Rethinking design, sustainably, is a nuanced endeavor—it represents an evolving approach to quality-assessment. Rather than focusing merely on a product’s performance over time, one needs to consider every imaginable aspect of its lifecycle — including the energy invested in its construction, how it’s transported, and what becomes of it once it’s no longer in use.

“It takes a different mindset to create something highly functional using fewer materials or resources.”

Michael Held, Steelcase Vice President of Global Design

In the effort to design increasingly sustainable office furniture the principles of circularity have emerged as guiding lights. Here are five considerations for creating environmentally conscious office furniture designs:

Minimizing Carbon Footprint:

Central to sustainable design is the aim to reduce carbon emissions across the entire lifecycle of office furniture. This entails sourcing materials locally to cut down on transportation emissions, streamlining manufacturing processes for lower energy consumption, and optimizing distribution channels.

Everwall by Steelcase
Everwall by Steelcase is designed for modularity with the ability to adapt as workplace needs change. Its components are created as a kit of parts, made with recyclable materials such as glass, steel and aluminum and it’s 100% reusable. It arrives partly assembled which means less cutting, dust and waste, and faster installation.

Prioritizing Responsible Materials:

The choice of materials plays a pivotal role in sustainable design. Opt for materials that are renewable, recyclable, or biodegradable. Look for certifications such as FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) for wood and Cradle to Cradle for comprehensive product sustainability.

Facilitating Recycling and Upcycling:

Circular design involves planning for the end-of-life phase of office furniture. Implement designs that make disassembly and component recycling or upcycling straightforward. By embracing a circular economy model, materials can be diverted from landfills and reintegrated into the production cycle.

Maintaining Quality Standards:

Sustainability should never compromise quality or functionality. Invest in durable materials and timeless designs to ensure that office furniture remains functional and visually appealing throughout its lifespan. Quality craftsmanship reduces the need for frequent replacements, thereby minimizing waste and resource consumption.

Adopting Lifecycle Thinking:

Embrace a holistic approach to design by considering the entire lifecycle of office furniture, from material sourcing to disposal. By evaluating environmental impacts at every stage and implementing strategies to mitigate negative effects, designers can create products that contribute to a more sustainable future.

The “right” material used to be mostly about purity and

performance —creating a new object without flaws. “Customers and designers care about quality and durability, and also value materials with more recycled content — ones that are easily recycled and safe for people,” says Mary Ellen Mika, Steelcase Director of Sustainability. “Our goal of choosing and using materials responsibly means exploring a broad range of options that we might not have considered or weren’t available in the past.”

Work Better: Designing Better Futures

Karman Chair by Steelcase
Steelcase Karman is designed with the fewest components necessary to reduce its impact on the earth and is now available with CarbonNeutral product certification.

Rethinking design, sustainably requires a comprehensive approach that addresses carbon footprint, material choices, recycling, quality, and lifecycle considerations. By placing sustainability at the forefront of design endeavors, we can bring office spaces into being that enhance productivity while minimizing environmental harm for generations to come.

For the latest research and insights on all things office furniture, check out the recent edition of Steelcase’s Work Better: Designing Better Futures

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