Our maxim is this: re-use, reduce, recycle! That also means doing without things.

Oliver Arnold, CEO Vizona

Oliver, you know the shopfitting business inside out. What options do you have to protect the climate and the environment and shrink your carbon footprint?

FW As you know, we offer a very wide portfolio of services ranging from development to production through to installation, so we actually see numerous options. Currently, our focus is on packaging and logistics. Our maxim is this: re-use, reduce, recycle! That also means doing without things. The challenge for us, though, is that everything we produce is tailored to individual furniture concepts and customised space planning. Whether it is the production lot size, packaging concepts or optimal transport routes, simply repeating things is not an option. It all takes complex planning.

What specific measures have you taken?

FW In 2022, we started using pallets made of corrugated cardboard within Germany rather than wood. These are one hundred percent recyclable, very easy to dispose of and far lighter. That enhances their handling and also makes for less weight in trucks and on the roads. If you then add efficient load space concepts, you can save a good deal of transport volume, fuel and ultimately CO2.

How much of this new solution does the customer notice?

FW In this case, our first accomplice was CBR Group. Thanks not least to optimised processes at the deployment site, the change in packaging materials did not go unnoticed. We receive positive feedback from the retailers we supply, particularly when they themselves see to disposing of the packaging. And that encourages us to use the new packaging solution across the board for all customer projects.

What scale are we talking about here?

FW If we include all our projects, then we order around 6,000 pallets in the course of a year, plus around 30,000 packaging boxes. Considering we are a medium-sized company, those are pretty large figures.

Who sees to disposal of the cardboard pallets?

FW Having delivered the goods, our forwarders take the packaging with them and drop it off at a recycling firm. Ideally, that is directly on location. As an alternative, we sometimes agree simplified disposal by customers themselves.

Alongside transport solutions, you have also developed new packaging solutions.

FW Yes, we have completely changed the way we use materials and now do almost entirely without plastic. Our very first step was to stop using polystyrene and work instead with our packaging suppliers to develop a cardboard-based solution. We then said goodbye to bubble wrap and now use embossed paper. We have also imposed a total ban on using foam chips as filling. We have invested in a large cardboard shredder with which we can chop our own filling in line with our needs. That also avoids having to send our own waste cardboard in transports to the recycling yard. Finally, we have converted all adhesive tape to paper and replaced foiled mailing bags with glassine envelopes.

On location, our forwarders can now pass on all the packaging to waste paper recycling with no need to separate the waste first.

Did you need additional manpower to implement all this within the company?

FW We created a position explicitly to promote the topic of logistics solutions. The employee visits select trade fairs, monitors product innovations and, together with external service providers, develops packaging concepts for our customers.

Apart from cardboard and paper, does the packaging market offer any other materials that are environmentally compatible or recyclable?

FW Quite a few. It is fascinating to see all the solutions that have been presented at shopfitting and packaging fairs in recent years. They include materials made of organic waste, rice, eggshell or nutshell. For smaller packaging, such as for assembly parts, we currently use grass paper boxes. These are made of hay which, as we all know, is available in large quantities. The manufacturers guarantee a significantly smaller carbon footprint for this compared with paper production.

Completely replacing plastic is certainly a challenge. Do you ever reach functional limits in pursuing this goal?

FW Of course. Let me give you one example. At the moment, we still cannot find a viable alternative to stretch foil that is just as effective in rigging goods to the pallets with no risk of slippage. Having said that, we do use high-performance foil with far thinner polyethylene than usual. This way, we save significant volumes of material. Sadly though, plastic is still plastic. That means hundred-percent recycling cannot be guaranteed.

How do you decide whether to try out a new solution?

FW As a company, we tend to have our finger on the innovation pulse, particularly for the materials we use. That said, we always have to weigh up our pioneering role as an innovator in this area with the quality we promise to our customers. For us, sustainability also means responsibly building on tried-and-tested solutions. We cannot really afford any experiments in our logistics, particularly if they increase the risk of transport damages. You can read about how thirty percent of damages to shop fittings are due to deficient packaging. We do not want to go down that line.

Are your customers involved in deciding whether their fittings are delivered via sustainable channels or not?

FW Not really. Our aim is to deliver the fittings as sustainably as possible. Period. We also do not expect extra payment for this. It is our topic, our initiative and we do not ask anyone if that is what they want. In any case, we assume that today’s customers also expect this, even if our business is subject to growing pressure on prices.

Since 2023, Vizona has borne the ecovadis Gold Seal. Are efforts like this appreciated?

FW Some customers specifically enquire about our certifications or directly state these as requirements in their tenders. However, our own real motivation to obtain the ecovadis rating, which scores companies in terms of their environmental impacts and social aspects, was that we ourselves wanted to have a verifiable standard by which to measure achievement of our own sustainability targets.

If it were up to you, what course would shopfitting be taking in 2035?

FW Deploying autonomous delivery vehicles and drones could revolutionise freight routes. These forms of transport would probably be more efficient and inexpensive, leading to shorter delivery times and lower shipment costs. It all begins with the store concepts, though, which will be based even more closely on innovative and sustainable materials.

Thank you for talking to us and for these fascinating insights!