By Chris Bates
Published in the June 2010 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
Facility managers (fms) face daunting, and perhaps unprecedented, economic and facility management (FM) challenges today. A central challenge is finding cost-effective ways to lower building operating costs, while meeting an expanding array of sustainability goals set by upper management, customers, and government at varying levels. Office furniture dealers have become valuable resources to help fms meet both goals by offering a wide variety of environmentally friendly new and recycled product solutions.
Meanwhile, the office furniture industry is embracing changes in the working environment that currently must accommodate the distinct needs and working styles of four generations in the U.S. workforce. There is increased urgency for office furniture manufacturers and their dealers to offer solutions that will help employers successfully blend the skills of a diverse, multigenerational workforce to create highly flexible, productive, and cost-effective workspaces.
Fms who directly or indirectly contribute their expertise to the design, renovation, and/or ongoing maintenance of these non-traditional workspaces can enhance their value as a resource to their organizations by expanding their knowledge of the broad range of sustainable office furniture options now available to them.
New Standards And Systems
Industry manufacturers have come together in the past few years to develop and launch the first truly comprehensive sustainability standard and an accompanying independent testing and certification process (level™) for office furniture. The Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association (BIFMA) has led this important new initiative, which has earned ANSI (American National Standards Institute) approval. [To learn more about level™ certification, read “On The Level,” TFM, May 2010.]
Educational programs regarding the new standard testing and certification process are now in place to inform fms, members of the A&D community, and dealers about this tool aimed at increasing the availability and use of new, sustainable furniture products in workplaces. A growing number of full line and specialist furniture manufacturers have designed products to meet BIFMA’s standard and have had those products independently tested for compliance through the level™ certification process.
There is also growing acceptance of architectural interior products—such as demountable walls and raised floor systems—that contribute to an fm’s ability to reuse and repurpose furnishings. These products, when evaluated on a full life cycle economic basis, provide flexible, sustainable, and cost-effective substitutes for traditional fixed wallboard construction and HVAC and electrical service delivery to offices. Such options are particularly attractive to organizations entering new or redesigned space and seeking open plan layouts to accommodate employee collaboration, mobile workforces, specialized work environments, and/or frequent shifts in functional office requirements—all in a compact footprint.
As commercial demand for these products has grown, office furniture dealers, especially in major metro markets, have become knowledgeable in managing such projects from the design/build to installation stages working in cooperation with general contractors, fms, and A&D community representatives.
Quality Recycled Solutions
The recycled office furniture market has experienced a quiet renaissance of its own. This segment of the industry offers a broad range of value priced, high quality refurbished and remanufactured product and has gained traction in the market.
The environmental benefits of furniture recycling are dramatic: remanufacturing just 40 workstations diverts a full tractor trailer load of furniture from a landfill. It also saves large volumes of raw materials and the energy and costs to extract, transport, and transform them into new furniture.
In addition, many remanufacturers and refurbishers are using environmentally friendly practices as an integral part of their processes. For example, EthoSource, based in Morgantown, PA, recently played a major role in a 900 workstation LEED Platinum project in southeastern Pennsylvania. The company presented a solution that included the maximum reutilization of the client’s existing cubicles and incorporation of recycled materials.
Meanwhile, Davies Office Refurbishing in Albany, NY uses powder coating in its finishing process (which eliminates volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, in its metal finishing), water based adhesives in its lamination process, 100% recycled fabrics in its panel recovery process, and recycled packaging material in shipping.
Indoor air quality is another environmental benefit gleaned from refurbishing. This is because facility occupants have significantly less exposure to the VOCs that result from some new manufacturing processes.
One material that is being used more in office furniture is bamboo, a rapidly renewable resource with a short regeneration time, which helps ease the deforestation of old growth forests. Bamboo stalks are cut into strips and laminated together to create either a plywood panel or a vertical grain panel to simulate a natural wood grain.
Many dealers who previously emphasized new furniture sales now offer a mix of blended office solutions that incorporate new and refurbished and/or remanufactured products tailored to the specific functional needs and budgets of clients. There also is a large volume of “as-is” used furniture in good condition, which dealers and brokers can locate, acquire, and supply in small or large volumes on short notice to help customers quickly ramp up to take advantage of immediate new business opportunities or short-term/transitional needs.
Increasingly, office furniture dealers are becoming interiors solution consultants and service integrators who directly or through sustained partnerships with other service providers are able to offer a wide range of furniture (used/refurbished/remanufactured/new), flooring products, and workplace service options (asset storage/management, furniture cleaning and repair, move management, etc.) to customers.
Moreover, many of these dealers have acquired expertise in a variety of specialized facility environments, including K-12 and higher education, hospital and outpatient healthcare, hospitality, and government.
New Ideas In Furniture Leasing
The option of leasing rather than buying new furniture—often an afterthought in a strong economy—has become an increasingly attractive method of allowing customers to finance the substitution of new or refurbished furniture for furniture assets that no longer meet their needs. At the same time, leasing arrangements allow organizations to downsize, upsize, or upgrade their workplace furnishings, while conserving working capital for critical business process improvements and growth initiatives.
In addition to leasing arrangements designed to finance investments in new furniture, a few companies now offer specialized sale-leaseback operating leases that allow fms to capture the present cash value of their existing furniture and apply it toward the acquisition of new, refurbished, or additional furniture to meet changing needs.
As an example, an fm could contract with a dealership for the refurbishing of existing furniture. The refurbished furniture then has higher value than before. This presents the customer with the opportunity to execute a “sale and leaseback” of the refurbished furniture. The resulting cash from the sale provides the funds to pay for the refurbishing project and typically also supplies new working capital for the company. The customer then makes regular lease payments to the financing company.
Economic pressures and societal and workplace changes continue to drive major adjustments in the complexion of the office furniture industry as a whole, beginning at the product design stage with a greater focus on sustainability and “cradle to cradle” considerations all the way to maximizing assets at the end of their life. Today, many office furniture dealers can serve as a resource and consulting partner that fms can engage to help them rethink their strategy for acquiring, maintaining, and recycling office interior products.
Bates is president of Office Furniture Dealers Alliance (OFDA), the trade association for office furniture dealers and their trading partners. Founded in 1904 and located in Alexandria, VA, the association provides vital research, government advocacy, training, and networking services. Bates can be reached at [email protected], www.ofdanet.org, or (800) 542-6672.
What furniture reuse strategies have you executed? Share your thoughts by sending an e-mail to [email protected].