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Circle of life

14 Oct 2019  |  Tech  |  Productivity  |  Design  |  News

With awareness of climate change and plastic pollution dominating the headlines, companies are trying to do their bit for the environment.

Furniture manufacturers have for years been making their products better, greener and designed with sustainability in mind. But companies are not always trying to buy new; another option increasingly finding favour is repurposing. If furniture is still serviceable, why dispose of it simply because it’s time to relocate or refurbish the office? There’s no better example of the circular economy at work than giving existing furniture a new lease of life.

Marks & Spencer is a good example of a well-known brand staking its reputation on its social, ethical and environmental values. Plan A 2025 is the company’s ambitious strategy to transform itself into a sustainable business. One of the key goals is to ensure that every part of its operation becomes zero-waste.

On a recent office refurbishment project, M&S wanted 80% of its existing furniture reused; our challenge was to help them achieve this without compromising the quality or integrity of the design. We repurposed 1,200 desks, adding new tops to the existing framework and changing the footprint from 1600mm to 1400mm to make room for more positions. We reused task chairs and meeting room furniture (tables, chairs and pods), ensuring everything was cleaned and looking good as new

Where new upholstery, materials and finishes were required we recommended products that would be easy to maintain and resilient (we prefer to specify items with five-year warranties).

When the British Heart Foundation (BHF) refurbished its North London office to accommodate a growing team, we suggested that the existing large format desks be recycled to provide smaller desks to make better use of the space. And we assisted TJX to repurpose and upgrade a high proportion of its desking to fit in with the changing demands on its workplace.

This kind of exercise does not necessarily save money, but it does serve the circular economy and achieve sustainability goals. It’s important for the client to be clear about its objectives, and for the furniture consultant to be open and honest about what’s possible. But the results can be very rewarding.

Another way to build sustainability into the workplace is to ensure that furniture and fabrics last as long as possible while continuing to look its best. People tend to take better care of their office when their environment is nicely designed and well maintained. Protective formulations and regular maintenance can extend the life of upholstery, carpets and other flooring products. Carpets can be recoloured and re-piled to rejuvenate them.

When we worked with Deloitte on its WELL Gold-certified and BREEAM Outstanding HQ at 1 New Street Square London, all selection of furniture was done with sustainability in mind. We provided a protection service for all upholstery, vertical fabric surfaces and rugs as well as specialist ongoing maintenance and cleaning. For BHF and TJX we cleaned and protected much of their existing furniture, including task chairs, giving it a new lease of life.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to care – care of people, care of the environment, care of our surroundings. It’s a difficult cultural shift for some, but companies that care – and can show that they care – will be well placed to succeed as the global economy moves towards a more sustainable future.

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