When most people think about sustainability, end-of-life becomes their focal point: using recycled materials and selecting products that can be recycled after use. The concern with focusing on recycling is that it puts your attention on the end of a product's life, rather than working to maximize its useful life.
Additionally, products with a high percentage of recycled content are often less durable than products using virgin materials, meaning the lifecycle of each product is shorter than it could be - and as a result things need replacing sooner.
Fortunately, there are many ways to be sustainable that may be a better fit for your client's organization. Today, I'm sharing three ideas to inspire interior designers to make sustainability a priority - without compromising on the quality of design or product.
1) Select Products that will Last
Clients may want to refresh the look of their commercial spaces every few years with new furniture or a different color scheme, but you can select fixtures and fittings with longevity in mind.
One prime example is your choice of flooring: PVC hard-backed carpet tiles have an average lifecycle of seven years, PVC-free hard-backed tiles have an average lifecycle of just five years, while carpet tiles with open cell cushion backing (like Milliken carpet tiles) last as long as 12 years.
Over a period of 21 years, you will have replaced your PVC-backed carpet three times and your PVC-free hard-backed carpet four times, but cushion-backed carpet tiles will only have needed one replacement cycle.
Longer-lasting products are a great option for designers looking to be more sustainable, translating into less waste and dramatically reduced resource consumption.
2) Repair Rather than Replace
To further reduce consumption and improve sustainability, you can select products that are easy to repair, rather than replace.
For example, the Think chair by Steelcase is designed to have replaceable parts - and is 95% recyclable at end-of-life. This means that if parts get damaged, you can easily replace just those parts rather than discarding the whole chair and buying a new one.
Similarly, selecting modular carpet rather than broadloom enables you to spot-replace damaged tiles instead of the entire carpet, saving a significant amount of waste in the process.
3) Consider End of Life Options for Products You Specify
The Think chair mentioned above is a great example of this: it's designed to have a long useful life, but also to be easily recyclable at the end of its usable life.
However, there are lots of alternative options: clients can donate unwanted office furniture to non-profit organizations such as Habitat for Humanity or through Green Standards, extending the life of these items beyond their company’s use.
For carpet, there are two main options for its true end-of-life: recycling or burn-for-energy. Recycling old carpet may not be the most sustainable option: Manufacturing processes for recycled carpet still use energy, whereas burn-for-energy cleanly converts 85% of the organic material in your carpet into energy, which goes back into the power grid to power the manufacturing or recycling of new carpet.