Can we continue to request and consume goods meant to be replaced at ever shorter intervals? Reflections by Livio Groppo.
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The first summer I started working for the company was in 1971 when I was 14 years old. Having finished junior high school, my father told me, as was the custom at the time, that my vacations that summer would no longer coincide with the long school holidays but with the much shorter ones of our family business.
That’s how I started doing small office tasks and, above all, accompanying my father to his meetings with clients. This procedure continued, of course, in the following years with increasing commitment and gradually growing awareness. I learned about our types of clients, how to communicate with them, understand their needs and desires. We’re talking about another century, another era, another mentality…
One aspect that strikes me particularly is: in that era, when we first visited a client who had just contacted us (at that time, we did not engage in any marketing activities; it was all word of mouth, so clients called us because they already knew about us), the client generally welcomed us with great courtesy and willingness, explaining that they had contacted us because they had seen our furniture or had relatives or acquaintances who had already been our clients. Then they would explain their requirements, and the two fundamental ones were always the same: “I want beautiful and sturdy furniture that lasts over time.”
Now, the concept that has completely flipped is the second one: “sturdy and long-lasting.” Over the years, I have encountered fewer and fewer clients expressing this need and more and more clients whose requirement is, “I don’t care if it lasts a lifetime; I’d rather spend less.” I have lost the habit, when talking to clients, of emphasizing the value of durability; it’s a topic that doesn’t interest them anymore.
On the other hand, the whole world has changed in this regard; we want more and more items to be replaced more frequently, perhaps of lower quality, but always “new” or at least appearing new, perhaps just because of a different color or cover.
By following this path, we risk living in an ephemeral age, one that has lost the habit of dealing with universal issues. Even political opinions seem to change radically in a matter of months; we are influenced by short messages that circulate on the internet today and will have disappeared to make way for others tomorrow, possibly with opposing meanings. We want everything and want it now; we don’t care about looking into the long term. We see top managers called to lead very important companies with mandates of no more than three years; their normal goal is to reduce costs and maximize profits in those three years or even just one. What happens after that period seems to matter to no one; perhaps with certain short-term policies, the long-term future of those companies is compromised, valuable clients are lost, capable employees, and quality suppliers. But those will be someone else’s problems; those managers will already be causing trouble elsewhere.
In such a world, what sense would it make to try to produce furniture with durability as one of its requirements?
However, we must at least start asking ourselves: “Is all of this right?” How long can we continue to excessively consume materials and energy without worrying about making them last?
Unfortunately, it seems that nature is sending us strong and dramatic warnings that we can no longer ignore.
In the field of furniture, as in other sectors, the concept of recycling is gaining ground. It is certainly a path to follow, but not the only one. Let’s not be deceived by the idea that “I consume a lot of furniture, and it will be recycled later.” The recycling process also consumes energy and pollutes. So, let’s also think about returning to furniture and furnishings made to last longer. If they are beautiful and well-made, they won’t bore us, and they will continue to please us and be useful for a long time.
Ironically, to move forward in a conscious and sustainable manner, all we need to do is look back: the materials of our tradition (steel, wood, glass, etc.) are sturdy materials, made to last, easily restorable, and, once their lifecycle ends, easily recyclable or reusable. If we think about it, a piece of furniture built following the “old-fashioned” logic and using these materials will require roughly the same resources in terms of energy as one designed to be disposable. It’s easy to understand the gain, in terms of sustainable economics, that would come from reducing the number of production cycles.
So, we’re talking about less energy used for production, fewer raw materials consumed, fewer transports, less waste, and we could go on with this list.
These days, we are renovating a prestigious pastry shop in the center of Cuneo. We dismantled the bar and pastry counters that my father had installed 50 years ago for the current client’s father and are installing new ones that can last just as long: isn’t that a beautiful thing?