Green furniture purchasing

Do you need new furniture? Phil Reynolds, technical manager at FIRA Internatonal explains how considering the planet during this process can lead to environmental and cost savings

As we try to negotiate our way through the current difficult financial situation we are faced with the basic facts that there is less money available to spend on all goods, whether it be furniture or other consumables.

This means that whatever our good intentions are, value has to be the prime motivation, and this often means that ethical concerns are placed on the back burner as some environmentally friendly products carry a price premium.

However being green can still be possible, and still save money. It may seem obvious, but the first step should be to consider whether you need new furniture, and what to do with any old furniture you may have. Selecting the right options can have considerable environmental and cost savings.

Do you really need it?
In environmental terms there is a triangle of diminishing returns: dispose, recycle, remanufacture, and reuse.

Simply putting furniture in a skip has the least benefit to the environment as most will go to landfill. Whilst recycling is good, considerable energy is often needed to convert a final product back into a raw material. Therefore the best option is to reuse, that is if the furniture is still serviceable. Can it be used elsewhere in your building, or maybe passed to another business or charity? This reduces the need for new products and therefore reduced both the environmental impact and cost.

The other route to consider is remanufacture. What this means is taking the furniture, looking at it and then considering ways to rework the product to extend its lifetime. Typically this can mean re-upholstering seating, or more pertinently looking at desk systems. Where the basic structure is sound there may be an option to replace the desk tops, giving the appearance of new furniture, but at a lower cost to you and the environment.

Help is at hand
However finding the right partners for this can be more time consuming than simply purchasing new furniture. But there are a number of specialist organisations who may be able to help, such as the following.

Green-Works ( is a registered charity and social enterprise dedicated to radically changing the way society thinks about waste. Their aim is to turn redundant furniture into an asset and a resource. Using the 4 Rs, their aim is to reduce, reuse, remanufacture or recycle all unwanted furniture, diverting it from landfill.

Green-Works will not only remove your unwanted furniture, but will then find the best use for it, offering the best quality items to other organisations, with other items being reworked into new furniture wherever possible.

Amaryllis Environmental Services ( typically offers services to businesses and government departments to maintain their furniture. They specialise in re-manufacturing, however when furniture comes to the end of its life they will ensure that less than four per cent of the product will end up in landfill.

Senator Office Furniture (, whilst primarily an office furniture manufacturer, operates a sophisticated recycling programme whereby they take all types of unwanted furniture and ensure that the maximum possible amount of materials are recycled instead of going to landfill.

More information on reuse and remanufacturing can be found on the Centre for reuse and remanufacturing website,

What if you need new furniture?
At the end of the day though, furniture has a finite life and you will at some point need to buy new furniture. There are many organisations which can assist you in finding products which are good value both financially and environmentally.

There are schemes that look at the environmental impact of products in terms of materials, or the performance of the manufacturer/supplier.

The UK’s Government Buying Standards are a set of procurement guidelines that are designed to allow government departments, and other bodies buy in a sustainable manner. There are requirements for furniture and these concentrate heavily on the materials used – ensuring that they are environmentally sustainable. They do however ignore the environmental performance of the manufacturer or supplier.

The Furniture Industry Sustainability Programme (FISP – is an initiative by the UK furniture industry designed to highlight those companies (rather than products and materials) that are behaving in an environmentally sustainable way.

Both the schemes are laudable but only place a limited value on product quality. From an environmental procurement point of view, one of the key factors should be product life. If you buy a product that will last for ten years rather than five years for example, you have halved your need for new furniture. Whilst there may be a small premium for a product that is robust and built to meet the most demanding standards, in the long run there will be both cost and environmental savings as the demand for new products is reduced.

When looking for an extended product life you need to consider products that have been independently assessed to meet current British and European standards: tables and chairs should meet EN 1729: 2006 Parts 1 & 2 at the appropriate level; and storage should meet BS 5873: 1991 Part 4 to the appropriate level.

In addition it is always key to look at what warranties the supplier is offering, some suppliers will offer extended warranties for five or ten years, and in some cases even higher.

To summarise, by carefully examining whether you really need new furniture, whether it can be reused or reworked can offer you as a specifier considerable cost savings, whilst also benefiting the environment.

In addition when purchasing a product, significant benefits can be achieved by procuring smart and procuring products that will last.