Sustainable Workplaces

Well designed office space

As we fight our way to Zero Fossil fuels, the choices we make about materials in the built environment don’t stop at the building itself – all of the materials inside the building need to be considered as well – furniture, carpets, paint, ceiling tiles, fridges, computers,… the list is endless.

There is much effort being applied to find better ways to recycle materials, use less, and produce materials that don’t contain fossil fuels. There are standards available to measure the Global Warming Potential of material, in an attempt to filter out the worst offenders from our list of go-to products. Anything that emits Greenhouse gases, made with large amounts of Carbon Dioxide in the processing, or materials that off-gas Carbon Dioxide, Methane, CFC’s, Nitrous Oxide, and other noxious chemicals, should be targeted for replacement with better, more sustainable, materials.

Gensler’s NEXT Lab of the Future is a platform that allows tenants and developers to reimagine what a more resilient and inclusive mass timber science building can be.
Gensler’s NEXT Lab of the Future is a platform that allows tenants and developers to reimagine what a more resilient and inclusive mass timber science building can be.

Some innovative options have been designed to replace traditional building materials as well as furniture. Wall paint contains VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) and those compounds are toxic. Some designers have started using clay paint. Clay is hypoallergenic, dust free, absorbs toxins, binds odours, and is porous. It creates a natural texture that can amplify any space. Clay paint even releases negative ions which increase the chemical, serotonin, boosting energy levels and relieving stress.

For wall coverings, a company in Spain, Honext, developed a substitute for gypsum wallboard (otherwise known as drywall). Honext created a cellulose wall cladding made from paper sludge and cardboard waste.

Although vinyl wallcoverings have been the only practical option for decades, there is a growing availability of nonvinyl options. Grass cloth is one product that is made from plants; fibers are dyed with non-VOC inks and applied with organic paste.

Thermoplastic Olefin is also a better, less toxic, alternative to vinyl wallpaper. Carnegie Fabrics is one company to consider, as well as Sanderson design group.

Paints are available that contain NO VOCs – there really is no good reason not to insist on these.

Carpet Manufacturers have been diligently reducing their carbon footprint for decades, and many of the nylon carpet products you can buy use a large percentage of recycled material (such as Pop bottles, & old carpet fibres)  some carpet manufacturers also have a recycling program so that old carpet doesn’t go to landfill.

Re-using old furniture may be a part of the solution to our addiction to new stuff. Even if the lounge furniture needs to be new, perhaps some filing cabinets can be retained, or some tables.

If reusing existing furniture is not an option one could consider furniture constructed from bamboo, and one step up using furniture that implements glue-less joinery. Frovi is a company that prides itself on its bamboo furniture. Bamboo can be harvested in a short 3-5 year period, absorbs carbon dioxide and produces oxygen.

Cabinetry can be made from solid wood but is often made using “pressboard”, or MDF. These panels contain a significant amount of glue… yes, glue is made with a petroleum base. Consider panels that use NON-Urea Formaldehyde resin. And insist on 100% recycled wood fibre.

Fabrics are a challenge because we need them to work hard at repelling stains and maintaining their shape, and we frequently change their colour. But the cushions beneath them can be produced from Latex instead of Polyurethane. You can also consider wool stuffing and soy-based alternatives. Koosh is one company making soy-based foam (Foamite).

Key Takeaways:

If you come across new products for healthy workplace design, we’d love to hear about them! And if they are made locally, even better.

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