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Public Health Wales, a National Health Service body, has moved in to its new 550-person office in Cardiff Bay. Designed and furnished by a team led by Rype Office, the fitout sets a new benchmark for environmental and social sustainability.
In 2015, Public Health Wales set itself the ambitious aim of driving sustainability beyond current best practice for the fitout of its new Cardiff Bay office. Along with tough environmental targets, PHW sought to incorporate the principles of the newly-passed Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. The Act, which is about improving the social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of Wales, encourages the public bodies listed in the Act to take a longer-term view, to work better with people, communities and each other, to look to prevent problems and to take a more joined-up approach.
Environmentally, substantial gains were achieved by reusing and remanufacturing as much of the furniture and flooring as possible.
94% of the 2,500 items of furniture used in the project were either remanufactured or refurbished, with a significant proportion of the refurbished furniture coming from PHW’s 10 old offices, integrated into the design by matching timber finishes and desk shapes. Remanufacturing/refurbishing reduced the environmental footprint of each item by 80% compared to new – and avoided disposal costs and impacts.
13% of the 5,200m2 of carpet tiles used were reclaimed. The Grade A used tiles came from offices around the UK, from corners of rooms and under desks, cabinets and equipment, where there had been limited wear.
Remanufacturing and refurbishment occurred mostly on site to reduce transport and to enable Welsh employment. Five unemployed people from the South Wales valleys were engaged for the duration of the project, including two youths and two with disabilities. All were trained in furniture refurbishment and reupholstering as well as furniture removals and truck load management.
For staff, the design included a range of social impact innovations:
- Design for Disability: Kitchens were designed for disability and followed the design guidelines of the Royal National Institute for the Blind. Floors, kicker plates, cupboards, handles, benchtops and splashbacks in alternating light and dark provide strong visual contrast assisting the sight impaired. Large handles improve operability. Flooring colours were chosen so walkways differed from team spaces and edge strips by as many Light Reflectance Value points as possible, to aid navigation for the visually impaired.
- Ergonomics. Desk chairs are fully adjustable and the chosen model won the Excellence Award for Ergonomics. Being remanufactured, these comfortable, high quality chairs were a comparable price to short-lived contract furniture alternatives. On each floor, stand-up working benches were included, which allow staff to change their posture and work in a standing position. A stand-up meeting room enables meetings in a different posture from sitting. This has been found to reduce meeting time in other buildings.
- Biophilia. Natural elements in the PHW office include timber effect desktops and storage units, wooden screens, warm natural colours, and clear views across the open plan office to the sky and surrounding landscape.
Value for Money
Remanufacturing and refurbishment provided a significant cost benefit, enabling Public Health Wales to achieve value for money and reinvest some of the substantial savings in the 6% of new furniture; all stylish quality items made locally which will last longer and perform better than cheaper alternatives. It also saved PHW removal and disposal costs for its old furniture.
Lessons for Sustainable Fitouts
This project, completed on time and budget, demonstrates that remanufacturing, refurbishment and reuse breaks the cycle, for many organisations including public bodies, of having to accept the lowest cost new items, which locks them into an institutional aesthetic, poor styling, poor ergonomics, short lifetime and poor sustainability (as these items cannot be remanufactured).
The project also shows that social impacts, including community and staff benefits, can be incorporated into procurement of everyday items like furniture and flooring.
Lessons learned on the PHW project are transferrable. Furniture and flooring are procured by all organisations and the approach used can be extended to other purchasing categories where remanufacturing, refurbishment and reuse are possible, such as computers and phones.
The design, supply and installation was done by a consortium led by Rype Office (a UK-based sustainable furniture company responsible for design, furniture supply, refurbishment, installation and project management), with its partners Greenstream Flooring (a Welsh Community Interest Company supplying and installing flooring) and Orangebox (a Welsh seating manufacturer supplying new soft furnishings and remanufactured desk chairs).