Article: Reuse and Recycling: The Future of Office Refurbs?

Article originally featured in FM World

A well delivered office refurbishment will refresh a tired workspace and better reflect an organisation’s brand, but these days it can also be expected to make the workspace work harder as well as tick the CSR and sustainability boxes… Ann Beavis, Premier Sustain reports:

Traditionally, an office refurbishment has meant out with the old and in with the new with office furniture being treated as a short term disposable item that is changed as readily as the colour on the walls.  However, enlightened businesses are now finding that integrating reuse and recycling into office refurbishment can help deliver improved working environments whilst making cost savings on more traditional approaches.  Money saved can be then be diverted to create better meeting, break out and recreational areas for staff, benefiting both the employees and the employer.

Overcoming barriers to reuse

FMs have met barriers to this more sustainable approach to refurbishment due to issues of quality with refurbished products, lack of credible warranties and staff perception about reused furniture but all these issues can be overcome.

Providers of good quality remanufactured products should provide warranties equivalent to those for new products.  Installing a trial remodelled desk, screen and chair and producing information on the sustainable savings this furniture can deliver is a powerful tool to changing perception.  Enabling stakeholders to see the quality of the products and financial benefits of these choices, through improved break out, meeting and recreational areas, can also help persuade – if confronted with the choice of remodelled desks and refurbished chairs and screens with a new improved break out area, or new furniture whilst keeping the existing break out area, what would your workforce choose?

Resizing office desks

With the current movement towards smaller desks and benching systems to fit in more desks in an office space, remodelling makes the most of the quality furniture in which organisations have already invested.  Remodelling can bring new life to this furniture that no longer fits the footprint of an office and return items to showroom condition.

Our research into the financial and environmental benefits of furniture remodelling over a number of projects found that for an office of typically 100 staff or more, the benefits include:

  • Increased productivity of workspace – remodelling desks can save office space and increase the productivity of workspace by up to 35%
  • Reduced costs of office space – savings of as much as £90,000 in office space costs per annum
  • Reduced environmental impact – on average every ten office desks remodelled saves a tonne of C02(e)

Furthermore, according to Waste Resources Action Programme’s (WRAP) furniture procurement financial model, remanufactured desks cost typically 30% or less than the cost of new desks so cost savings can be seen immediately.

Wider reuse opportunities

Acoustic screens and notice boards can also be reupholstered to match new colour schemes, incorporating greater vibrancy into an office and achieving a consistent look that incorporates brand themes.

Reuse can also be achieved with regards to the infrastructure in an office refurbishment for example, reusing glass panels, cleaning and reusing ceiling tiles, resizing reception desks and re-topping cupboards.

With the wide range of opportunities available, reuse can take significant pressure off tight FM budgets and these savings can be reallocated, as I mentioned earlier, and spent on the more ‘nice to have’ elements of an office refurbishment that might otherwise fall outside the budget.

Dealing with unwanted furniture

Whilst reuse reduces the waste generated during an office refurbishment, other forms of waste minimisation along with recycling and recovery can help reduce the costs and environmental impacts of a refurbishment programme and even provide social benefits.

Good quality office furniture can be provided for resale, contributing towards the budget for a refurbishment.  Some items of furniture and equipment can be donated to schools, charities and social enterprises, benefiting the recipients and contributing to an organisation’s corporate social responsibility agenda.  Whilst traditionally FMs have found that these approaches took considerable time and research, and presented many logistical difficulties, reuse and recycling can now be integrated into a refurbishment project.  A single comprehensive solution from your service provider can deliver, and report back on, these environmental, financial and social outcomes with no additional burden on the time-poor FM.

More advanced collection, treatment and disposal methods also mean that sending unwanted furniture (as well as other waste materials from the refurbishment process) to landfill really can be the last resort.  On site segregation of metal, including components and fixtures, can return rebates which, again, can be put towards the cost of the project. Greater segregation of materials into single streams can reduce the waste costs of refurbishment through increased recycling.

The way forward

With sustainability creating a huge challenge for FMs, integrating reuse and recycling into refurbishment provides a great opportunity to combine environmental and social benefits with cost savings and generate an even greater feel good factor in the office than a traditional refurbishment.  In my opinion, that’s a win-win situation all round, something which Head of Facilities for Tesco Stores Ltd, Andrew Neal, concurs with:

“We have recently completed a major refreshment project that has radically transformed an office area of over 50 000 sq ft using remodelled office furniture.  We have received excellent feedback from our internal clients about the finish that has been achieved and substantial environmental savings have been made, helping us deliver our green agenda.  The financial savings that remodelling our office desks delivered have provided the funds to invest in providing break out areas and carry our additional refresh works. We fully believe that reuse is way forward for office furniture.”

Five things you might not know about reuse

  • Approximately 1.2 million office desks and 1.8 million office chairs end up in UK landfill each year
  • A remanufactured desk cost typically 30% or less than the cost of a new desk
  • Remanufactured products can come with one to five year warranties equivalent to new products*
  • Simple reuse of an office desk can cut its carbon footprint by 36% and replacement of just the desk top cuts its footprint by 18%
  • Refurbishment/repair of an office chair can reduce its carbon footprint by 45%

Figures from Waste and Resource Action Programme (WRAP)– Benefits of Reuse A Case Study Office Furniture 2011 and www.wrap.org.uk – Carbon Impact of Office Furniture Reuse  – Centre for Remanufacturing & Reuse CRR 2010.

*Not a WRAP figure