Why you should bring a green edge to office design

Many businesses are moving beyond merely placing recycling bins in kitchens and putting up notices asking people to print fewer documents as part of their green thinking in the workplace initiatives.

As companies pay greater attention to their own environmental footprint, they’re taking a closer interest in how their interior design and internal business practices can better support their external sustainability commitments and help to eliminate waste.

Furnishing new office space or refitting existing offices are often prime opportunities for boosting a company’s green credentials among employees and clients, says Yioti Smith, Head of Design & Build, Hong Kong at JLL.

“Many companies also recognise that they can attract and retain staff through a well-designed, modern workplace,” he says. “A company adds to its carbon footprint each time a company it fits out or redesigns its office space so they need to consider doing so in a more sustainable way.”

During renovations, repurposing, reusing or recycling items from glass panels and carpets to laptops and desks is becoming a more popular choice. Businesses are also considering how existing furnishings can be re-purposed to deliver reductions in both carbon footprint and costs when renovating office space. A project at the London offices of First Mile, a recycling business, saw 86 percent of furniture reused or remanufactured and existing flooring was recycled where possible.

Green redesigns tie into the growing interest in the circular economy, which aims to keep materials and products in use at their highest value for as long as possible and then recycle or remodel them at the end of their life cycle.

“You should understand what resources you currently own and how you can maximise their value, either by reusing them or selling them,” Mark Cameron, Head of Energy and Sustainability Services, North Asia at JLL.

A new breed of recycled products

Advancing technology is driving progress by making the market for office furniture and furnishings more innovative - and eco-friendly.

Catherine Kim, Senior Design Director, Design & Build, Hong Kong at JLL says manufacturers are increasingly taking ownership of the sustainable furniture space as demand from corporates grow. Companies are not only rewriting their own environmental policies but expect their suppliers to be improving their own carbon footprint too.

“Companies can now choose to use high-quality materials from sustainable sources to minimise environmental impact. Committing to environmentally-friendly furniture and furnishings can really reflect their brand values,” she says. 

Elsewhere, discarded fishing nets are being used to create a range of products from flooring to office chairs, while reclaimed wood can be used in desks and plastic bottles are enjoying a second life as tables or even cushion covers.

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Flex space growth rethinks design

The rise of flexible office space, enabling businesses to quickly upscale or downscale, also offers opportunities to design out waste.

“Modular systems allow office space to be reconfigured to meet a company’s changing needs,” says Kim. “Partitioning can easily be moved from one office to another and re-used across portfolios.”

Yet for some companies struggling to adapt to rapidly changing workplaces, understanding how to embed sustainable thinking and practices can be a challenging task.

Companies will need to start considering the lifespan of products and use of space at the design stage, so they factor into their plans and costings exactly how materials and furnishings can be recycled from the outset, Cameron says. 

Ever more sophisticated technology can also help to make sustainable products a more affordable option and growing public demand for companies to be environmentally responsible also have a role to play.

“There are always improvements to make when it comes to sustainable office design,” says Kim. “Companies are ultimately making the decisions on greener products and materials for workplace fit-outs but the onus should be on manufacturers and the wider public to support their use too.”

Ideas realised

Forward-thinking companies are realising the potential of a new workplace