Article • Inspiration

Design the Conversation with Sustainability

Written By Ramya Ramachandran, INDEAL • April 24, 2023

Source: viewpoint, April 2023 Issue

Sustainability: a familiar term that has made its way into every facet of the contract design industry. Taking a hot seat at client meetings, it’s at the forefront of the conversation. On a grand scale, WELL and LEED certifications are driving the need for increased wellbeing within the built environments, through process, materials, environment, comfort, mindfulness, etc. and some of these needs are being addressed at an accelerated pace as a direct result of the pandemic.  

One of the gains of the post covid-era is flexibility. Many companies have adapted to high demands of the workforce by shifting to allow work from home. Although, this practice has been somewhat controversial, the transition has inadvertently advanced the industry in its contribution towards sustainability. By reducing employee headcount within the office, organizations embracing a hybrid policy cut back an on overall square footage and eliminate the number of workstations. This gives companies an opportunity to support the environment and their employees (without breaking the bank) by providing them with furniture no longer used at the office for their home workspace. Between minimized waste through product reuse and reduced carbon emissions from decreased commute time, companies implementing a hybrid work model are making a significant impact on sustainability.   

Dealerships constantly push account managers, salespeople, and designers to focus on brand incentives as a selling point to increase sales. We often forget that the conversation about sustainability should be the icebreaker rather than an incentive. Often viewed as a group effort, there are numerous ways for everyone to play their part within the ecosystem. It’s been said that “one small step can lead to others”, so how are designers factoring in sustainability within every phase of the project?   

  1. Give Credit Where Needed

In the furniture industry, client satisfaction is the driving mission for earning repeat business and project install plays a significant role in the customer service experience. A smooth installation is always the desired outcome, alas, this isn’t always the case. With several hands in the broth, errors and mistakes are inevitable; we are only human!  

On a case-by-case bases, depending on the nature of the problem, the conversation around a sustainable solution can be as easy as offering a credit back to the client. Compromising on keeping the product in exchange for money back is a solution that we can be proud of. For example, the contract furniture industry is notorious for filling up the landfill with smaller scale products, trims, connectors, jumpers etc. Designers can consider reupholstering fabric or repainting trims for a quicker solution that is profitable for both parties. Leading with the mindset of a greener solution is a step in the right direction.  

  1. Design With Reuse 

A tale as old as time, reconfigurations are the epitome of reuse, but it goes beyond existing projects. Having access to client inventory lists is a major effort that a designer can part-take in. By doing so, they are designing with reuse in mind for every project, no matter the size. Designers can build trust and a stronger relationship by suggesting money saving solutions which often leads to increased business in the long run. Also, when a company downsizes or moves, designers can be vocal about donating and re-using furniture to give them a second life. Be vigilant about asking the right questions to foster reuse and sustainability.  

  1. Be Vigilant About Picking Fabrics

The furniture industry always feels like a race against time and the pressure is felt heavily by designers. The initial conversations surrounding fabric can bring awareness by educating our clients, industry connections and peers about viable graded-in fabric options. Most brands and manufacturers offer graded-in fabrics that are tested and approved for use with the corresponding product. By choosing this conscious route, it will extend the life cycle of the product with brand warranties and minimize the environmental impact.  

  1. Think Local

One of the cons of the post-covid era has been the struggle to meet lead times. Although, material scarcity continues to be a global problem, there is an effective approach designers can take to alleviate the challenge. Think local, take your time to do the research with brands and manufacturers that are within proximity to the project. Reach out to your reps to cohesively work together to reduce transportation costs, resources and carbon emissions.  

  1. Change Your Mindset

The above are only a few suggestions within a drop of an ocean full of numerous ideas and habits. Actions speak louder than words! Designers: strive to change your mindset to lead with sustainability as a focus in every part of the design process. Do your part, preach to your peers, colleagues and clients to spread the word and see the ripple effects of the positive changes. 


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