The Circular Economy in Office Design

Are you familiar with the concept of the circular economy? Do you know how to apply this concept in your workplace? If you answered no, that’s OK. Most people are not familiar with the circular economy or how to apply it in the office.

In this article, we’ll explain what the circular economy is and how to apply this principle to your office.


The Status Quo: the Linear Economy

For years, our entire society has worked on the basis of the linear economy. The principle of the linear economy is to make products, use them up, and then throw them away. It’s that simple. But you can see the problems inherent in this system.

For one thing, the linear economy is wasteful. For another, this principle is not sustainable. The effect on our planet is increased pollution, carbon emissions, overflowing landfills, and so much more. There has to be a change in how we make and use things as a society.


The New Principle: Circular Economy

The new way of doing things is the principle of the circular economy. The circular economy is all about the production and consumption of products. Each product has a lifecycle. We buy the product, use it, recycle it (or recycle certain components), and somehow reuse what’s left. The idea is to minimise waste as much as possible and throw less waste into the landfill. Instead, we look for ways to reuse and recycle the entire product or parts of it.

The circular economy is the complete opposite of the linear economy.


Why Do We Need a Circular Economy

The world’s population is growing, along with the demand for raw materials to make products. But the supply of raw materials is limited. What’s more, extracting and using raw materials has a huge impact on the environment. It increases energy consumption and CO2 emissions.

On the other hand, the circular economy offers a way to get more from the planet’s raw materials and have the ability to create products without harming the planet. But how does all of this translate into office design?


What is the Circular Office?

The circular office is where waste is designed out of office operations while retaining the maximum value of resources for as long as possible. The lifecycle of products and materials is also considered. Each step of a product’s lifecycle is considered, including the end of its lifecycle.

Office design can also use the circular economy concept, from fit-out to refurbishment. More companies are working to retain the existing structure in a building, only changing the interior rather than demolishing and constructing an entirely new building.

Here are some examples of how to design the circular office into a fit out project:


Design & Construction

Ensure the office space is adaptable to change without wasting materials or products:

  • Waste should be designed out whenever possible through smart design, using new technology and off-site prefabrication, along with only ordering the amount of material needed for the project.
  • Designers need to specify materials that can be reused, reclaimed, or refurbished or that contain a large amount of recycled materials.
  • Spaces should be designed with easy deconstruction to maximise reusability at the end of their life cycles.


Use and Operation

Is all about optimising the use of existing resources in an office and minimising waste created from operations:

  • Employees can be trained to reduce the amount of resources consumed each day. For instance, reducing the amount of printing, using reusable bottles & cutlery, and more.
  • Old or broken furniture and equipment can be refurbished and reused when possible rather than thrown away or replaced with brand-new products.



Materials need to be considered when deconstructing an office:

  • Deconstruction should be planned carefully, with the reuse or recycling of materials removed from the space.
  • It’s also possible to use manufacturer take-back schemes that recycle old material into new products.


What’s the Connection Between the Circular Office & Carbon?

Not many people have heard about embodied carbon, and yet, this is one of the main sources of carbon emitted by the manufacture, transportation, and consumption of new products. Embodied carbon is the carbon dioxide emissions that come from materials and construction processes throughout the lifecycle of a building or office interior.

However, when materials and products are reused, they keep their value for much longer. That reduces the need for new products, which reduces embodied carbon emissions.


Designing Out Waste

One of the biggest challenges for designers and contractors is doing things differently and being creative in applying the circular office principle. The first step for a contractor is to design out waste to increase material efficiency:

Ordering materials: it’s necessary to consider phasing and quantity of materials when ordering. The idea is to ensure there’s no waste from over-ordering.

Phasing of works: ensures structural elements are done before finishing materials are applied and installed to prevent damage or the need for replacements.

Regular & linear sizing of materials and elements: the space should be designed for regular sizing of doors, frames, and more to avoid waste.

Maximising the use of materials: this process ensures you get the most out of materials used to reduce waste.

Packaging reduction: here, the idea is to reduce single-use packaging and protection used on-site to reduce embodied carbon emissions.

A circular office also involves designing for flexibility. That means designing a single space with multiple uses in mind. These spaces should be adaptable to the future needs of the company without needing to make huge changes or waste materials in the future.

In addition, the reuse of existing materials is also crucial for the circular office. This is one of the best options for reducing carbon emissions in an office fit-out. When selecting materials for the office, it’s important to consider specifying and installing reused or refurbished materials rather than purchasing new items.

Another part of the circular office is recycling. Most companies have become used to recycling. However, it’s not always possible to reuse or refurbish products. If that’s the case, the designer should source as many products made from high levels of recycled materials as possible.

Finally, repairable products are another part of the circular office. When a product is broken, it may be repaired, making it unnecessary to purchase a new replacement. However, products eventually go beyond the point where they can be repaired. So, it’s necessary to consider taking the item apart and reusing the parts or ordering replacement parts for the item to make it useful once again.


Summing It Up

The circular office fit-out and construction are doable with careful thought and research. Buildings can be renovated rather than destroyed, and offices can be refitted instead of torn down and redone with completely new materials.

Following the principles of the circular office can make your business more green and sustainable while also reducing carbon emissions.

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