By Doug Pilgrim, LEED AP
From the October 2018 Issue
The cyclical trends of office furniture have gone through many changes over the last 60 years. In the 1950s, bullpen offices dominated with rows of desks in grid formation. In the 1960s, offices were influenced by the German management consulting team Quickborner, pushing the bullpen concept out with its office layout idea called “Bürolandschaft,” or “Office Landscape.” In the 1970s we saw the open office evolve into the systems furniture approach. Systems furniture panels created vertical planes which allowed the hanging of work surfaces, shelves, and storage. It was supposed to be great for the employees and great on the bottom line.
In the late 1970s, the 1980s, and into the mid 1990s, the systems furniture solution devolved into “The Cubicle.” Dilbert-like cube farms sprouted up across corporate America. These were 90° workstations with panels 65″ to 70″ high, and this approach was great for managing the floor layout of a large company, but it had a negative effect on the people working there. There was minimal natural light, no outdoor views, and the layout was not conducive to impromptu conversations between people in the office that might foster creativity.
Then, tech companies of the late 1990s and 2000s started to demand furnishings that would enable more communication and creativity. This trend included a growing preference for lower panel heights in benching and desking solutions.
Today, once again we are seeing offices shedding their old furniture, now with heightened public awareness of environmental negligence. As such, there are growing questions about furniture’s impact on the environment, and this includes end of life options for organizations disposing of their furniture. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has estimated that three million tons of office furniture are discarded each year. That’s a lot of furniture thrown away because it might not meet a new collaborative office vision.
Remanufacturing that old furniture to new office specifications is a promising economic and environmental solution. Remanufacturing is the rebuilding of a product to specifications of the original manufactured product. Remanufacturers can even change heights of panels, worksurfaces, and storage.
My firm, Davies Office headquartered in Albany, NY, offers two remanufacturing programs that provide facility executives and other stakeholders expanded options for their projects. The programs also help those who are interested participate in the move toward a circular economy. These programs are Sustainable Product Exchange and the Sustainable Banking Program.
The product exchange program through Davies Office gives a client value for old furniture that is applied to new remanufactured furniture for an immediate project. Meanwhile, the sustainable banking program allows the client to “bank” that value of their old furniture and then apply that value to a future project or projects. These programs allow facility planners to exchange their old office furniture toward the furniture they need for projects today, or to empty their backrooms and warehouses toward future projects.
While facility managers would consider the furniture remanufacturing option for financial and sustainability reasons, they can also benefit from the additional expertise a well-versed remanufacturer can provide. A facility that hires this type of provider that has staff who have earned sustainability related credentials—WELL AP certification, for instance—gains access to insight on how remanufactured furniture can aid in their pursuit of WELL certification for their building. (The WELL Building Standard is the first building standard to focus exclusively on the health and wellness of building occupants.)
Trends around workplace design and operation continue to evolve. Environmental impact has gained a solid place in the consciousness of those tasked with furnishing offices and related spaces. Remanufactured furniture is an option that facility managers will want to consider.
Pilgrim is the national business development manager for Davies Office, an Albany, NY-based furniture remanufacturer. With 20 years of experience in the contract furniture industry, he is LEED-AP ID C accredited and has recently earned the WELL Accredited Professional (WELL AP) credential. Pilgrim received the Interface Everest Award for promoting sustainability, and is past co-chair of the Sustainability Committee for IFMA Boston. He is also a Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association (BIMFA) faculty member for the ANSI BIFMA e3 level sustainability standard.
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