Three, Sixty: With Ellen Ryall
This is an extract from Issue 14 of SDG Alpha, my newsletter that casts an Irish lens on the world of Impact Investment, Innovation, and Sustainability. In each issue, I pose three questions on the theme of sustainability to an impact entrepreneur or innovator, to get a better understanding in sixty seconds of how they’re working to achieve the SDG targets. On this occasion, I was delighted to chat with Ellen Ryall, co-founder at ReFunk, an early-stage sustainability business focused on furniture upcycling.
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On a personal level, what impacts of the climate crisis are you most concerned about?
There are a lot of alarming elements of the climate crisis but I’m certainly most concerned about the intensity of society’s consumption. Today we live in a world in which we replace and renew our belongings at an unprecedented rate. People no longer seek to repair or refurbish their item; they simply throw them away and buy something new.
Everyone does this as it is how we have been conditioned to consume. However, if we take a step back and slow down this cycle of purchasing, we can find different ways to extend the lifecycle of our belongings, whether this is getting a sole replaced on a shoe, a tear re-sewn on an item of clothing or upcycling a damaged piece of furniture. Lots of these small actions can build to make a huge impact on our environment. I think being resourceful is a forgotten value, but certainly something that could benefit our world.
Which of the UN SDGs did you start ReFunk to address?
We started ReFunk as a sustainable alternative to fast furniture options. Our solution tackles the 12th UN Sustainable Development which aims to “ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns”. One of the targets for this goal is to substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse by 2030. We are absolutely passionate about encouraging Irish consumers to consider the circular economy when purchasing furniture, and to ditch the fast furniture alternatives which are lower quality are therefore typically have a short lifespan. One of our initial surveys highlighted that 79% of consumers were interested in buying sustainable furniture but didn’t know where to source it. ReFunk is the solution!
How does your business model enable the transition to a low carbon, or more sustainable future?
By choosing a second-hand option and part-taking in the circular economy, you are refusing to support the production of virgin wood materials. Wood products account for 10% of the world’s deforestation. An issue which is devastating developing countries.
Furthermore, 10 million tonnes of furniture is discarded annually in the EU, with each piece of furniture generating 26kgs of carbon dioxide equivalents. The environmental impact of this sector is immense. ReFunk has saved over 120 pieces from the landfill, which is the equivalent of 3,120kgs of carbon dioxide.
The circular economy has just begun to flourish in a number of industries. For example, in the fashion industry, Depop dared to stand up against fast fashion and the colossal waste caused by this sector and is now one of the most exciting prospects in the industry. The circular economy has the potential to influence every industry and ReFunk aims to make it happen in furniture.
While our pieces are second-hand and therefore the more sustainable option, we also do not expect our buyers to surrender on the stylistic and aesthetic aspect of their furniture. Everyone has their own unique style which is often showcased through the décor in their home. ReFunk wants to support this creativity and passion for stylish interiors. We guarantee that each ReFunk piece is one of a kind and uniquely designed, painted and refurnished by one of our amazingly talented upcyclers.