Rethinking our use of space for a sustainable future

The ways that people and organisations work, learn and care for their health and well-being inspire the Finnish family-owned company ISKU to actively develop safe, sustainable and timeless furniture solutions that help businesses thrive.

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Arto Tiitinen, CEO of ISKU

The exceptional circumstances of spring 2020 have brought any organisation, whether public, semi-public or private, to look for new practices to ensure the safety of people and maintain effective operations in these uncertain times, overshadowed by the current pandemic. It is evident that the need for safer and more versatile environments will increase in the future. Spaces need to be used in a variety of ways and also, the furniture solutions are expected to provide opportunities for new forms of collaboration and joint innovation, as well as social distancing.


Environmentally friendly choices lead the way to sustainable solutions
Since 1928, ISKU has designed and manufactured furniture and offered services and comprehensive interior solutions for learning, working and health care facilities, as well as for all public spaces and leisure time facilities.

“Our goal is to always ensure responsible production and the safety of our solutions. For us, responsibility is actions and it is in our company DNA. We are an active developer of environmentally friendly production and sustainable solutions. Fostering a circular economy mindset and honouring our environment, we consider carefully the lifecycle of our products. Responsibility is our guiding principle covering everything from our suppliers and partners, material selection and design to the manufacturing processes and logistics,‘ says Arto Tiitinen, CEO of ISKU.

Developing our quality and lifecycle thinking, we emphasise the origin of materials, energy consumption during production, the use of chemicals, and the volume of waste generated during the entire production and consumption chain up until the recycling of products at the end of their lifecycle. We prefer environmentally sustainable materials sourced locally and use the surplus material from the production of one product as the raw material for another. This is, for example, how our Kivikko seat was created. In our novel space-in-space solution ISKU Nook, green lifecycle meets pedagogical sustainability. Both products have been awarded as the Best Sustainable/Eco-friendly product in the prestigious GESS Education awards.

It is often said that for a family business a quarter lasts 25 years. I believe this is particularly true with regards to sustainability: by its very nature, a family business builds its operations for future generations and does not compromise on sustainability for the sake of short-term profits

Our products are safely manufactured and safe to use. Our quality, environmental management and safety systems have been certified according to ISO 9001, ISO 14001 and ISO 45001 standards. We are also the only industrial company in the Finnish furniture sector that uses a PEFC Chain of Custody system to track the origin of used timber. A number of our products have also been awarded the Nordic Swan Ecolabel. We minimise the indoor air emissions of products through precise selection of materials. ISKU’s Still and Step+ are the world’s first office chairs with M1 classification. The M1 classification proves that the products’ emissions into indoor air are demonstrably low. All foam plastic used by ISKU is CertiPUR certified. The certificate indicates that the materials have been tested and do not exceed the limit values for chemicals that are hazardous to health or the environment.

In the surface treatment of wood, we use water-based and solvent-free surface treatment agents. For chroming purposes, we utilise the more environmentally-friendly plating process. Used upholstery fabrics do not contain harmful substances and are individually tested, nor do the plastic parts of our products include phthalates. Our packaging materials are recyclable and overall more than 99 percent of waste generated at ISKU factories can be recycled as material or energy. In our purchases, we prefer Finnish, environmentally-friendly materials.

In addition, as part of our investment program in Lahti, a wide range of factors related to energy and material efficiency have been developed. A very efficient geothermal heat pump system has been installed, which handles both the heating and cooling of our buildings. A solar panel system has been installed on the roof, and the electricity from there is used for cooling. 3,000 light bulbs were replaced with LED bulbs. We work systematically to investigate and minimise our environmental impact and reduce our carbon footprint.


Social responsibility is the key to successful domestic and worldwide collaboration
We have centralised all our production in the city of Lahti, Finland. Today, the ISKU factory is one of the most modern production facilities in the European furniture industry and has become a benchmark for responsible production operations. Throughout our supply chain we create employment for thousands of Finns and purchase 80 percent of our services and materials from Finland. In addition to the extensive domestic sales and service network, our own international sales units along with worldwide collaboration is the backbone of our global operations. In 2021, we will bring our innovative sustainability-based thinking to the World Expo in Dubai, UEA as ISKU is a key partner of the Finnish Pavilion, “Snow Cape”, providing the furniture solutions to the Pavilion’s VIP and conference areas.

Since 2015, we have invested over €30m in modernising the factory, production process and its systems and logistics, as well as work ergonomics and the overall wellbeing of our personnel. By ensuring good working conditions, creating jobs and acting globally in a responsible manner, we carry out corporate social responsibility and long-term sustainability. In our code of conduct, we commit to following all laws and regulations associated with our activities in all the countries where we operate.


Fighting infections with antimicrobial furniture
Exceptional circumstances, such as the current worldwide pandemic, urge us to constantly find innovative and sustainable solutions for even safer and healthier environments. Advances in material science play a significant role in ​indoor hygiene management; the cleaner the space, the lower the risk of contamination and an infection. So how can we keep fostering productivity, interaction and collaboration in a time when physical distancing and good hygiene measures are extremely important? In addition to space-in-space solutions, screens and working remotely, we can fight infections with a combination of good hand hygiene practice, regular cleaning cycles and the use of antimicrobial surfaces. ISKU+ furniture collection is the world’s first antimicrobial furniture solution that contributes to a cleaner environment. We consider the antimicrobial furniture solutions as a new furniture revolution leading to enhanced well-being and growing productivity. As the right furniture choices contribute to the health and well-being of all users, our antimicrobial solutions create value in all public and shared spaces.

To make the invisible efficacy of antimicrobial surfaces more visible, we’ve conducted various research in cooperation with partner companies, universities and other institutions. To name some highlights of the results: in a health care environment, an antimicrobial doctor’s table stood out with 81 percent less bacteria compared to the non-antimicrobial one. In a research school, significantly reduced microbe amounts were discovered in the antimicrobial classroom. Within the test period, short-term absenteeism also reduced by 52 percent compared to the conventional classroom. In an open plan office space, the testing period resulted in 92.7 percent difference in total bacterial counts on average between non-antimicrobial and antimicrobial products.

Antimicrobial options are available for the whole collection of our standard products. For our customers, the key benefits of antimicrobial solutions can be seen in reduced absenteeism and increased safety and well-being, providing an opportunity to make the furniture finance itself.

“The furniture offers a long-term solution because the antimicrobial properties are not affected by cleaning or use. The furniture is also adaptable and easy to maintain and wash, and it withstands disinfectants. Not only is the furniture functional and safe but it also looks and feels good – a pleasant environment contributes to quicker recovery,” explains Kari Soljamo, ISKU’s development manager.

Kuuhankavesi school in Hankasalmi, Finland
Kuuhankavesi school in Hankasalmi, Finland

The recently renovated Kuuhankavesi school in Hankasalmi, Finland is a very familiar learning environment for the ISKU CEO, Arto Tiitinen from his early school years. ISKU provided the renewed school with antimicrobial furniture solutions which ensures that the school is a safe and healthy place to study and work.


A brief history of the company

ISKU was founded in 1928 by Eino Vikström and is still a family company owned by the third generation of the Vikström family. Since the very beginning, sustainable Finnish wood has been the most important raw material and we never compromise on responsibility in our operations. ISKU has always invested in its own production and relies on a wide sales network. The company started internationalisation in the 1960’s and today our factory is one of the most modern furniture factories in Europe and one of the biggest industrial operators in its field in Finland. “With responsibility at the centre of our operations, we continue our active work for even safer and healthier living, learning and working environments”, says Tiitinen.