The cold is tolerant in the 3R Office’s combined showroom and office in Højbjerg a suburb to Aarhus, but at the same time it contrasts with the warm and organic surroundings that emerge as the door opens to the employees’ shared office. One can rightly argue that it is quite appropriate for the company’s profile and, not least, their business. Things are done in a way that appeals to both the profit-minded ones and those who go into doing things with ethics, morality and not least a socio-economic aspect in mind. As well as all those in the middle of the spectrum.
There are becoming more and more of them. It’s good news for 3R Office, who sells, and rents refurbished used office furniture. The furniture, that is fully functional but cannot be sold, gets new owners through the company’s “donation network”. An initiative that has been repeatedly in the media with positive publicity. Recently, they became part of Holmris, the country’s largest retailer of new office furniture, and it was not a coincidence, that the choice was Holmris as a collaborator, even though 3R Office “was heavily crossed from several sides”, explains Steffen Max Høgh, the company’s manager and partner.
“We know that circular economy is only getting bigger in the future. There is no doubt about that. Therefore, it was important to us that we found a partner who wants sustainability as much as we want. With us as ad-on, both Holmris and we get a valuable partnership that adds value to the customer. It is our business to reduce the environmental impact, he says.
Circular economy is the foundation of the business
In recent years, sustainability and circular economy have become a buzzword that many talks about. That is why many companies have thrown themselves into “project more sustainable”, but for 3R Office, sustainability and the circular economy have always been central. It is not a focus area that has been discovered over time. It is the foundation of the business and has been since day one.
“You have to be lost behind a wagon in order to not go on the sustainability wave,” says Steffen Max Høgh.
He is serious about it. It is clear that he thinks there is something fundamentally wrong with the way our world is united. Not in a way where he wants to start a revolution, but as he says:
“It does not make any sense that we design new things to look old. We have plenty of old things that can easily survive. There is something fundamentally wrong that it is cheaper to produce new to look old than it is to take something used, he explains.
His business is based on circular economics. But a vision of being a “priority in circular economy in practice” makes sense.
“It must be sustainable, inexpensive and of a high quality. And delivered on time. For us it’s a good business, we have black numbers on the bottom line and we do something good at the same time. However, it is also a demanding industry to work with circular economics. We must be both good merchants, good craftsmen to enable the goods, have a good sales department, manage the logistics and generate some PR that makes sense for the business”, says Steffen Max Høgh and continues:
“That’s why we work so much with complete transparency. In all our reports, it is black on white, where furniture, we cannot displace or degrade in an environmentally sound manner, ends. Green washing is a serious threat to sustainability and circular economy, which is why we are so honest about everything we do. Otherwise, nothing is worth it”.
Sharp legal requirements provide good business opportunities
The Danish government has also become aware of the issue of climate challenges. Here circular economics can contribute positively to solutions, they believe at 3R Office.
“With newer and stricter requirements for companies to relate to non-financial aspects of their accounts, such as environmental impact and disposal of furniture, it shows the way for business models like ours. It is clear that there is someone who wrinkles the brows when I say we do not want to pay a company, who is moving, for their inventory, but are pleased to help them get rid of their furniture. When they figure out what it will cost to get a company to move their furniture to another place, their views on things often change”, explains Steffen Max Høgh.
Among other things 3R Office exists to pick up furniture from companies, refurbish it and sell it to be used in other offices. Large companies, according to 3R Office, see the idea that their furniture is being “given away” and put into circulation if there is a reasonable business in it as well.
“It may sound like a bad business for the company whose furniture we get. But then they come to the conclusion that CSR probably isn’t so bad, and it might also be economically viable. That way, they can see the incentive to “sell” the furniture to us instead of spending a lot of time and effort to sell a little of the furniture to another side”.
However, there are also challenges associated with the business model, acknowledges Steffen Max Høgh.
“Our primary problem is that we cannot deliver a consistent solution when we do not produce ourselves. If we have 49 of one particular kind but a customer needs 50, our challenge is to convince them that it’s still a good solution. However, we experience people feeling good when they can see that the furniture is 100 percent in order. A hard patinated raising table with a worn linoleum plate is just not the same as a beautifully patinated Wegner rocking chair”, he laughs.
The future is digital – and wild
In the three years, 3R Office has existed, the company has grown quite considerably. This has meant significantly larger warehouses, several square meters and therefore also higher costs for renting facilities.Can it be minimized, Steffen Max Høgh predicts an not only exciting future for the industry – but also a competitive one.
“We hope that at some point there is a functional system where all parts of a furniture, in our case, are tagged with a barcode, so logistics, product management and, in particular, separation of the product parts becomes far easier and more automated. Together with furniture rental we think it’s the future. When we start to get internet in everything, and at the same time, we can move things without it costing something in the form of driverless cars, things will go fast”, he says.
“It is hard to predict, where the company will be in two, five or even ten years”, says Steffen Max Høgh.
“It depends on what is technologically possible. For us, however, it is important to maintain the meaning of the business model. It must be meaningful, the values must weigh higher than the money. Conversely, we do not believe we solve climate challenges by limiting growth. Growth is necessary if in a society there is to be money to do something completely different in the future. Us who are working with circular economics, have the interest of both politicians and the people, and we are already building the infrastructure to become even more sustainable and efficient in the future”, he concludes.