Furniture

Furniture selection is an integral part of every fit-out. It is the cornerstone that completes the ‘look and feel’ for staff and visitors. It is one of the best opportunities to communicate an organisation’s brand. Furniture choice also plays a key role in the functionality and flexibility of office space. In turn, this can influence the health, wellbeing and productivity of occupants, who typically spend more than 8 hours a day indoors. Adopting a holistic view of furniture procurement, through balancing cost, quality, functionality and environmental impact, can lead to economic, health and environmental benefits.

Opportunities

Implementing responsible furniture selection principles through fit-out design can deliver multiple benefits:

Complementing the Space & Layout leading to futureproofing, increased spatial efficiency, flexibility and agility. 

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Reducing maintenance and replacement intervals by adopting a whole lifecycle approach to costing.

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Showcasing and communicating corporate values to stakeholders.

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Supporting improved occupant health and wellbeing by selecting ergonomic furniture that promotes increased mobility, and specifying low/no VOC content to enhance air quality.

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Reducing negative and environmental impacts by selecting furniture with high environmental credentials, responsibly sourced materials and designed for disassembly and maximised recyclability.

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Supporting the local economy by using locally produced furniture and suppliers.

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Priorities For Responsible Furniture Selection

1. Undertake a Utilisation Assessment

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Furniture can be an expensive investment, it takes up floor space and can be costly to move and store. Too little or too much of a specific furniture type could negatively impact on office functionality, occupant satisfaction and operational costs.

A utilisation assessment should be undertaken to understand the exact furniture requirements. This should help minimise the procurement of unnecessary furnishings and reduce waste and additional storage costs. Such an assessment should:

  • Calculate the current (pre fit-out) and target (post fit-out) workspace utilisation to establish the number of workstations required
  • Review options for agile working approach to reduce desk numbers and optimise spatial efficiency.
  • Minimise extent of cellular offices to improve space utilisation and minimise partitioning.
  • Encourage digital storage, and consider centralised storage solutions to reduce the quantities of individual drawers and filing cabinets

BCO's Making Flexible Working Work states that utilisation can be surveyed using hourly observations of all work settings over a 1 to 2 week period, or by using security-pass data or automated systems such as PIR (passive infrared motion) sensors. Three key occupational states are generally noted as:

  1. occupied, someone present;
  2. unoccupied, no signs of use; 
  3. temporarily unoccupied, no one present but signs of use,

For example, for an office with 100 staff where each one has their working station, but only 50 are occupied at any hour, then the current utilisation would be 50%. If the target utilisation is ≥ 80%, then the desks sufficing to accommodate this workforce would be 100 x (50%/80%) = 63 instead of 100. 

2. Select Furniture to Complement Layout & Agile Working

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Furniture choice and configuration are integral elements of the Layout & Space Planning. The traditional office environment is changing as more organisations adopt flexible working arrangements, including agile working and flexible working hours. This change can be supported by good furniture choices.

Options could include include:

  • Teamwork tables to enhance collaborative project work.
  • ‘Touch Down’ desks for staff and/or visitors who spend limited time in the office.
  • Light-coloured desk tops to reflect daylight deeper into the space.
  • Secure storage for personal belongings and project materials to support agile working.
  • Small booths to provide areas for focused concentration, free from distractions.
  • Dedicated phone call booths and/or pods to reduce intrusive noise in an open plan office.
  • Relaxed seating areas or pods for ad-hoc and informal meetings. Design and finishes to help create privacy and suitable acoustic qualities if in an open plan office.
  • Tables, armchairs and benches to set a more relaxed feel in break-out areas.
  • Nap-pods for short time rest.

3. Review Opportunities to Reuse Furniture

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There may be opportunities to make use of furniture that already exists within the space from the previous fit-out that can be used rather than completely starting from scratch. This can help reduce costs, whilst also minimising environmental impacts associated with raw material extraction, manufacturing and the supply chain.

One of the first steps in identifying furniture requirements should be to undertake an audit of the existing fit-out and identifying opportunities for re-use and refurbishment. This may be part of an audit that is also looking at opportunities to re-use existing Materials in the space   

4. Base Procurement Decisions on Lifecycle Costs & Impacts

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The specification of furniture should be based on whole life of the produce over the term of the lease, rather than just concentrating on initial purchasing costs. This should include the benefits of extended refurbishment or replacement intervals, reduced maintenance requirements, as well as, disposal costs and impacts. Principles that should be considered include:

Designing for enhanced durability

Selecting furniture with suitably resilient and robust materials designed for every day use reduce lifecycle costs for cleaning, maintenance, repairs and premature replacement.

