Critical Facilities Summit

4  FM quick reads on furniture

1. Environmental Reporting In Furniture Makes Slow Progress


As facility managers seek information about products, it's often difficult to find the right type of information. More manufacturers are beginning to offer life-cycle assessments and environmental product declarations (EPDs) — ways that facility managers can weigh environmental and product selection criteria. It is still difficult to compare apples to apples; however, with credits in the upcoming LEEDv4 rating system expected to reward use of EPDs and life-cycle assessments (LCA), that may change soon.

A standard LCA contains every detail about a product that current science recognizes, including carbon footprint, the impacts on air, water, and soil, the recycled content, health and toxicity issues, chemical content, whether it can be recycled at the end of its useful life, and more. It's generally a document that can extend to more than 100 pages. Although life-cycle assessments have been around for years, environmental product declarations (EPDs) have burst on the scene much more recently. An EPD is, in effect, an executive summary of the exhaustive LCA.

A significant difficulty is that, right now, no universal standards exist for writing EPDs. In particular, the industry currently lacks a full set of product category rules (PCRs) — the checklist by which an EPD should be written. PCRs have been published for many products in flooring and ceilings, particularly in Europe, but furniture at the moment is still in flux.

The situation is changing, however. The Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association (BIFMA) has published a PCR for seating in conjunction with the standards organization NSF International. A PCR for storage products is expected to be published this year.

If and when a product category rule is written, uniform EPDs can follow, usually paid for by the manufacturer and produced by an independent third party — often the same group that wrote the PCR. One challenge for furniture, however, is the number of different parts that go into a finished product.


2.  BIFMA Works To Improve Furniture Sustainability Ratings

The next place to gain LEED points may be the next chair you buy.

The Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association (BIFMA) is working with the U.S. Green Building Council to allow LEED points for the purchase of sustainable furniture. Currently, Reardon says, buildings can get LEED points in their emissions or recycling categories for buying furniture certified in those areas. In the near future, though, certified furniture could be credited through Pilot Credit 52, available to all LEED projects; or through LEED v4, which is expected to be released next fall.

Along with everything else in the "sustainable and green" universe, furniture is evolving to be manufactured, shipped, and recycled with less environmental impact, and the changes may ultimately save money over the entire life cycle, as well as saving resources.

But as facility managers seek information about products, it's often difficult to find the right type of information. More manufacturers are beginning to offer life-cycle assessments and environmental product declarations (EPDs) — ways that facility managers can weigh environmental and product selection criteria. It is still difficult to compare apples to apples; however, with credits in the upcoming LEEDv4 rating system expected to reward use of EPDs and life-cycle assessments (LCA), that may change soon.

A standard LCA contains every detail about a product that current science recognizes, including the impacts on air, water, and soil, the recycled content, health and toxicity issues, chemical content, whether it can be recycled at the end of its useful life, and more. And instead of a few square inches on the back of a box, it's a document that can extend to more than 100 pages.

Although life-cycle assessments have been around for years, environmental product declarations (EPDs) have burst on the scene much more recently. An EPD is, in effect, an executive summary of the exhaustive LCA. A significant difficulty is that, right now, no universal standards exist for writing EPDs. In particular, the industry currently lacks a full set of product category rules (PCRs) — the checklist by which an EPD should be written.

3.  Collaboration A More Important Element Of Office Design

This is Casey Laughman, managing editor of Building Operating Management. Today's tip is that as collaboration becomes more important in the workplace, office design has to account for it.

Some types of work naturally lend themselves to collaboration to encourage communication, idea sharing and flexibility. Students work in open spaces beginning at a young age, having just enough space to claim a desk or locker as their own. Newsrooms are typically open areas where reporters and editors can easily communicate without walking from office to office or cubicle to cubicle. A portion of the work that Congress conducts is in large, wide-open chambers.

The idea of designing a workplace to encourage collaboration clearly isn't new. And when it comes to fostering teamwork, there's no one template that applies across all organizations. But more and more companies are pushing harder and harder to encourage open communication and spontaneous idea sharing. Organizations that already have open-plan workspaces are trying new approaches to maximize collaboration. And even those whose work involves client confidentiality and privacy are turning to open office space that encourages collaboration.

The team approach to collaboration not only occurs inside and outside an organization, it also happens in a variety of locations. The individuals could be at a table in the same room, they could be in the same building but in different workspaces, or they could be in different cities on a conference call.

Having greater collaboration, including taking a more team-oriented approach, also involves generational changes, demographic shifts and evolving cultures. Employees in their 20s and 30s worked with their classmates to solve problems beginning as early as kindergarten and extending into college. For some of them, taking that approach into their career is a natural transition.

4.  Functionality Important in Office Furniture Selection

This is Casey Laughman, managing editor of Building Operating Management. Today's tip is that while furniture selection is increasingly being driven by sustainability, it still needs to be functional.

Many organizations are taking sustainability into account when purchasing furniture. Of course, the most sustainable product is the one you have. The longer its useful life, the less its impact on the environment.

In general, office furniture tends to be fairly durable. As a result, office furniture is more likely to look dated long before it's truly unusable. For instance, the trend recently has been to greater use of white, along with brighter colors, and perhaps a few pieces in a stronger color.

Choosing furniture that can be easily updated with a new covering can extend the length of time the furniture is used. That saves money and reduces the product's impact on the environment.

This is key because the trends influencing furniture today are likely to change. For instance, while many companies are moving to a heavier emphasis on collaborative work environments, most employees need some amount of privacy in order to concentrate on "heads down" work. This could prompt to a shift in office and furniture design down the road.

Still, even as workplace and design trends change, the objective of the furniture doesn't. Aesthetics and sustainability are nice, but they don't do any good if the furniture doesn't support how the employees work.


RELATED CONTENT:


furniture , environmental reporting , leed , sustainable design

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