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Building a culture of product stewardship: Cultivated 10 years on

In 2013 Cultivated launched as a restoration service, today it is a full-service product stewardship business, buying back, refurbishing and recycling authentic design pieces. In this article we continue the conversation around whole-of-lifecycle-furniture.

Building a culture of product stewardship: Cultivated 10 years on

Refurbishing the PH Artichoke light.

We recently published an article on whole-of-lifecycle-furniture, rounding up key examples of furniture pieces, company-led initiatives and new enterprises leading the charge. Among Australia’s earliest innovators in this space is Cultivated, a business launched by Corporate Culture in 2013 (at the 2013 edition of Saturday Indesign as it happens).

Back in 2013 Cultivated was operating more as a restoration service, but under the leadership of Richard Munao and Joshua Ellis (who joined the business as brand manager in 2020), Cultivated has been developed into a much more complex business. It is equipped with the knowledge and local resources to deliver product stewardship to the Australian furniture industry, and offers buy back, refurbish and recycle services for design industry clients.

“We relaunched Cultivated in 2021 with a series of goals, one of which was to be a product stewardship program for the industry, where we would be [working] with any authentic design products,” says Ellis. Also, he notes: “Australia is a big country… so we looked at setting up local workshops in [major] cities to address a sustainable way of operating [that would reduce transport energy and in-house energy consumption for example]. Equally when we set up those local workshops we needed to ensure they all shared the same sustainable ethos that we had.”

Related: Latest ‘Whole Of Lifecycle Furniture’ initiatives in review

Consciously managing waste

Driven by Ellis and Munao, Cultivated has been busy investigating how the by-products of furniture restoration are handled so that nothing goes to waste. Through this process Cultivated has partnered with likeminded companies, such as TRAKS Textiles, to invest in developing new waste streams so that materials like woven polyester, cotton and wool-based textile offcuts are recycled and re-used.

Cultivated also has waste partners in plastics and alloys, too; this leaves timber and furniture foams as the only materials that are discarded into landfill (when they can’t be salvaged). That said, Cultivated has commissioned a study into foam waste just last year and is currently investigating second life and closed loop solutions for this material.

Ellis acknowledges that there’s a certain level of sustainability fatigue out there. Considering every single energy-consuming ramification that is associated with material use, maintenance and refuse can be overwhelming: “For some people it becomes too much and too complex. What we’re trying to do is take that away from everybody – we’ll do that and we make it much more simple for people to do the right thing,” says Ellis.

So while Cultivated is pursuing new lines of discovery and innovation in waste management, it is servicing a diverse and wide-ranging group of clientele with buy back, refurbish and recycle services.

Minimal intervention to avoid maximum waste

Ellis explains a little of how the Cultivated team assesses the products it works with, and approaches the restoration of these, making minimal touches to avoid maximum waste: “You have to look at the materiality of a product, and analyse how long a product’s material is made to last. If a product has been made incorrectly or with inferior materials, it won’t last a lifetime. Which is why we only work with authentic product,” he says.

“It’s like being an investigator. We have to understand how a product has been made, and do the minimum to get it back to a place where it is fully restored.” Importantly: “We can’t justify creating waste where it doesn’t need to be created.” So, reupholstering a chair simply for the sake of changing its look and style probably won’t fly with the Cultivated team… unless the upholstery is in very poor condition and refurbishment will ensure its lifecycle is extended.

Refurbishing the PH Artichoke light.

Case in point: Catalina, Sydney

Catalina at Rose Bay, Sydney was completed by Cultivated in 2019. Catalina’s existing Capellini Tate Chairs were reupholstered and their stainless steel frames polished – reused by Catalina.

Case in point: Melbourne Airport

Melbourne Airport Gate 5 project was completed by Cultivated in 2022. Featuring reused Aran sofas supplied un-refurbished and like-new, direct from KPMG, Sydney; Harper armchairs reupholstered and timber frames refinished; timber Elfin stools refinished; Harper chairs and Elfin stools purchased back from Woolworths headquarters, Sydney.

Tracking a product’s life

Cultivated will next year launch a next-gen tool that offers transparent information on furniture tracking and lifecycle assessment. Named the Empower Digital Product Passport, the technology is being implemented across Cultivated’s products and soon to be rolled out across all Corporate Culture’s brands.

The traceability of this software, which is developed by Norwegian company Empower, allows products to be tracked throughout their entire lifecycle. The information allows Cultivated to quantify waste saved or produced during the restoration process, track transport emissions for offsetting, and record the age and ownership history of any one item.

Cultivated will soon have its own dedicated studio space located within the Corporate Culture Group’s Thornbury (Melbourne) timber workshop. Set to open in 2024 the studio will welcome people in to explore products, learn first-hand about restoration, and explore Cultivated’s new and emerging sustainable initiatives.


Fiona Susanto

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