Designing for flexibility

Selecting furniture that can be easily demounted, reconfigured or re-used allows for a much more flexible use of space and help to reduce future refresh costs.

Designing for end of life disposal

Reducing negative ‘end of life’ impacts associated with disposal of furniture is key in maximising resource efficiency within the fit-out process. Best practice principles include:

  • Exploring options for leasing furniture instead of direct ownership (see also Materials)
  • Partner with charities and social enterprises to donate unwanted furniture for reuse.
  • Prioritising and using manufacturer’s take-back schemes to reduce end of life waste and maximise opportunities for re-use and recycling.
  • Adopting circular economy principles by ensuring furniture can be either reused or recycled. The ideal scenario where the manufacturer manages or is part of a closed-loop waste management system.

5. Prioritise Furniture with Low Environmental Impacts

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Any product lifecycle assessment should also include the environmental impacts associated with the resource extraction, transportation, manufacturing and fabrication of a product manufacture. A responsible procurement approach should prioritise options that have the lower environmental impacts.

Environmental aspects to consider include:

  • Impact on local environment during sourcing.
  • Level of recycled content.
  • Level of biodegradable materials.
  • Embodied carbon and water usage.

6. Select Furniture that Supports Employee Wellbeing

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Ergonomic Furniture

Sit-stand desks to reduce health issues associated with prolonged periods of sitting

Light-coloured desk tops to reflect daylight deeper into the space

Airborne pollutants

Substances used in the manufacturing of materials and surface finishes can impact on indoor air quality, which in turn can affect the health and wellbeing of occupants.  

Furniture should be specified to contain only zero or low-VOC materials e.g paints, varnishes, coatings, adhesives, sealants and any composite wood products such as plywood and MDF.

7. Review Suppliers Responsible Sourcing Policies

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Occupiers can go beyond the selection of products themselves and influence the overall activities of their supply chains wider business activities from a social and environmental aspect.

Best practice principles for consideration include:

  • From an environmental perspective, requiring the supplier or contractor have a certified environmental management system (e.g. ISO14001) or have an informal environmental management system in place for SMEs.
  • From a social perspective, requiring the supplier to pay all staff the national living wage, requesting evidence they fully comply with the Modern Slavery Act or are certified to BES 6002 Ethical Labour Sourcing Standard.

8. Prefer Locally Sourced Product & Suppliers

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Preferring locally sourced products and suppliers that help support the local economy and minimise travel which can subsequently reduce transport emissions and costs.

9. Develop an Operational Strategy

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To help realise the multiple benefits of good furniture choice in building operation, it is imperative that designers and facilities management teams jointly develop a management strategy. This will help ensure that future procurement, use, management and disposal of furniture aligns with strategic objectives.

Providing information and guidance for occupants on the space and layout plan and furniture strategy and their shared benefits can form part of the handover process. Such an approach could include:

  • Raising staff awareness of the importance of posture and correct work space configuration
  • Encouraging staff to limit extended periods spent sitting
  • Promoting a ‘clear desk’ policy to provide a pleasant and flexible work environment
  • Signposting availability of different areas within the office layout for different work tasks

Product & Supplier Certification Schemes

The use of product material and supplier certification standards can help guide and support decision making and specification by providing an independent assessments and assurances of products’ environmental impacts.

Such schemes include:

  • BES 6001 Framework Standard for Responsible Sourcing: a scheme that provides manufacturers with a means by which their products can be independently assessed and certified as being responsibly sourced.
  • Cradle to Cradle Certified Product Standard: a certification scheme that rates a product on - material health, material reutilisation, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship, and social fairness.
  • BRE Environmental Product Declaration Scheme: an independently verified and registered document that communicates transparent and comparable information about the life-cycle environmental impact of products. The scheme supports organisations in meeting the compliance requirements of EN 15804 Environmental Product Declarations.
  • BRE Ethical Labour Sourcing Standard: a scheme that specifies the requirements for organisational management to demonstrate an on-going commitment to the principles of ethical labour sourcing in relation to the provision of products and services.
  • Forest Stewardship Council (FSC): allows consumers to identify, purchase and use wood, paper and other forest products produced from well-managed forests and/or recycled materials.
  • GreenScreen: a globally recognized tool that identifies hazardous chemicals and safer alternatives.
  • Living Product Challenge: A framework for manufacturers to create Living Products that are free of toxins, socially responsible and environmentally net positive.
  • International Living Future Institute Red List: chemicals that may not be included in materials used in construction that seeks to meet the criteria of the Living Building Challenge.