How can we make our office spaces more sustainable | Office design Cambridge, Manchester, London
The Workspace Consultants

How can we make our office spaces more sustainable?

The issue of sustainability is now front and centre in all spheres of life and this is as relevant within the office design sector as any. We can and should ensure we investigate and approve as many aspects of specification as possible, and this will apply to all areas within the design process. From carpet tiles to task seating, we should be making positive selections based on sustainable materials and low carbon footprints.

The best options for sustainable raw materials that we can apply within office design are listed below:


Wood has always been a popular material within office design, historically used for anything from structure to desktops. If sustainably sourced, it is one of the most environmentally friendly materials available. It is infinitely renewable and acts as a carbon store, giving it a key role in reducing carbon emissions, but products need to carry an accreditation such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) for confidence that they come from managed forests.

Woods such as pine, which grows very fast and therefore stores carbon quickly, oak, which is a brilliant absorber of carbon dioxide, and beech, where significant existing beech forests mean we can harvest as long as we replant without a negative carbon impact, offer the best choices. Manufactured ‘wood’ such as particleboard, MDF and plywood are less sustainable as they can emit harmful gases from the adhesives used in manufacture. Icons of Denmark have many ranges of tables and chairs with sustainably sourced wood, including their Smile Chair.

Smile Chairs - made from sustainably sourced wood


As a grass, bamboo is one of the fastest-growing natural materials available for furniture, and it also replenishes itself very quickly. Some species grow up to 36 inches every day, and to full size in one to five years. If we compare this to trees, typically ten years are required for the same level of growth. In addition, bamboo removes carbon from the atmosphere very effectively and introduces high levels of oxygen back, plus it's lightweight compared to more traditional wood products, making it a great choice for furniture as it will be easy to move around. Frovi’s modular bamboo shelving range is made with pressed bamboo.

Frovi’s modular bamboo shelving range is made with pressed bamboo


Natural fabrics can add wonderful textures to any space and will be most sustainable on furniture when they’re used to re-upholster existing items rather than buying new. Manufacturer-approved seating fabrics generally have a minimum Martindale rub count (Rc) and commercial fabrics are expected to be more than 25,000 rubs. For this reason, most commercial seating fabrics are a mix of natural and man-made fibres. Natural and recycled man-made mixes are available and sustainable. The best sustainable natural fabrics come from three sources: sheep, flax and hemp.

  • Wool – is readily available within the interiors industry as it is extremely robust (>70,000Rc), and it’s 100% renewable so it therefore provides optimum sustainability. It's also flame retardant and heat regulating so is great for seating, carpets and vertical applications.
  • Linen – can be manufactured in different weights for vertical and horizontal applications (<30,000Rc), plus it's both strong and biodegradable. It can be used for seating and vertical applications.
  • Hemp – although not widely used in the office sector, it can be mixed with other yarns to make it softer and more versatile. It's easy to grow but has an expensive manufacturing process and – similarly to wool – it has natural heat regulating properties.


Steel is a sustainable material for several reasons. It's strong, meaning you don't need a lot of it; it can be reused an infinite number of times, making it endlessly recyclable; it takes very little energy to produce, and it's also not toxic to people or the environment. For all these reasons, it's a popular choice for chair bases. The Icons of Denmark Bark Lounge Chair is a great example.

Icons of Denmark Bark Lounge Chair


Like steel, aluminium can be infinitely recycled. Recycling aluminium also saves 95% of the energy used in its production from raw materials. The Orangebox Eva chair has an aluminium base.

Recycled materials

Identifying products that have recycled content and a small carbon footprint has clear advantages, as we will be reducing the amount of new material taken from the planet, creating less waste for landfill and using less energy in production. And whilst some natural materials have a carbon capture co-efficient which is hugely desirable, specifying to include recycled content is a ‘no brainer’. Furniture componentry is currently being made from recycled products as varied as glass fibre (into seat bases and back frames), ocean plastics (into woven fabrics for screening) and recycled polymer feedstock into a plastic like material for seating. We are also seeing seating from recycled plastics (PET) and recycled cork from the wine industry. The Modus Michael stool and Richard Chair, and the Orangebox Kirn are good examples.

The Modus Michael stool and Richard Chair and the Orangebox Kirn

Carpet tile manufacturers are old hands at incorporating recycled content into their backings and are now stepping up the focus to include all parts of their processes. Interface are keen to impress with 76% of the energy used in their manufacturing process being renewable, 50% of all flooring either recycled or bio based, a carbon negative CQuest backing, entirely carbon negative carpet tile ranges as well as a recycling programme for old tiles.

Tarkett are also investing in the future and have made a pledge for Human Conscious Design, standing for present and future generations. Their ReStart® initiative is a take back and recycle programme, where they collect and recycle old carpet and vinyl plus any new carpet offcuts. They have promised to be phthalate free, cradle to cradle, transparent and responsible with PVC.

New materials and new approaches are also being adopted, so the future is becoming even more sustainable for products within our office spaces. Mushroom mycelium, for example, can insulate against sound and heat, is fire resistant and is being used to create stools and tables by two companies in the US.

Carol Chinn, Design Partner at The Workspace Consultants, believes that specifying sustainable office furniture and fittings are a necessary step for manufacturers and clients alike. ‘I’m always looking to expand my knowledge base to include more ranges of sustainable products, and it’s a very positive sign that most manufacturers now have at least some ranges in this category,’ comments Carol. ‘As designers we’re constantly focusing on innovation and there’s significant progress being made in this area, especially in terms of choice and affordability.’

Get in touch

The Workspace Consultants specialise in office design in Cambridge, London and Manchester, so why not call us on 01223 656111 or complete our enquiry form to arrange a consultation?

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