Are Iittala products made sustainably?

In popular culture, Finland is probably best known for its snow, reindeer, and hosting the World Wife Carrying Championships. It’s also sauna central, its people drink more coffee than any other country, has a heavy metal rock band aimed at children and ranks top in the World Happiness Report. There’s a lot going on. Add the population’s close ties to nature and it is no surprise it is also a world leader in sustainability. Iittala is based in Finland – so you have the answer to the question: are Iittala products made sustainably?

Finland’s Environment

You have got to remember that a third of Finland lies inside the Arctic circle, where the sun never rises at the height of winter and never sets in at the peak of summer. Temperatures can drop as low as 40C below zero in a really grim winter. Large chunks of the country are mountain terrain covered in forest. Natural resources are thin on the ground.

No wonder, one important lifestyle idea in Finland is the concept of “sisu”. It’s a term that doesn’t translate directly into English but involves self-sufficiency, determination, and strength. It is an underlying reason sustainability has always been critical in Finnish culture. The self-sufficiency element means conservation, recycling and cutting waste are all hardwired into the psyche.

Maximum Happiness

The net result of the Finnish connection with nature came when the United Nations sponsored the World Happiness Report in 2021. Finland, with its clean environment accessible to all, superior welfare system and focus on fun, came out on top of all 149 countries surveyed.

It is, after all, the country where people need to qualify to take part in the Air Guitar World Championships, where children can rock along to a group of heavy metal dinosaurs called Hevisaurus, and every part of the spectacular countryside is open to all. It’s both environmentally conscious and enjoyable. Above all, it’s self-reliant.

Sustainability plays a big part in everyday life. People have strong links with nature, and designers are part of that movement. They aim to create items with clean lines and good looks. Then, they blend that with manufacturing techniques strong on ecological friendliness.

Finland had a focus on environmentally friendly design long before climate change, recycling, and all that became buzzwords. They emphasised sustainably sourced raw materials, products that would last and recycling of old products.

Iittala is Typical of Finnish Culture

Iittala is one of the companies that has been making its products sustainably since its foundation in 1881 in the village it takes its name from. It has always taken pride in its role as a pioneer in Nordic values and design. For 140 years, the goal at the Iittala glass factory has been to produce objects that look as good as the notable Birds by Oiva Toikka series. All that while also looking after nature and the environment.

Nowadays, it lends its expertise as part of the Fiskars Group. It is a key part of the parent company’s sustainability drive. The group says it is on a mission to make the everyday extraordinary. It is trying to include change and sustainability into everything it does.

Three-pronged Strategy

To reach its goal, Fiskars has set out three key commitments.

  • Rejecting the throwaway culture.
  • Aiming for a carbon-neutral future.
  • Planning to create more happiness.

As a maker of quality glassware, like the Iittala birds by Toikka series, Iittala has a track record of making goods that last. Its glass products, ranging from tableware to decorative ornaments, are all expected to become classics. These are designs that never go out of style and should be used for generations to come.

The essentials of that approach started with Finnish design pioneers such as husband and wife team Alvar and Aino Aalto. Later came Kaj Franck, known as the “conscience of Finnish design”. They began Iittala’s philosophy of creating Finnish art that pushes boundaries and gives people both beauty and practical function.

Iittala continues to work with leading Finnish designers. It also invests in product development and promotes responsible thinking from the start of the process. The idea is to be innovative by questioning familiar methods and to experiment.

Ethical Sourcing

Everyone needs to operate together for sustainability to work. That means collaborating with experts, like-minded brands, and other partners to address the problems wrecking the environment.

Iittala, one of the leading Finnish glass manufacturers, carefully sources the materials for lines like the birds by Oiva Toikka or its vases. The aim is to minimise any ecological effect and sh0w Iittala products are made sustainably. Every step, from design to production and from sourcing to packaging and recycling, enhances sustainability.

