Building a new factory is a huge undertaking for many companies, and one that often focuses solely on how it will facilitate the company’s growth. True to its ethos, Norwegian furniture manufacturer Vestre decided to take a broader and more conscious approach when, 18 months ago, it embarked on its mission to create The Plus: the company’s new factory in Magnor, Norway.
Designed by Danish architectural firm Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) at a cost of almost NOK 300 million, it is one of the single largest investments in the Norwegian furniture industry to date.
Officially opened on 3 June 2022, covering 7,000sqm and claiming to be ‘the world’s most environmentally friendly furniture factory’, The Plus takes the physical form that its name suggests: an intersectional design with four wings set around a central courtyard, which also houses a visitor centre to welcome guests to the fir forest that surrounds it.
A forest that, if Vestre hadn’t intervened and put forward its proposal, would have been destroyed – the industrial development originally planned for the space would have needed to remove over 30 hectares of woodland.
The factory’s four production areas, which are situated in the wings, all host different functions of the manufacturing line: the Colour Factory, the Wood Factory, Assembly and the Warehouse, with the company’s existing Torsby factory now used solely to produce steel and aluminium components.
Illuminated by floor-to-ceiling windows looking out into the forest, with vibrant colours to zone each area and wood-panelled walls (made using the timber from trees felled to make way for the building), the interior of the factory is like no other. With none of the fences, borders, or restricted access often associated with industry, is The Plus presenting a new future for manufacturing plants across the world?
Viktoria Millentrup, the Project Lead at BIG, states the task of creating a sustainable, accessible, colourful production facility with a public park felt like designing a whole new typology.
“Manufacturing facilities are still thought of as fenced-off buildings that pollute the environment,” she says. “I am excited that The Plus is a prototype for the green transition, proving that manufacturing can be sustainable, social, local and profitable at the same time. And it raises the all-important question: What would happen to the planet if all industrial buildings followed this concept?”
While preserving its surrounding ecosystem is obviously a huge benefit, Vestre is passionate to take its mission a step further by educating visitors to engage, adapt and work in congruence with it. Encouraging a deeper interest in the industry, and the advantages of sustainable production through its goal of providing an open and transparent factory, visitors have access to the Vestre Energy Centre and the Vestre Clean Water Centre.
There, the public can learn about energy production, energy recovery, water purification and even the life cycles of the materials used in the factory production itself. While many businesses might find such an in-depth glimpse into their operational facilities uncomfortable, Vestre is relishing the challenge, and hopes it will encourage other companies to follow suit.
Firm believers in ‘green growth’, a term used for activities where economic growth can be achieved while still managing the earth’s resources in a sustainable way, Vestre refers to itself as a ‘techno-optimist’.
“Someone has to take the lead if we are to accelerate the green shift,” says Stefan Tjust, the company’s CEO. “We hope that The Plus gets more companies to discover the opportunities here in Magnor and the region, on both the Norwegian and Swedish sides.” And, with data and research to back up the company’s bold claims, the development is well placed to become the first of its type to achieve the highest environmental BREEAM rating, meeting the criteria for an ‘Outstanding’ classification.
In terms of energy efficiency, The Plus has a supplied energy requirement of 27.1 kWh per square metre and will not need heating until the outdoor temperature falls below 5°C. Added to this, it generates approximately 250,000 kWh of renewable energy per year from the 900 solar panels positioned on its roof.
Every detail has been centred around a mindset of reuse, utilising surplus heat from the production line to heat the building, as well as recycling over 90% of the water used in all processes. Releasing 55% fewer greenhouse gases than comparable sites, it pays testament to the company’s commitment to a circular and sustainable future, a duty that has been filtered down through each department of the business.
Visiting the site, which welcomed over 800 guests to a Forest Festival for the official opening, is more reminiscent of a geography field trip or a day out in nature than something connected with manufacturing, and the antithesis of what one would associate with a factory visit.
Immersed in a 300-hectare cultural and experience park, The Plus pays homage to the Norwegian ‘right to roam’, which states that everyone has access to move about freely in nature, even where a factory has been built. Also contributing to economic growth and providing around 70 new jobs, it is proof that industry can be part of the solution to the climate issues we face today.
Linking its work to nine of the UN’s sustainable development goals, Vestre believes in a ‘triple net income’ that is economically, ecologically and socially constructive. Tripling its turnover in the last decade and with its uncompromising stance on sustainability, the family-owned company is going from strength to strength, with this second factory development representing another huge milestone for the team.
Minimising disruption to local ecosystems throughout its construction process, the project is set to enhance biodiversity in the area, allowing the surrounding woodland to grow wild without any introduction of non-native species, forest management or clearing activities that could damage animals’ homes and sources of food.
Vestre’s The Plus is setting a benchmark for the world, and is a positive reminder that change is possible. Standing true to its commitment, without any compromise for its people or the environment, the Norwegian furniture manufacturer is laying the ground rules for how future industries could operate; a world where economies and environments thrive in harmony and where, when the right values are prioritised, revolutionary results will pave the way for future generations.
Images by Einar Aslaksen
As featured in OnOffice 160, Autumn 2022. Read a digital version of the issue for free here