We’ve always been aware of the environmental impact that interior projects have but frankly budget has normally been a priority for our clients. However, the tide is turning and we’ve noticed that more people are asking about sustainable options, been willing to increase their budget to accommodate environmental concerns and generally engaging with ethical and green conversations in the industry. After a lifetime of nudging clients towards sustainable, ethical and local, it’s fantastic that our ‘yoghurt-knitting’ tendencies are becoming mainstream! Here are some key tips we’d give for choosing sustainable office furniture.
Buying from trusted sources
The laws have tightened considerably in the last twenty or so years. Back then there was little regulation and supply chain wasn’t considered too important. This resulted in wood from endangered environments being imported to the UK, contract furniture that was not safe and overseas factories with deadly practices creating our furniture. To be sure of the quality, designers like us had to build good relationships with suppliers and check the standards ourselves. Although we maintain excellent relationships with our contract furniture suppliers, a range of legislation and marks of quality have made the situation considerably easier to navigate. Every legitimate supplier is fully compliant with safety standards and most provide environmental policies publicly. Check out Cradle to Cradle which is a relatively recent scheme that manufacturers of all kinds are signing up to. By becoming certified you are committing to a holistic approach to minimising environmental and negative social impact in your processes. Lots of large corporations in the US have become certified but it’s becoming increasingly recognised as a gold standard internationally. Closer to home the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) logo has become familiar, not only on paper products. They regulate timber and textiles too. Their certification ensures the procurement of materials has met their exacting standards, protecting people and planet.
The production of textiles can also be terribly taxing on the environment. It’s a minefield to weigh up the ethics of fabric production, comparing the chemicals involved, the labour standards, the water use (cotton uses huge amounts of water), animal welfare (wool, leather etc) the biodegradability and pollution caused by microfibres – the list goes on and labels like ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ often hide dubious ethics elsewhere. However it’s not all doom and gloom. Innovative companies are addressing the issues and radical solutions are being discovered. You certainly don’t need to compromise quality for ethics. Check out Camira’s Oceanic range of fabrics that is created entirely from post-consumer plastics salvaged from the sea or destined for landfill. Swiss manufacturer, Climatex have developed a wool-polymer hybrid that can be separated and indefinitely recycled. We think it’s really important to support the innovators and promote sustainable solutions.
Invest for the long term
Whatever you do, don’t skimp on quality. Our ‘throwaway’ society is totally unsustainable and, although we’d be doing very well if all our clients changed their furniture annually, it would be at great cost to the planet. Commercial, or contract furniture is built for constant use and most domestic furniture will have a shorter life expectancy. So many suppliers of cheap furniture all over the world are tempting us, but in the long term it will cost more. Ten years ago we’d recommend cutting edge colour palettes and bold, fashionable furniture but now we look more for classic timeless styles. You can still transform your interior regularly if desired but without the need to throw away your perfectly functioning furniture.
Reuse, repurpose & recycle
If you are moving into shiny new offices there is a great temptation to start again with your furnishings – they won’t fit anyway, right? Times have changed and so have we. Think about reupholstering office chairs, think about resurfacing desks, a good lick of paint may transform your tired partitions. Try wherever you can to keep hold of your furniture. Sometimes it’s just not feasible but before you take a trip to the tip, get a designer in to have a look.
Finally there’s the question of recycling. First remember that someone may well need your old office chairs. Charities often need furniture and equipment. For example the Society of St James, a Southampton homeless charity regularly requests unwanted furniture. When people are rehoused they often have nothing at all and the outdated sofa from your breakout room becomes a very welcome addition. Secondly if you are buying new furniture, can it be recycled? There are many factors involved in recycling furniture but you really want to be sure that it won’t be adding to a landfill mountain in ten years time. Finally have you thought about buying secondhand, refurbished furniture? There so many companies out there who refurbish office furniture. If you want to make use of refurbished or sustainable office furniture in your schemes, we’re more than happy to source it for you.