If it was up to Jan Christian Vestre, CEO and owner of the furniture company Vestre, products designed to have a short life span would be banned.
Photography LASSE FLØDE • Interview ERIK SEDIN
What’s the single most important thing your industry needs to focus on right now?
— The push for new products all the time must end. Do we actually need new furniture every year? I don’t think so! If you get tired of the product, you should be able to send it back to the factory and have it refurbished and maybe get a new colour, so it continues the journey with you or someone else. If we can share things, change things, rebuild things and maybe even rent things, instead of buying new things all the time, we will reduce our consumption and our environmental impact significantly. The design industry really needs to change its mindset. The hardcore consumerism will soon be history. Then the need for transformation in terms of sustainability seems obvious.
What are the things your industry, broadly speaking, needs to do to create change?
— First of all, we need to accelerate the shift towards renewable energy. Vestre, for instance, up to will be self-sufficient before 2025. Renewable energy is now in many cases cheaper than coal and other fossil fuels. Secondly, throw-away society must end now. We need to make products with a long lifespan, things that can be repaired and restored. Truthfully, it’s not that difficult. If you travel around Norway you’ll find Vestre furniture from the ’50s and the ’60s still out there being enjoyed every day. So, let’s start by banning products designed to have a short life span. And third, we need to focus on sustainable materials and resources. A combination of manufacturing based on renewable energy, long-lasting products, and green materials will certainly have a huge impact.
You’ve said that it is possible to make a profit and still save the environment. What do you recommend to companies and organisations that want to adapt to this mindset?
— Yes, I am 100 % sure about this. We can decouple economic growth from emissions and create a real sustainable future! So what should we do? Well, let’s try to focus less on how to maximize profits and spend more time on doing great stuff for people and the planet, and I’m pretty sure you will still make a decent profit. Use the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) as a platform for your business philosophy. If you integrate one, five or all seventeen goals, it doesn’t matter as long as you contribute to a more sustainable future.
Many see design as a tool for change. What’s your perspective?
— To me, design is not interesting in itself. Design is interesting when we use it as a tool to change the world. We should create places where we can celebrate our beautiful diversity and foster inclusion. And then there are hostile designs — public benches with spikes and other obstacles designed to keep homeless people away from public spaces. When we are asked to produce such benches, believe me, we always say no! I simply don’t want to make money on things that are wrong, and hostile designs are never right. There is a lot of politics in design. Design can have a good purpose or a bad purpose. So yes, design is a strong tool.
”There is a lot of politics in design. Design can have a good purpose or a bad purpose. So yes, design is a strong tool.”
Name a few of your products that you think represent a new way of thinking for the design industry?
— Folk, because it’s made of 75% post-consumer aluminium scrap, which represents the future in the circular world where waste doesn’t exist anymore. And of course, Stoop, since it represents the ideology behind Vestre. Stoop is an installation for social interaction more than a piece of furniture. I love watching people gathering around the Stoop, and it’s a good example of how we can actually change the world, one neighbourhood at a time.
How has this year changed the way you operate your company?
— We had to rethink and reschedule all our activities. But we are always optimistic, so we didn’t hit the brake pedal in any way. We’ve recruited more people in our international organisation, and we are building the most environmentally friendly furniture factory in the world — The Plus. I’m proud to say that we’re doing this during a pandemic and the worst economic recession since the 1930s. Simply because the green transition cannot wait. There is too much talk about sustainability, I want to see real action and more action. But the most important thing this year has actually been to take care of Team Vestre and make everybody feel safe. Nothing else matters actually.