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Sustainable Furniture

28 October 2011

The continued economic uncertainty has lead to budget cuts and stretched resources, which has resulted in closer examination of procurement decisions to ensure value for money. At the same time, sustainability directives in the workplace are still being introduced.

How can facility and property managers drive sustainability initiatives in their organisation whilst meeting the budget, resource and timeframe constraints of today’s facilities management? Premier Sustain believes that putting sustainability first can help busy FM’s manage their furniture more cost effectively and meet business, social and environmental commitments simultaneously.

The sustainability drive

Sustainability has been more than a buzz word for some time now. Customers are demanding that business is carried out in a sustainable way, making those demands known through their purchases. Staff and shareholders are also asking questions about how businesses are minimising their social and environmental impacts, affecting a company’s ability to attract and retain both staff and investment. It is not a coincidence that many of today’s leading brands are those that wear their social and environmental merits on their sleeve. Not only do businesses have to act sustainably, they have to be able to prove that they are.

Furthermore, the Government has issued a raft of sustainability-related policy in recent months – Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs ‘Government Review of Waste Policy in England 2011’, HM Government ‘Enabling the transition to a Green Economy’ and Waste and Resources Action Programme ‘Working towards a world without waste’ to name but a few – clearly focusing on resource efficiency, waste minimisation and increased recycling. In all of these documents, the Government pledges to lead by example, buying more sustainably and engaging with its supply chain to do the same. With sustainability being driven by all angles, no business can afford to ignore the challenges and FMs who aren’t being asked to drive sustainability initiatives in their organisations will surely soon be in a minority.

The FM Challenge

The backdrop to the sustainability challenge for the FM is the need to create inspirational and dynamic working environments that satisfy both the expectations of the younger untethered generation and the older generations that have become used to offices designed for desktop computers. The newest generation have social expectations of the workplace that, coupled with technology that allows almost everyone to work in a way undreamed of only a few years ago, challenges the traditional office and means that FMs have their work cut out to satisfy these seemingly conflicting human requirements in a sustainable, cost effective fashion.

“There are now three distinct generations in the workplace and the youngest generation has had the most flexible and connected technology at their fingertips since before they were teenagers. They are also often years ahead in recognising whether the office environment is sustainable” says Ian Jones, Director of Facilities at ITV. “Furniture is a key part of this. When investing in new furniture then simple, modular and where possible multipurpose items that can be reconfigured to create a variety of work settings are close to the top of their list. The workplace is evolving and is moving away from the long rows of large desks that were a common feature in most offices only a few years ago.” At ITV we have our fair share of these large desks but we are now refurbishing this stock to make them smaller and using the space left over to create the kind of flexible spaces now demanded. This contributes towards our sustainability targets as well as making ITV a great place to work, and of course it makes good financial sense.”

Premier Sustain has developed a service based around sustainable management of office resources, which is helping ITV and many other companies meet today’s challenges. The company’s five step approach outlined below uses the principles of the ‘waste hierarchy’ to direct and manage furniture resources sustainably.

 Five Step Approach

Step 1
: Waste prevention through audit and stock control

Knowing what furniture resources you have and whether it is being used is critical to waste prevention and decisions as to whether you need to buy new furniture or whether you can redeploy existing resources.

It is recommended that you carry out an audit of all existing furniture, its condition and current location to prevent over stocking, reduce storage cost and prevent unnecessary waste. The company has developed a bespoke software tool enabling them to audit furniture stock for clients, capturing images and a full range of information on-line so that FM clients can make important stock and storage decisions with all the information needed at their finger tips.

Step 2: Waste minimisation through furniture remodelling and refurbishment

Refurbishing or remodelling existing furniture can extend its lifecycle and minimise waste. Office chairs can benefit from mechanical and aesthetical refurbishment which can return them to showroom standard for a fraction of a new chair price. Larger desks can be reduced in size and shape to suit new office and exact office footprint requirement, being reinstalled on-site very quickly and economically. The carbon and cost savings that result is leading to an increasing number of enquiries and orders for remodelled desks.

Step 3: Reuse through resale and/or donation

There may still be some economic value in unwanted furniture stock either to the trade sector or to charities and social enterprises. A reputable local office furniture trader provided with photographs and an indicative inventory of items will be able to offer a trade market value for your unwanted items. Alternatively you may wish to donate some or all of your unwanted items to a local charity or social enterprise – this will not bring a direct financial return but will save on the cost of waste disposal. 

Step 4: Recycling through segregating waste streams

There will of course be furniture that is fully redundant and as such needs to be cleared as waste. As landfill tax is currently £48 per tonne, the most cost effective form of disposing of this waste is recycling it. If viable, segregation on site of some furniture into single material streams can enable materials to go directly to local recyclers, reducing costs and minimising the road miles of your waste. Alternatively, most waste management companies will segregate the waste streams for you but this will be reflected in the costs. Check the credentials of your waste management contractor to ensure that recycling is maximised and whether you or your contractor segregates the waste, ask for a full report outlining the recycling rate you have achieved.

Step 5: Recovery by aiming for zero to landfill

There will always be items of furniture that can not be cost effectively recycled but that does not mean they need to be disposed of in landfill. A number of forward thinking waste management companies offer zero waste to landfill services and these can offer savings on landfill tax. Waste that can’t be recycled is shredded and recovered as refuse derived fuel (RDF) which is then used to generate renewable energy.

Delivering real savings

Whilst it may not be realistic or relevant for FMs to undertake all these steps in every scenario, there is evidence that tangible economic and environmental savings can be made and demonstrated to directors, staff, shareholders and customers. On a recent project with Man Group, Premier Sustain cleared in excess of 2000 thousand pieces of furniture from two buildings covering 14 floors in total. Following the waste hierarchy approach Premier identified over 1700 items of furniture with a resale value; this netted a saving for the client of nearly 40% of the clearance costs.

In addition to this financial saving, this project also saw well over a 100 items of furniture donated to local charities via Premier’s Giving Back Project, in addition to Man Groups own donations. In total the carbon saving from reuse alone was in excess of 115 tonnes.

Mike Power, Global Head of Facilities for Man Group states “We were delighted with the sustainable service delivered by Premier Sustain and were impressed with the level of financial and environmental savings, as well as the project being delivered on time and below budget.”

The Giving Back Project was set up by Premier Sustain to enable effective and professional redistribution of wasted office resources to a wide range of local charities, schools and social enterprises. In line with sustainability principles, local charity projects and social enterprises that, for example, support those most vulnerable in our society, help the disadvantaged to help themselves and support education projects in local schools are supported through this project.

“The Giving Back Project means we are able to represent the requirements of a range of charities which helps over comes some of the barriers that FMs have historically in dealing with charities as the donation is fully integrated into the service” states Phil Oram, Operations Director, Premier Sustain.

“We are so grateful for the donations from The Giving Back Project of much needed furniture and equipment. We have over 100 projects in London and the South where these items will be much appreciated by the staff and residents” says Lisa Long, Corporate Fundraising Officer, St Mungo’s.

New charities can register their requirements with The Giving Back Project by emailing Communities Co-ordinator Sharon Stephens at

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