“We own this company to try and put things into action that all the smart people are saying… Find what we do wrong, implement it and prove to the world that it is good business”. Yvon Chouinard - Patagonia

Best choices, a challenging task:

Doing business is about making the right choices. And it is extremely challenging to always make the best choice since we have to decide with incomplete information available. “We are in the earliest stages of learning how what we do for a living both threatens nature and fails to meet our deepest human needs. The impoverishment of our world and the devaluing of the priceless undermine our physical and economic well-being.” – Patagonia. These sentences summarize everything we have been trying to do and understand.

Open to learn and receive critical feedback:

At ‘Jaswig’ we have made numerous mistakes and there is a high chance that we will make more of them in the future! However, we strongly believe that the right questions will lead us to the answers we are looking out for. Being transparent in our approach coupled with the right questions are very important factors for a sustainable, long-term success. We have to adopt an iterative approach and open ourselves to receive critical feedback. In addition to this, we have to actively search for smart knowledgeable critics who would know the areas in which we have to make decisions far better than what we do now.

The right question to the right people with the right knowledge:

We strongly believe that our ecological, financial, personal and thus our overall success will be the result of how successfully we are able to pose the right questions to the right people with the right knowledge. This was a crucial point for us when we were rethinking the choices we made about the varnish we use.

Our Varnish Research:

During our research, we contacted several varnish manufacturers. Some of them were simply rude when we asked them about the different materials used in their varnishes. Others were a lot more cooperative and helped us out with the questions we had. We did not stop with that. We also contacted universities and other knowledge centers. They were more than happy to help us out.

Closup wooden standing desk

Types of varnish and their impact:

The first piece of information we learned was the two different types of varnish that were available; solvent based varnish and the water based varnish. After talking to the experts from several institutions and companies, we concluded that water based varnish would be a better choice for the environment. This was backed by a study that was cited in the following article: “Revision of EU European Ecolabel and Development of EU Green Public Procurement Criteria for Indoor and Outdoor Paints and Varnishes”. The study showed (Dow 2011) that water based paints have a significantly smaller impact on the following six important areas: energy use, VOC (volatile organic compounds), total solid waste, greenhouse release, water pollution, and human toxicity.

Self-study and expert-based information on Varnish:

Since we did not have the financial means to perform our own scientific study, all this information is derived from self-study and free advice. We are eternally grateful to them for their expert knowledge on this subject. However, if financial viability is reached we are planning to use methodologies like life cycle assessment to base our decisions on.

Detail of wooden design standing desk

Toxic nature of the water based varnish

Another less positive piece of information that we learned is that water based varnish is probably more toxic than solvent based ones for the people who apply it. As many are not aware of the small but existing toxicity of this type of varnish, most people do not cover themselves enough when they are using water based varnishes. So we have a lot of work to do in educating the manufacturers of our product to make sure that they protect themselves enough while they apply this varnish!

Increased cost:

Water based varnish is more expensive than solvent based ones. As a result, there is an increased cost of around 8% for our StandUp! That is quite costly but we still choose to work with water based varnish since it scored better in the six areas we mentioned above than solvent based varnish and in our company we find this very important. Our frustration with water-based varnish: Nevertheless, it is still very frustrating that the varnish we apply cannot be separated from the wood. This leads to the wood being discarded along with the varnish thereby making the wood less valuable. In addition to this, the discarded wood would pollute our environment as a waste material. However, we are hopeful that one day this problem would also be solved.

Our belief:

We believe in the fact that the most successful company will be the company that asks the right questions and not necessarily the one that has all the answers already. Next to that business will probably always come with an environmental cost. And that is why we are a part of 1% for the Planet, an organization that draws in funds to partly balance the impact of the businesses on the environment. Hopefully the total operations of business can become a force for net environmental profits but we still have a lot of battles to win before this will become a reality.

The technical details of the varnish we use can be found in the following links