The firm’s partners must agree to a code of conduct, which includes demands on environmental issues. The company audit them regularly to make sure the contractors are complying with the terms they agreed.

The Latest Initiatives

One of the recent developments has involved an imaginative scheme to minimise waste. It all helps show Iittala products are made sustainably. There are two elements to this. There is a drive in the Iittala factory to recycle as much glass as possible. Second is a Vintage Service to resell goods people no longer need.

The two-pronged approach is as effective as it can be. Inevitably, blowing glass means there is some waste. Iittala aims to collect it and reuse as much as possible. That saves on both energy and the raw materials that need to be collected. With the more random nature of the glass that goes into these products, each is completely individual. They will each have their own colours, ranging from cool blues to calming greens and earthy neutrals.

It is the nature of the process that not all glass is suitable for recycling into new products. Not even the waste that can’t be used goes to landfill, though. The bits useless for glassware go to the construction industry for insulation material.

Vintage Service

Even the best designed and manufactured goods will sometimes reach the end of their useful life. Maybe the owners need a change, maybe they simply want a new look. Either way, why break up a perfectly serviceable item?

Iittala has the answer that allows a complete recycling of its products, at least in Finland and Sweden: its Vintage Service. This new recycling stream lets customers buy and sell used tableware in participating Iittala stores.

The environmental savings in buying previously owned tableware instead of purchasing new products are impressive. A study in partnership with the Helsinki Metropolitan Area Reuse Centre showed the Vintage products sold during 2019 saved over 133 tons of solid natural resources and over 45 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

Despite the impact of store closures in Finland because of the COVID-19 pandemic, that increased the following year to 165 tons of solid natural resources and 56 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

The Kitchenware Service

Encouraged by the success of the recycling scheme, Iittala has now embarked on an even more revolutionary approach to homeware. Instead of outright ownership, they are now part of a project that is, in effect, a leasing scheme.

In partnership with the rest of the Fiskars Group, kitchenware, tableware, cutlery, drinking glasses and cookware are available for a monthly fee.

The company is aiming the scheme squarely at the younger generation, who may expect to move about more and are comfortable sharing and borrowing. Instead of having goods for life, they can choose a new set every year. They can adjust what they possess to their current needs with complete flexibility. It’s an easy way to update the feeling of a house with different table settings and ornaments.

They may decide to lease the returned tableware again or sell it through the Vintage Service.

The Human Side

Iittala aims to have a positive impact on the quality of life, both for its staff and for the communities around its production site. Its history means it is rooted in the Nordic ideas of a good life. Equality, empowerment, wellbeing, and life balance are at the heart of the company’s goals.

This means taking an interest in human rights, health and safety and supporting the people it employs. It recognises its greatest asset is skilled, empowered and inspired people.

As part of Fiskars Group, the parent company decides Iittala’s approach to human rights.

External Initiatives

It is not only inside the Iittala factory that the company is trying to work to sustain the environment. It also works with external partners with a number of initiatives, including sponsorship schemes.

The latest is the project to work with the Finnish branch of the World-Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) to try to save the Arctic. The way it works is that Iittala picks a colour from the many options it has available. It then uses that in special ranges. When it sells any item in the colour of the year, 2.5 percent goes to the WWF. The international fund then invests the money in projects such as the drive to protect the Arctic.

“Throughout Iittala’s history, northern nature has served as a source of inspiration for our design and our relationship to the environment as a whole, defined by its presence. We greatly appreciate WWF’s work, and in addition to our core business, we continue to support and sponsor those who do important work in the field of environment,” Katarina Pettersson, the marketing director, said at the scheme’s launch.

Conclusion

We started this blog by posing the question: are Iittala products made sustainably? It is easy to see that even in an eco-friendly country, which takes environmental factors seriously, Iittala is still a national leader in the field. It is a sector leader with it sustainably sourced materials and a drive towards a carbon-neutral energy policy. The recycling schemes puts it ahead of the game.

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