Cleaner Production Applied In Furniture Industry

The consuming of wood resource is much higher than yield during the manufacturing of furniture. Cleaner production represents a program based on continuous strategies applied to a more sustainable use of materials and energy could minimise waste and pollution. By Carlos Mario Gutiérrez Aguilar, Ronald Panameño, Alexei Perez Velazquez, Asher Kiperstok, and Sandro Fábio César, Federal University of Bahia (UFBA), and Beatriz Elena Angel Álvarez, Pontifical Bolivarian University (UPB)


The production and mass consumption of industrial products have caused natural resources to be used in an unbalanced way, generating large amounts of waste.


The wood industry is known for being among the biggest resource consumers, having a relatively low yield. The wood furniture industry as part of the wood industry also remains a big generator of residues and a big consumer of resources. 


The wood industry is one of the highest consumers of these resources. The yield reported in the wood industry in Brazil varies from values as low as 30 percent up to 75 percent, mainly due the different production process, type of wood and technology. 


Despite the differences in the yield, the common ground is the acknowledgement of the wood industry as a major waste generator.


Wood Waste Generation

Wood waste generation is constantly on the increase as a result of low average percentage timber recovery both in the forests and wood processing industries and increased demand for wood and its products.


Woods are processed in the various wood processing industries, like sawmill industries, plywood mills, furniture industries, pulp and paper industries and particleboard mills. 


The activities at these forests, wooded lands and wood processing industries generate huge volume of wood wastes that could be harnessed to produce value added products. Besides, Wood wastes can also be generated from municipal and industrial activities.


Quantity of wood waste generated is constantly on the increase. This is adduced to low average percentage of timber recovery both in the forest and wood processing industries, due to the use of obsolete equipment and production processes, coupled with increased demand for wood and its products.


However, sustainable wood waste utilisation would drastically reduce volume of wood waste, ensure total tree utilisation, reduce production costs and enhances environmental cleanliness.


Thus, the wood industry has sought to improve processes, making the most of the waste generated to be used in the production of other sub-products, consequently adding value to the production chain. Companies have their own interest in developing processes that are more environmentally friendly and customers are increasingly interested in environmental performance and product impacts.


The Concept of Cleaner Production Programs

In Brazil, the wooden furniture sector is an important division of the wood industry, reaching nearly 430 million goods sold by 2015 with a value of US$16.54 billion. 


Despite such values, the wooden furniture sector in Brazil has characteristics that make it the object of continuous studies: as per the National Bank of Economic and Social Development, the sector of wooden furniture in Brazil is considered one of the most traditional activities in industry, with high use of natural resources, labour-intensive processes, low technological dynamism and a high level of informality. 


Most of the wooden furniture producers in Brazil are classified as microenterprises or small enterprises, and generally they don’t have consolidated environmental control systems. 


For this reason, the diagnostic studies for this sector help companies with proposals to reduce impacts and improve productivity through techniques for the rational use of raw materials and the reuse and recycling of waste. Among the proposals is the implementation of Cleaner Production programs.


According to Johannes Fresner’s introduction to Cleaner Production on Half is Enough in 2006, the meaning of Cleaner production is a preventive, company-specific environmental protection initiative. 


It is intended to minimise waste and emissions and maximise product output. By analysing the flow of materials and energy in a company, one tries to identify options to minimise waste and emissions out of industrial processes through source reduction strategies. 


Improvements of organisation and technology help to reduce or suggest better choices in use of materials and energy, and to avoid waste, wastewater generation, and gaseous emissions, and also waste heat and noise.


The concept was developed during the preparation of the Rio Summit as a programme of United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and United Nations Industrial Development Organisation(UNIDO) under the leadership of Jacqueline Aloisi de Larderel, the former Assistant Executive Director of UNEP.  They defined cleaner production as “the continuous application of an integrated environmental strategy to processes, products and services to increase efficiency and reduce risks to humans and the environment”


The programme was meant to reduce the environmental impact of industry. It built on ideas used by 3M in its 3P programme (pollution prevention pays). It has found more international support than all other comparable programmes. 


The programme idea was described to assist developing nations in leapfrogging from pollution to less pollution, using available technologies. Starting from the simple idea to produce with less waste cleaner production was developed into a concept to increase the resource efficiency of production in general. 


In this context, cleaner production is a continuous program for increase the efficiency in the use of raw materials, water and energy through the mitigation of waste and energy misuses in the industry and service sectors, focusing on the application of continued integrated environmental strategies that have now evolved towards sustainability.


One relevant capacity of cleaner productionis that during its implementation it is possible to combine it with other environmental principles, methods or tools in order to increase even further the efficiency in the use of resources and to reduce the waste.


To follow the specific implementation methodology developed by the National Center for Clean Technologies (CNTL) in combination with several eco-design principles applied in the production process of a eucalyptus wooden chair, we applied clean production program in a small size wood enterprise in Brazil. 


