Embracing Circularity: Koskela’s Visionary Path to Sustainable Design by 2027

Sasha Titchkosky and the team at Koskela are on a mission to shake things up in the furniture world by 2027. They’ve seen first-hand the piles of office chairs and desks that end up in the dump each year and decided it’s high time for a change. Their goal? To make their business go full circle, where waste gets a big red stop sign and every piece of furniture gets to live a second life—or third, or fourth.

They’re not just talking about recycling, though. They’re rethinking the whole game, from how they design their pieces to how they can keep them out of the trash pile, even if that means turning the usual ‘buy and toss’ approach on its head. It’s about creating stuff that lasts, gets fixed up, and passes on to the next person when you’re done with it, not buried under a pile of garbage. Sasha’s ready to dig into the how and why of their plan, and how they see this shaping up for everyone—not just their bottom line.

Koskela’s CEO and Co-founder Sasha Titchkosky

Sasha, Koskela is on an ambitious journey towards circularity by 2027. Can you walk us through what inspired this bold commitment?

One of the things that hasn’t changed in our industry since we first founded Koskela in 2000 is the amount of waste that’s generated, from raw materials to finished products that end up in landfill. Particularly when you’re looking at commercial tenancies or office spaces. 

I think the more that I understood where our climate is headed, and what’s needed to address the crisis, the stronger sense of urgency I felt to do something with our business.

It was really apparent to us after measuring our carbon footprint for four years that the only way we were going to reduce our scope three emissions (which was where the bulk of Koskela’s carbon footprint sits) is if we looked at the embodied carbon in our products and how we could reduce that. And so we concluded that transitioning to a circular economic model was the best way to achieve that. 

With a staggering 30,000 tonnes of commercial furniture waste yearly in Australia, what do you see as the biggest challenges and opportunities in addressing this ‘fast furniture’ issue?

I think the biggest challenges come from the need for whole systems to change or adapt. For example, commercial leasing requirements for offices include a ‘make good’ clause, which means you’ve basically got to strip back anything that you’ve done in the fitout and give your landlord back a clean shell at the end of the lease. Often the period between the tenant vacating the property and the demolition crew coming in is just a weekend. 

So there isn’t any time to re-home the furniture which more often than not, could have been used by the next tenant. It really makes no sense and is why we’re seeing so much commercial furniture ending up in landfills. So that’s a big problem but also an opportunity for the industry. 

We also have the opportunity to create different ownership models for furniture, which is something Koskela has been working on. We’re going to start testing out furniture as a service, so a company can pay to use our furniture but doesn’t have to own it.

This means it’s our responsibility to make sure our products get out of that tenancy, are rehomed and reused by someone else. To me, that makes far more sense and will ensure that products are really well designed, they’re maintained and they’re being used for as long as possible. 

“Circular Business” is a term that’s gaining traction. For those unfamiliar, can you explain what it means and how it contrasts with traditional business models?

In a traditional business model, a company will create a product and sell it to a customer. And from the moment it gets sold, unless there’s a small warranty period, the company that produced that product bears no more responsibility for it. So this means that when the purchaser doesn’t want it anymore or it needs repairing, it likely ends up going into landfill. So it’s influencing throwaway culture and the reason that there is huge amounts of waste generated every year.

In a circular model, the idea is that you design products to eliminate waste from the beginning. So that means you maximise the use of raw materials and then circulate products to make sure that they’re in use for as long as possible. For Koskela, that means we’re designing to standard sheet sizes, using as much recycled material as possible and looking at different models of ownership for our furniture, so things like resale schemes and rental options. 

Then at the end of your product’s lifecycle, either its materials can be used again by you or another business, or they biodegrade and become a resource for the natural environment.

The economic benefits of moving towards a circular model are estimated at a whopping $1.9 trillion over the next two decades. Beyond the financials, what societal and environmental benefits do you foresee?

Being circular isn’t just about your product. It’s about providing good employment opportunities for society and how you actually look after people and your teams is really important. Simultaneously, you need to make sure that you’re not doing harm to the natural environment. This means using renewable energy in all your production instead of fossil fuel, which we know is the biggest contributor to climate change. Minimising virgin material use is also critical. If we’re not chopping down beautiful old growth forests to make paper anymore or to produce furniture, then that has a really tangible benefit for society as a whole. And then consider ways that you can regenerate the natural environment as well.

You’ve shared beautiful stories of customers owning and refurbishing their Koskela furniture over 20+ years. What does it mean for you to see your products cherished and enduring for so long?

It’s one of the most exciting things for me. Working in the design industry, if you’ve had an idea and managed to realise it, then to see someone else actually value that idea and look after it is incredibly rewarding. Then to think that we’ve managed to help create that bond with a product and its user for an even longer period – that feeling reminds me that you don’t have to come up with a new idea all the time. 

I think that problem-solving through design, really understanding your market and not designing to fads and trends means that you can create something that’s timeless, and why our products are being cherished for so long. 

Can you give us a sneak peek into what the commercial fit-outs of the future might look like under a circular model?

I think we’ll see ideas that create a whole lot more flexibility for office workers. There will be a lot more modularity and standardisation in things like kitchens, so components can be pulled out and reconfigured really easily. For example, updating a bench top without pulling out the whole kitchen. 

There’ll be amazing new materials that will benefit the users and all of us from having them in our natural environment. I think they’ll be more reused furniture that’s been repaired too.

What I’d love to see is that these spaces become areas that help you create connections and make you feel inspired, so it’s no grind to come into them. This idea that you come in and just sit at a desk and work there doesn’t really seem to fit with many people’s work life anymore. So the office space really needs to be an enabler of connection and collaboration, rather than just a place to work.

Finally, for other businesses inspired by Koskela’s journey, what first steps would you recommend they take to start their circular transformation?

For smaller businesses, using tools like the SME Climate Hub is a really good option because it’s free, it doesn’t require a huge investment of time and it gives you a good baseline for reducing your emissions.

For all businesses, the two biggest things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint is to get your business powered by renewable energy and change your default super fund to an ethical super fund. We also encourage our team to do the same with their own super and energy provider at home.

After that it’s about looking at every aspect of your business and trying to identify where waste is generated in the business and being really open minded to exploring new ways of doing things or changing business models. Some businesses are doing this by looking at one product line and trying to make it as circular as they can. It’s a low cost way of approaching circularity and learning from the processes. 

However, this doesn’t meet the need for us to massively speed up the transition of businesses to cope with (and benefit from) a low carbon future. I believe that the more businesses who are focused on this, and the more they’re really pushing for that transition, the more likely it is that they’ll still be around in the future. 

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Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.