8 minute read

So much more than a chair – GTN

So much more

than a chair

Sustainability is at the core of furniture manufacturer ScanCom International and its retail brand LifestyleGarden® . Paul and James Cohen explain why it matters and why the company’s mantra is ‘Doing Business The Right Way’.

Based just outside of Ho Chi Minh City is the head office of ScanCom, a Danish company now one of the largest producers of garden furniture in the world. Its roots are in the manufacture of furniture for major global chains such as home and DIY stores, producing ranges under licence for rebranding. And this is what Paul Cohen, Commercial Director of ScanCom UK believes makes the difference. “We make all our own furniture so we can track it all the way through from the raw material, through production to the retailer, which is, I think, pretty unique in the business.” Such control of the process gives ScanCom an advantage when it comes to managing and steering its sustainability, environmental and social policies which it does with impressive results.

ScanCom International was set up in 1995 by Boje Bendtzen in his home in Denmark with four employees making furniture. His desire was to be in control of the whole manufacturing process. Today, even though the company is wholly owned by the Lars Larsen Group, which shares similar social and ethical concerns, his legacy continues.

We make all our furniture so we can track it all the way through.....

Duraboard, wood-effect composite table tops made with recycled plastic and sawdust.

ScanCom’s new ‘mega factory’ in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam covers 52,000m2 and employs 1,200 people specialising in the production of aluminium furniture.

Paul and James Cohen in the Essex showroom

Wood wise

As a young business, ScanCom became a founding member of the Tropical Rainforest Trust. By the early 2000s the FSC scheme had established so ScanCom switched and today 100% of the timber it uses complies to the Forest Stewardship Council certification.

With one sawmill in Brazil which mainly handle eucalyptus and one in Indonesia, which works with a government owned teak plantation, it is in control of the wood it uses. As all the wood comes from FSC areas where young trees are continually being replanted to regenerate forests.

“Apart from the recycled teak we use, we can trace the timber from felling the tree to making the chair in Vietnam,” says Paul who adds that if you have a teak table and look after you can leave it to your grandchildren. Caring for the furniture is also considered and ScanCom doesn’t use any chemicals in the preservation of its wood. Paul explains it works with a specialist company that has developed waterbased products which need to be applied to the wood a couple of times a year.

Naturally, in the production of wooden legs and arms for furniture, the sawmills create a lot of sawdust. To make use of this, ScanCom has come up with a way to mix a small percentage of sawdust with recycled plastic to make composite tabletops which are FSC approved.

Ranges of pvc-free wicker furniture displayed in the Essex showroom

Retailers can visit the showroom and get display ideas from the Mediterranean-themed room. All cushion covers in the UK are made using recycled polyester.

Aluminium offcuts and shavings are moulded into cubes for melting down and reusing.

Zero waste aluminium

The new mega factory in Vietnam opened in 2021 creates zero waste with its aluminium. “We buy the aluminium in long tubes and extrude it all to the profiles that we need. The majority of the shavings, all the waste, everything is turned into blocks, a bit like you see crushed cars so we can melt it down and use it again,” explains Paul.

In the UK, garden centre buyers and customers are more familiar with the LifestyleGarden brand set up specifically for selling through independent retailers, prompted by the closure of the Nova Garden Furniture business in 2009. Paul explains: “ScanCom was used to talking to customer wanting to buy 100,000 chairs, but suddenly I’m trying to convince them we need to make a small range of products, put it into stock and then sell it afterwards, which was a whole different ball game.” This meant having warehousing in the UK which had formally not been necessary. It was immediately decided a brand would be needed to facilitate the new business model and thus LifestyleGarden was born. “We wanted to differentiate the range and protect the independent retailer,” says Paul who adds that its kept separate and protected from major retailers and online trading sites. One of the joys of working with garden centres says James Cohen, Commercial Manager for ScanCom UK, is having close contact with buyers and owners and getting direct feedback on ranges and designs. This feedback is crucial, allowing LifestyleGarden to work collaboratively on future developments by understanding what is selling and where there are gaps in the market.

After its proven success in the UK, LifestyleGarden became widely available and is now sold in more than 40 countries with showrooms in the UK, Majorca and Vietnam with one soon to be opened in Miami. Interestingly when it comes to trends in retail the UK is slightly behind the other countries. “The UK is much more traditional,” says James. “Traditional wicker designs are still prevalent in our marketplace, but I think they’re taking a bit of a sidestep for more contemporary designs, which in the rest of Europe they’ve been doing for three or four years.”

As well as the LifestyleGarden showroom in Essex, the company also has a nearby warehouse and distribution centre and is looking to increase sites further. “We’ve been wanting to do this for many years,” says Paul. “For the upcoming season, stock on the floor is going to be key. We understand that committing to stock in volume is difficult, so will support our partners as best as we can, by holding local and global stock where possible, for top up and additional orders.”


One of the company’s mantras is ‘Doing Business The Right Way’ and this runs through its workings like the words in a stick of rock. Every part of the manufacturing process, whether it be raw materials such as aluminium or packaging for the end consumer, is scrutinised so each step can be fully understood and practiced in the most ethical and sustainable way. And its staff and local communities too are treated with respect and care. For example, the company not only supports various charities in Vietnam but it also helps it workers. Throughout the covid pandemic, when the factories closed, workers continued to be paid and given their promised meals and health care.

To enable it to continue this high level of sustainability ScanCom is a signatory of several United Nations pacts including the UN Global Compact Network to help businesses eradicate poverty and reduce inequalities through sustainable development and the UN Sustainable Development Goals of which there are 17.

Paul explains that ScanCom has been working for more than three decades on its sustainability credentials. “Major retailers have to be sure they’re buying from a reliable and trustworthy source. In the late nineties there was a lot of vocal protests and newspaper articles about illegal logging in Vietnam, Cambodia and the surrounding areas so ScanCom decided the only way it could survive was if it worked to show its was doing everything the right way. We’re audited nearly every day by someone so we have to make sure it’s always right.”

However, there are price considerations. “There are cost implications to being environmentally friendly because of the things we have to do in the background and that’s why we’ll never sell the cheapest furniture in the market. But we believe in what we are doing,” says Paul.

The Nassau range of recycled plastic furniture won the Best Sustainable Product award at SOLEX 22.

Chairs and tables in the new Nassau range are made from pellets created from recycled plastic collected through the Social Plastic scheme.

Facing up to the problem with plastic

The DuraOcean® range of green furniture comes from fishing ropes while the colourful chairs in the Nassau range comes from Social Plastic®, the material resulting from the Plastic Bank initiative where communities are paid for the waste plastic they collect from their local beaches and streets.

By its nature, recycled plastic has to be handled differently so the design of a chair has to be considered accordingly. The shape and style of ScanCom chairs have been created specifically to provide maximum strength without the use of fibreglass which although would add strength, would also render the chairs unrecyclable.

Demand for recycled plastic as a raw material is going up all the time putting pressure on prices. “I think we were the first to introduce a commercially viable option,” says James. “There were plenty of chairs around with a small percentage of recycled material, but they were £500 a chair. The plastic in our Nassau chairs is 100% recycled and they sit alongside any product in a garden centre, fully recycled and fully recyclable at the end of life.” This last point is critical in closing the loop on plastic recycling and James adds the LifestyleGarden website now has a facility for finding recycling centres local to homeowners in the UK.

LifestyleGarden® is a brand of ScanCom and registered with the USA Patent and Trademark Office. www.lifestylegarden.com