The benefits of sustainable office furniture
As Albert Einstein observed: ‘Assumptions are made, and most assumptions are wrong’. While that rings true in most walks of life, it’s especially relevant in the office furniture domain. When it comes to selecting furniture for your office redesign, the assumption might be that sustainable, eco-friendly products will be limited in choice and more expensive. However, if you change your perception to viewing your office refit as an investment rather than a cost, there can be several benefits to choosing the sustainable path.
What’s now referred to as the circular economy is increasingly forming part of business and government strategy, with everyone acknowledging that the traditional procurement cycle of purchase, consume and dispose being ditched in favour of a more sustainable alternative. Adopting a strategy that designs out waste and focuses on repair and re-use can be beneficial on several levels.
Landfill is a growing problem across the UK, and the majority of office furniture currently in circulation is destined for landfill unless it’s re-used. As well as exacerbating the landfill issue, just disposing of your old furniture will cost you money, and those costs will vary depending on the volume, size and nature of your furniture. Not only that, the price of commercial waste disposal continues to rise and forward-thinking governments are also toying with the idea of penalising businesses that commit excessive volumes to landfill. As an alternative, consider repurposing redundant furniture and making it available to others, before sourcing sustainable furniture from responsible suppliers. That way, you’ll counter the ‘managed obsolescence’ approach that fuels our desire for the latest mobile phone, TV or car and you’ll contribute to reducing landfill levels.
Depending on your sector, it may be unavoidable, but consider purchasing furniture with components and upholstery that can be replaced when needed. Replaceable parts and washable fabrics will enable you to keep your furniture in great condition, and if these components are manufactured from recycled materials you’ll be ticking all the eco boxes. Add in the requirement for agile working solutions as we move towards a hybrid model post Covid, and the more flexible and adaptable your furniture is now will ensure that you’re future proofing your investment. Not only that, flexible furniture solutions are likely to retain their value and command a higher resale price when you eventually decide to sell.
Reducing your carbon footprint is now a key driver for businesses everywhere, so adapting your procurement policy to use local suppliers will help in this area. Checking the composition of the furniture to ensure it’s made with recycled or responsibly sourced materials will further enhance your green credentials. It is also worth gaining an understanding of the manufacturer’s own production methods. Are they energy efficient? Do they used reclaimed materials? Simple research such as this, along with a few tweaks to your procurement strategy, can make a tangible difference to your business’s carbon footprint.
Comfort and safety
Traditionally, the perception of sustainable furniture was that it was rather crude and uncomfortable, but that has changed. Design has moved on, and components are improving all the time. And a key consideration here is that furniture made with cheap components is likely to deteriorate faster, becoming uncomfortable and potentially leading to a decline in staff morale and productivity. As well as dilapidating more rapidly, lower budget furniture can also contain health damaging – and even dangerous – components such as sub-standard fire retardants and chemicals that can pose health risks.
While this may not be a key motivation in sourcing responsibly, purchasing sustainable office furniture can benefit your business in terms of external perception and appreciation that you are ‘doing your bit’. COP26 is shining a light on everyone’s responsibility towards climate change, and businesses that embrace sustainability in all areas will benefit from positive PR and a general feelgood factor, especially among younger workers and customers. Sustainable choices will contribute towards your corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives, even if you don’t publish an official policy, and that is something to shout about.
For Carol Chinn, design partner at The Workspace Consultants, adopting a sustainable office furniture policy makes good business sense. ‘Clearly, when we’re commissioned to redesign and refit a client’s office space there are lots of things to take into consideration,’ says Carol. ‘The client’s working model – whether agile, hybrid or full occupancy – will be hugely influential in the design, as of course will the budget. But, increasingly, environmental stewardship is entering the conversation. Working with our clients, we’re keen to ensure that the furniture choices that we put forward in any design are not only going to deliver the office environment they desire but are also as kind to the planet as possible. And the key thing is to avoid buying cheap and buying twice. Sustainable furniture may cost a little more, but the investment will pay off both for the client and the planet over a longer period.’
The Workspace Consultants specialise in office design and project management in Cambridge and London, so if you’re considering a redesign or refurbishment, we can help you select the best sustainable furniture for your space. Contact us today for an initial discussion.