important world-wide office furniture fairs held every other year in Cologne, Germany.
Orgatec was arguably the most important office furniture event in the industry, a showcase for office design that we could expect to see in North America a few years later. Orgatec has suffered a bit in recent years. It was cancelled during the pandemic for obvious reasons, but even prior to that, the show’s reach was diminishing with some exhibitors moving to other shows in Europe such as Clerkenwell Design Week in London and Stockholm Furniture Fair, and others pulling back on trade fair exhibitions in general as online browsing replaces some portion of in-person events.
All that being said, Orgatec remains an important event and one worth watching. And the globalization of the office furniture industry is a topic critical to many in the industry who sell finished products overseas, rely on suppliers in Asia and Europe and carefully watch workplace trends.
It is an interconnected world, sometimes astonishingly so. Yet even at the dealer level, globalization matters as anyone who has waited for delayed furniture or parts to be delivered from overseas can attest.
Dealers are affected in other ways as well. More and more, the largest dealers in the industry work on international projects, which makes a lot of sense. If a major dealer in New York City has a customer who is expanding to London, who better to help them regardless of which side of the pond they set up shop?
Of course, the economy is interdependent on what is happening in other parts of the world as well. MillerKnoll, Steelcase, Haworth, KI, OFS and many manufacturers have strong international markets. These companies aren’t just buying furniture and components from overseas vendors, they are also establishing robust markets they sell into in Asia, Middle East, Europe and South and Central America.
Globalization is good, for the most part. It is a way for the industry to add sales and reduce risks by diversifying its markets. And there remains a huge demand in North America for foreign-made furniture, both the inexpensive kind found mainly in Asia and the expensive, high-end, high-fashion furniture found in Europe. Yet as we have seen during the pandemic, over-reliance on other parts of the world is unhealthy for our industry. Simply put, if China plans to keep its people continually locked down to maintain its Zero Covid policy, it is time to look for different manufacturing partners.
As we head out of the pandemic and into the next new — whatever that might be — the industry needs to find the right balance, somewhere between protectionism at one end and the Wild West found at the other.
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