“German kitchens are sustainable!“

Mannheim, Germany, 03/12/2021 Kitchen talk with Managing Director Volker Irle from the AMK – Arbeitsgemeinschaft Die Moderne Küche e. V. on sustainability, conservation of resources, climate and environmental protection in the kitchen sector.

Mr Irle, you say that German kitchens are sustainable. How can this be determined specifically?

Volker Irle: On many criteria. For example, the very long service life of a kitchen of 15 or 20 years or more and, with good care and maintenance, some kitchen furniture can have an even longer life cycle. The high quality in terms of product and workmanship and the associated longevity alone make them sustainable even if, for various reasons, kitchens are replaced more quickly today than they were in the past.

Our member companies have their products, whether kitchen furniture, household appliances or accessories, tested for quality and durability so you can enjoy your new kitchen for many years to come. The testing is carried out both in our own and in internationally recognised test labs. In addition: The main recyclable material in a kitchen is wood, a renewable raw material and also an important storehouse of CO2. There also many other durable, natural materials in kitchens such as metal, ceramics, glass, natural or quartz stone and other recyclable materials.

Another sustainability criterion is the low energy and water consumption of modern integrated kitchen appliances. Consumption is falling every year, albeit not as sharply as the reductions we saw 10-15 years ago. So, further savings with an already very low consumption level represent an enormous technical achievement. Consider, for example, the introduction of the new energy label, including for dishwashers and refrigerators. The A+ energy rating system has been eliminated for appliances since 1 March 2021 and has been replaced by the new rating categories A-G. The European Union had defined the new rating scale so strictly that it would remain reliable for as long as possible, and it was assumed that, at the time of the introduction of the new energy labels, as far as possible, no appliances would achieve the highest energy efficiency class A. But today, not long after the introduction of the new labels, the first dishwashers are already rated A. In the case of refrigerators, the first pioneers in the highest energy efficiency class A are already here. This is in addition to the sustainable food management that is possible with these refrigeration models, as they prevent food waste. The state-of-the-art freshness technology enables more delicate foods to remain fresher for much longer and they also retain their vitamins.

What else is the kitchen industry doing in terms of sustainability, climate and environmental protection? 

There are a number of other, ecologically sustainable parameters; for example, the relevant certifications and environmental sustainability seals. Corporate strategies and packages of measures for consistent further CO2 reduction. The periodic creation of an environmental/eco balance sheet, and professional sustainability management. This is an environmental performance indicator system that identifies weak points early on so that the appropriate remedial measures can then be implemented. Sustainability parameters also include the defined sustainability goals of our AMK member companies over the coming years. Not forgetting the large complex area of recycling, upcycling, the circular economy and research into further innovative materials.

Could you please provide some examples of certifications?

For example, there is the international environmental management system standard ISO 14001, which has been a globally recognised basic standard since the mid-1990s. This standard defines the establishment, implementation, maintenance and continuous improvement of environmental management systems. The overarching goal is to promote environmental protection, reduce environmental impacts and correctly implement the environmental objectives at all times.

Another certification, ISO 50001, relates to energy management systems, and aims to continuously improve energy performance. ISO 50001 describes all the requirements for companies to introduce, implement and continuously optimise an energy management system.

What are the specific seals?

For example, we have the environmental and sustainability seal PEFC for the use of wood-based materials from sustainably managed forests and the FSC for wood from responsible forestry. The quality marks and labels of the Deutsche Gütegemeinschaft Möbel e. V. (DGM) (German Furniture Quality Association) also provides good guidelines. The most famous and most comprehensive is the German RAL quality mark, and furniture which has been tested to this standard bears the “Goldenes M” (golden M). Furniture must meet extremely high standards in the quality, safety, health and environmental compatibility criteria to our full satisfaction. The RAL (Reichs-Ausschuss fur Lieferbedingungen – a German quality standard established in the 1920s) quality mark is based on the strict quality and testing regulations RAL-GZ 430, which are regularly reviewed to respond to the state of the art. The furniture is tested in independent test laboratories in accordance with general and segment-specific criteria.

We also have, for example, the two DGM (Gütegemeinschaft Möbel (furniture quality association)) climate labels “Climate pact for the furniture industry” and “Climate-neutral furniture manufacturer”. Companies that join the “Climate pact” therefore document their responsibility with respect to climate change by tracking their carbon footprint to continue reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. Companies that offset their carbon footprint by purchasing climate protection certificates to support wind power, reforestation projects or similar initiatives are also awarded the label “Climate-neutral furniture manufacturer”. Sustainability labels such as “grünergriff” (green handle) demonstrate that the kitchen trade is also focusing increasingly on the issue of sustainability beyond the product itself and address the needs of customers in the long term.

You also mention recycling and upcycling as other factors.

