Ila Farshad, commercial director at Vita Talalay, a brand part of Radium Foam, explains the importance of sustainability in a quick-fire Q&A with Cabinet Maker.
Why is being a sustainable business important?
In 2008 Radium introduced its 100% Natural Vita Talalay latex to the bedding industry. The objective was to meet increasing demand from consumers for natural products. Natural products are considered healthier options and in the last 10 years we invested heavily to ‘meet’ those expectations.
In 2010 Vita Talalay embarked on a mission to have all of its products Cradle to Cradle, nowadays referred to as circular. This can be explained in a simple manner.
In the pre-industrial area there was no waste. Farmers had cattle and crop on their land, they used what came from the land, and the waste was put back on the land with a nutrient for yet another circle — the circle of life. In the industrial era products were not made to be recycled, they were made to be produced — and as many as possible — at the lowest possible price. All those ended up as waste. That is what Cradle to Cradle wants to end because it is bad for the environment, as well as being directly and indirectly bad for you.
So what does Cradle to Cradle, or circular, mean?
Circular means you design products in such a way that they are as ‘clean’ as possible for both humans and the environment. At the same time they should be designed in such a way that they can be a nutrient for something else — meaning they can be recycled, or even better, upcycled!
We were helped by the Environmental Protection Encouragement Agency to get Cradle to Cradle silver certified in 2013 and upgraded to Gold in 2016.
For that, amongst others, we reformulated our recipe, not only looking at sustainable latex, but also all process-related additives. This recipe was patented.
Why do you think it is important to know exactly what is in a mattress?
This is actually for both the health of you as an individual as well as the health of your children and grandchildren. A lot of focus is going on to labelling food with the appropriate information. But since you sleep close to your mattress and pillow without proper control, a mattress can be unhealthy too. Eco-Institute assessed our product by an ‘off-gassing’ test and gave us a 0 score on toxicity, which is good for the end user.
This is also good for the environment. Currently in the UK about 85% of the mattresses end up in landfill or are incinerated. Both lead to pollution and climate change. Practice has shown that if we as an industry take back the mattress from the consumer, hotel or hospital, in the best case we are able to dismantle it into mono-materials and 98% of the mattress can be reused.
However, because there is no transparency on what is in the mattress, in its afterlife it is very difficult to assess the health and technical aspects of the mattress. That leads to low-value recycling solutions instead of re-using it again as a virgin latex material, similar to paper turning into new paper, or glass turning into new glass.
The Natural Vita Talalay recipe is completely assessed to be safe. In 2018 we added Natural Vita Talalay FR for the UK, again having natural materials only in the talalay latex, also designed to be completely clean, and also labelled Cradle to Cradle Gold to be free of problematic content and zero toxins. This is better for in the bedroom, and better for reuse — when all actors in the industry can cooperate we can make the mattress very transparent, and decide what we do with it in its afterlife.
What sustainable practices does Radium Foam implement?
Again we use Cradle to Cradle as a third party assessor. Cradle to Cradle looks at five different factors. These include:
The first category entails the knowing of each chemical component of the product while ensuring the optimisation towards safer components. In this stage, each component of the tested product will be categorised as being either a biological (can safely return to nature) or technical (can safely return to industry) nutrient. Also, this quality category cross references the effects of hazardous components with the likelihood of human exposure, determining the level of risk involved to human health and the environment. Natural Vita Talalay proves to be the most healthy and pure natural comfort material in the world.
This category ensures that the materials used to design the product come from and are able to return to nature or industry. This allows manufacturers to focus on maximising the percentage of recycled materials or content, as well as rapidly renewable materials used to manufacture the product. In turn, these materials should also be safely reusable, recyclable or compostable. Just as in the first step, the materials will also be categorised in either being technical (can safely return to industry) or biological (can safely return to nature). Our Natural Vita Talalay is 100% recyclable.
Renewable Energy and Carbon Management
This quality category directs manufacturers to plan ahead and envision a future where the whole manufacturing process will be powered by 100% clean and renewable energy. Natural Vita Talalay meets the Gold level requirements.
Ensuring the management of clean water and not only seeing it as a precious resource, but also an essential human right — that is what this quality category is all about. Important here is identifying and addressing the impact of each manufacturing facility, not only on a local geographical level, but also on an industrial level. In addition, all industrial chemicals used in a facilities effluent should be identified, assessed and optimised. In 2015, Radium Foam has installed a completely new wasted water installation that filters the water that has been used during the production process. Again the product Natural Vita Talalay meets to Gold level requirement in the programme category Water Stewardship.
The last quality category is made to ensure that all operational designs honour all people, as well as natural systems affected by the product, whether it be during the creation, use, disposal or even reuse. This means that manufacturers must conduct regular self-assessments based on globally-recognised resources, as well as conduct third party audits to clear supply chain issues and assure optimal conditions. Radium Foam is sponsoring the Co2OL reforestation of mixed forest project.
Has the business made any further investments on sustainability?
On material health we changed the recipe, and for the UK we removed a doubtful FR additive and replaced it with natural graphite.
On material reutilisation we are working on several projects to get latex to not only be recycled, but instead upcycled. That means we should be able to use it in a second, third, fourth life. For a product that has been made to last this is not so easy.
On renewable energy we source all our electricity from renewable sources. In the last few years all our electricity came from a windmill park. Our gas consumption we keep minimising, changing parts of our process over from gas to electricity. Also we try to keep as much of the heat we use in our company. At the same time we offset our current gas consumption by not only increasing our share of Natural latex that is sourced from carbondioxide reducing trees, we also offset our carbon by buying carbon credits, having planted and protected more than 5,000 trees in the last few years.
On water stewardship, we use well water instead of drinking water, and all our waste water is recycled to finally end up back to well water. We invested in a state-of-the-art water treatment installation.
On social responsibility, two years ago we were the first to combine Cradle to Cradle with FSC (the most stringent forestry standard, preserving forests, protecting wildlife) certified latex as accredited by Rainforest Alliance. Latex can be traced back to its origins, the plantation it came from. And it ensures that the plantation did not suffer from deforestation, whilst honouring the living circumstances of workers.
Natural latex is a big source of carbon sequestration. Actually buying natural Vita Talalay has a negative footprint, meaning it takes up more CO2 than it produces throughout its life. If we can add responsible recycling to this latex, it is an excellent material for sustainable mattresses and pillows. We have been able to get all on the Gold level, and we are now aiming for Platinum.