Expectation of this research is to help promote the use of cleaner productionand eco-design principles as suitable programs and principles to be implemented in micro and small size companies in Brazil, addressing at the same time the widespread paradigm that claims that implementing environmental programs is reserved only for the medium to large companies.



The evolution of the definition on Cleaner Production was in line with the development of environmental practices, whose origins were focused on the destruction of the residues once generated, either by disposal, treatment or recycling, but nowadays such focus has also evolved to the pursuit of sustainable consumption, resource efficiency and green economy.


According to the Brazilian Business Council for Sustainable Development (CEBDS), the waste generated has a high cost for the company, not only because it was purchased at raw material prices or because it consumed other resources during the production process (such as water or energy), but also because it might include final disposal cost, environmental fines or cause damage to the company’s reputation. 


Cleaner productionproposes changes, encouraging the whole company to think of different proposals and more economical or intelligent ways to produce. It also aims, through the reduction of waste and emissions, to link production processes to environmental objectives.


The implementation of cleaner productionprograms presents multiple advantages as the following: 

•It requires commitment from management, staff and operational levels, focused on a continuous improvement approach.

•It includes a defined methodology for the implementation.

•It can produce economic benefits such as reducing operating costs of materials and processes.

•It can improve the image of the company.

•It can be implemented from low-cost levels (self-sourced) to high-cost levels (financial assessment), depending on the cases and the scope of the program.


The methodology for implementation included in cleaner production programs is composed of a sequence of steps that include a feasibility analysis. This step aims to find opportunities for waste reduction and efficiency in resource consumption, which can be addressed in a combination of different tools, methods or approaches. One of the most used approaches is eco-design.


Introduction Of Eco-design Approach

Generally, eco-design is an approach to designing products with special consideration for the environmental impacts of the product during its whole lifecycle. In a life cycle assessment, the life cycle of a product which is usually divided into procurement, manufacture, use, and disposal.


Eco-design is a growing responsibility and understanding of our ecological footprint on the planet. Green awareness, overpopulation, industrialisation and an increased environmental population have led to the questioning of consumer values. It is imperative to search for new building solutions that are environmentally friendly and lead to a reduction in the consumption of materials and energy.


In this study the ecodesign consists of developing and re-thinking products, processes or services to be respectful of the environment by choosing materials and manufacturing processes, and designing the use and final disposal while developing a new product, i.e., determining the environmental impact of the product during the life cycle.


One of the earliest attempts to address design considerations toward the environment was developed in 1974 by Victor Papanek, who classified the developing of new products in a 6-stage framework, indicating that the potential environmental impacts should be considered in all of the stages: selecting materials, production, packaging, finishing, transport and waste generation.


The Reason to Choose Brazil as Research Object

The wooden furniture industry in Brazil has developed its own framework toward ecodesign. One example is the guide for introducing environmental parameters in wooden furniture designs, developed at the University of Minas Gerais in 2010. 


The parameters presented were developed specifically for the wood furniture industry in Brazil.


The concepts of CLEANER PRODUCTION and ecodesign are particularly applicable for the furniture industry in Brazil, due to their characterisation: general agglomeration of production processes, the use of organic raw materials and the intensive use of labour resulting in a very large range of final products with a strong fragmentation, technological diversity and vertical integration combined with a predominance of micro and small companies with limited resources both administratively and financially.


The Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) classifies the size of the industries according to the number of permanent employees: microenterprise (less than 19 employees), small enterprises (between 20 and 99 employees), medium enterprise (between 100 and 499 employees) and big enterprise (more than 500 employees). 


Such distribution gives perspective regarding the wooden furniture sector in Brazil. For example, a survey developed in the state of Rio de Janeiro in 2015 characterised the distribution of the furniture wood industries as being 70.8 percent microenterprises, 25.8 percent small enterprises and 3.4 percent medium enterprises, and was considered a good representative of enterprise distribution in Brazil. 


When analysing that distribution along with different approaches suitable to be combined with cleaner production programs the convenience of using cleaner production plus eco-design for the micro and small wooden furniture enterprises is highlighted.


Cutting Loss Of Material

We conduct a study in a wooden furniture industry located in Salvador Bahia, Brazil. Due to the number of employees, it is classified as a small enterprise as per the IBGE classification. 


The enterprise produces home and office furniture such as tables, desks, cabins and chairs but can produce a diverse range of products, since it has invested in specialised wood machinery, therefore it has the capacity to produce a wide variety of goods.


By the time the study took place, the key product was a eucalyptus wooden chair designed to be used in the food court of shopping centres. 


The volume of production contracted represents more than the 60 percent of the daily goods produced by the company, becoming the object of analysis. 