Many materials in the kitchen can be recycled. I mentioned the natural materials earlier. There are also, for example, plastic unit fronts with a high recycled content or water-soluble paints. Moreover, it is always remarkable how creative the companies are; one case in point are plastic parts and plastic granulates. These are then recycled as components in ovens, refrigerators/freezers, dishwashers, vacuum cleaners and washing machines. Upcycling is another interesting option. In the process, waste products and seemingly useless substances are converted into new and more valuable items. These could include off-cuts and residual wood that is used to supply heat. Or new packaging material built from chipboard off-cuts and shavings.

What about new and innovative materials?

As you can understand, we are sworn to secrecy about the current research of our member companies, but I can give you two examples: 100% sustainable surfaces and new organically-based plastics. A new natural and sustainable surface has been created that uses untreated parts of plants. Or the first fridge-freezer made from sustainable components. It consists partly of organically-based plastic and composites made from recycled food residues such as soya, sugar cane or corn starch.

Against the backdrop of these latest innovations, however, we mustn’t forget that today’s modern kitchens already include numerous sustainable components which, as I mentioned previously, starts with natural and recyclable materials and ranges from resource-saving domestic appliances through to the accessories sector. Many sustainable examples can be found here too, such as water- and energy-saving kitchen fittings, 100% recyclable sinks, highly durable quality fittings, interior organisation and waste separation systems or economical and recyclable LED lights, to name but a few.

Let’s talk about reducing CO2, what’s the situation for the companies here?

Our member companies are also highly committed to this important issue, as demonstrated by a confidential internal AMK survey we conducted earlier this year. All the participating association members are dedicated to CO2 reduction, whether kitchen furniture, household appliance or accessory manufacturers. Many companies are already achieving 100% climate-neutral production, while others are well on their way. I would say that our AMK members are also in a good to very good position in this respect, and are striving to pursue their ambitious goals.

What would you describe as the most important measures implemented to date by the AMK member companies for sustainability, climate and environmental protection?

Achieving 100% climate-neutral production. The significant annual resource savings they achieve, whether through green electricity, in-house power generation, conversion to energy-efficient vehicle fleets or a reduction in waste streams, for example. Then there’s the certifications for environmental management (ISO 14001) and energy management (ISO 50001) and the promotion of a continuous recycling economy. The intensive research conducted by the companies in the field of resource efficiency, innovative materials, recycling and upcycling is exemplary. (AMK)

Mr. Irle, thank you very much for the interview.

Image 1 + 1a:
Attractive lifestyle eat-in kitchen in the trend colour graphite combined with high-quality champagne-coloured fronts in oak veneer. The interior is also perfectly colour-coordinated: the carcass is also graphite. (Photo: AMK)

Image 1 + 1a:
Attractive lifestyle eat-in kitchen in the trend colour graphite combined with high-quality champagne-coloured fronts in oak veneer. The interior is also perfectly colour-coordinated: the carcass is also graphite. (Photo: AMK)

Image 2:
Volker Irle, Managing Director AMK – Arbeitsgemeinschaft Die Moderne Küche e. V., Mannheim. (Photo: AMK)

Image 3:
Durable, robust and easy to maintain with the anti-fingerprint effect, the surfaces of this inviting eat-in kitchen are a lovely tone of ultra matt blue The dark trend colour looks particularly elegant combined with the golden elements. (Photo: AMK)

Image 4:
The premium satin finish of this sink is made from 99% natural, renewable or recycled raw materials. At the end of its service life, the sink re-enters a closed production cycle. (Photo: AMK)

Image 5:
The first fridge/freezer combination with components made from bioplas-tics These are made from composites that comprise food waste products which include sugar cane, corn starch, soya and eggshells. (Photo: AMK)

Image 6:
Waste separation with a system that is particularly gentle, quiet and runs very smoothly Branded waste separation systems are easy-to-use, long-lasting and therefore sustainable. This has been tested with over 100,000 pull-out cycles. (Photo: AMK)

Image 7:
Fittings must be capable of withstanding some hard wear, such as this movement system for doors and covers. It fits almost invisibly into the piece of furniture, takes up little space and makes optimal use of the avail-able storage space. (Photo: AMK)

Image 8:
Kitchen designs can be used to plan a complete loft: untreated plant parts are used for the back panels of the cupboards (left). They smell pleasant and keep any moths away. (Photo: AMK)

Image 9:
The international environmental management system standard ISO 14001 defines the establishment, implementation, maintenance and continuous improvement of environmental management systems. (Photo: AMK)

Image 10:
Furniture that bears the well-known DGM quality mark "Goldenes M” (gold-en M) must fully comply with very high standards in terms of quality, safety, health and environmental protection. (Photo: AMK)

Image 11:
Companies that join the "Climate pact" are thus documenting their sense of responsibility towards climate change. The basis is the CO2 balance sheet of a company. (Photo: AMK)

Image 12:
Companies that offset their carbon footprint by purchasing climate protec-tion certificates to support wind power, reforestation projects or similar initiatives are also awarded the label "Climate-neutral furniture manufactur-er". (Photo: AMK)