The general process to produce the wooden chair is based on taking the raw material (Eucalyptus urophylla boards, dimension 20 × 30 × 2000 mm delivered by the supplier with specific conditions of humidity and quality) and cutting it into smaller rectangular pieces close to the final size of the pieces to be transformed.


In the case of the seat and backrest, such pieces are made of smaller slats that are cut, glued and pressed to constitute boards or blocks to be cut and sculpted before being transformed into its final shape. The different pieces require a series of machinery to be used to perform specific tasks on the pieces being transformed. 


The methodology applied was the one defined by the Cleaner Production Program, developed by the National Center for Clean Technologies (CNTL) in Brazil. The results and findings of cleaner productionthen became the inputs for the application of eco-design parameters as proposed by, to identify and achieve the environmental gains for the case study analysed.


Evaluating the data from the framework, we can found a yield of 43.81 percent in the use of wood. The result is found within the typical range of yield values in wood furniture industries. The energy consumption was related to the manufacturing process of every piece and the efficiencies of the electrical engines of every machine involved. 


The characterisation of the total waste of 43.81 percent can also be expressed in relative values as follows: 13.82 percent sawdust, 45.29 percent brush and 37.78 percent firewood, with a balance of 3.11 percent air releases. Typical values of such losses in the timber industry are 14 percent for sawdust, 18 percent for wood shavings and 68 percent for firewood. 


When analysing the assembly of the wooden chair, it is noted that the main loss of material was during the production of the seat, in second place was the rear leg and in third place the backrest. Those three items represented more than 64 percent of the total material losses.


The type of production process is also important to analyse since the type of waste can indicate a process subject to be improved or replaced. Applying this approach, it is noted that for the rear leg, the most representative residue was firewood, mostly due to the production process used. For the backrest it was also firewood whereas for the seat the main type of loss was wood shavings. 


In addition, the eco-design parameters developed specifically for the wooden furniture industry supports the efforts of focusing on the product and process instead of end-of-pipe solutions. In this case, the proposals made addressed parameters of reducing, facilitate, select and valorise the difference of the redesigned chair. 


For this reason, the treatment of waste was not addressed as the focus of the work, even though specific recommendations were made such as the recycling of some pieces of firewood in the construction of the glued and pressed board for the rear leg and backrest. 


Waste disposal was also part of the recommendation since the Eco-team suggested that nearby industries were interested in the residues of sawdust and wood shavings as fuel for their furnaces.


Simplification Of Production Process 

The previous studies usually hold the firm belief that using waste from the furniture industries can decrease the consumption of wood and machine.


In contrast, through the study on wooden chair, it indicated that the savings achieved in energy consumption were the result of the simplification of the production process, and a consequence of the application of the Eco-design parameters.


The proposed changes have an impact on the energy consumption, due to the reduction and simplification of some production processes. 


The total decrease in the consumption of wood was 29.95 percent, going from 10,292 g to 7209 g, also reducing the percentage of waste from consumption from 43.81 percent to 32.20 percent, from generating 4509 g to 2321 g.

With the application of the concepts of cleaner production, it is possible to reduce the consumption of raw material and energy as well as the generation of waste. 


The results obtained in the application of cleaner productionand eco-design in this case study confirms the benefits of cleaner production, presenting a potential reduction in material of 30 percent and reducing the generation of waste by nearly 50 percent. This has a special relevance considering the feasibility of implementation in small wood furniture companies like the one presented in this study.


Once cleaner productionidentified the most relevant sources of waste, the implementation of eco-design parameters such as the ones applied (change of material, modulation of parts and redesign) are of easy implementation and achievable, allowing the reduction in the consumption of material and energy, without demeaning the quality or the aesthetics of the final product. 


The final product followed the valorisation of the difference since it would be commercialised as a more efficient product in resource consumption.


Changing Wood Machinery Technology & Design 

It is obvious that applying more advanced technology and new design strategy in wood machinery to simplify the production process can not only save the consumption of wood resource, but also improve the yield and efficiency.


Complex work processes slow productivity and increase the potential for mistakes. By simplifying the procedures in your company, you make more efficient use of time, which in turn saves the company money. 


Simplification is concerned with the reduction of product range, assemblies, parts, materials and design.


Just like the study mentioned before, material consumption can be reduced by design modification of the seat was suitable for different strategies.


It was proposed to change the material of the seat for plywood, taking advantage of the possibility of modulation the shape of the seat. This could reduce waste while decreasing the thickness and weight of the chair. By doing so, the residues would drop to 19.52 percent.


The rear leg can also be redesigned. By producing a large board of glued joints of reused wood pieces, it is possible to obtain several rear legs pieces, optimising wood consumption. 


All of the changing methods conform to the concept of cleaner production. It is a practical method for protecting human and environmental health, supporting the goal of sustainable development and benefiting the productivity. This concept still requires an economic analysis to study and application in a wider range on the production line


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