A circular office in the city

Case studies

LWARB’s circular office fit out

When we, the London Waste and Recycling Board (LWARB), moved to new offices earlier this year, we felt it was essential to put circular economy principles into action.  The new office, located in Shoreditch in central London, is home to 25 LWARB employees and a new accelerator programme for circular economy startups. It was fitted out in just four weeks, using circular principles. The result is a smart, medium spec, modern working environment delivered for the same price as a traditional cat B, low spec fit out would have cost[i].

Circular by design

This project set out to be a circular exemplar, delivering a replicable, quality working environment in 4000 ft2 of office space. As we were moving from fully serviced accommodation, we also needed to acquire all our furniture and IT/AV on a fixed budget within a tight timeframe. The fit out was managed by interior fit out company Action Workspace who worked closely with us to design the space and help us to achieve our circular aims. The brief was to retain, use refurbished and recycled, and to consider open source design or leasing where appropriate. We were also keen to understand what would happen to items at the end of their life. The project also provided an ideal opportunity for us to showcase some of the innovative circular businesses we work with as part of our circular economy business support programme.

Use and reuse

Traditionally, an office fit out begins by ripping out the existing fittings, including meeting rooms, and taking the space back to a basic shell (Cat A). The new design is installed, including new flooring and any meeting rooms, and this is called Cat B. Typically all or most of the materials removed from the fitting out process are disposed of. In contrast, for this project we wanted to be able to use as much of the existing infrastructure as possible and it was part of our criteria when viewing offices. Once we secured the lease, we then carried out a detailed review of everything that was already there with the aim to retain and reuse as much as possible. As a result, we reused existing meeting rooms with little material change other than dividing one of the larger rooms into two to better meet our needs. We even reused the existing meeting room doors, converting the double-door of the boardroom into a single door so we could use the other on the additional meeting room. Our new kitchen isn’t new either. To encourage more sustainable transport, we asked the landlord to provide a shower room where the original kitchen was located, but we asked him to carefully dismantle the existing high-quality kitchen units so they could be moved to a new location. A new worktop was needed, and for this we used UrbnRok, who make stunning and hardwearing worktops incorporating recycled glass. We donated the glass panel that was removed from partitioning the meeting rooms to be used in their manufacturing process. The air-conditioning units, lighting, blinds, network cabling and floor boxes were also retained.  In particular, the carpet tiles in the existing fit out were mainly in good condition and in a neutral colour, so we retained the best carpet tiles and used them in the area where the desks are located.

Mindful procurement

Where we needed to acquire new equipment and materials, we chose remanufactured, refurbished or recycled wherever possible. We also looked at durability and installation in the context of how items might be reused when we come to move out. For example, additional cabinets that we needed for the kitchen are from IKEA’s recycled range. They are high quality units made from recycled wood and plastic. We bought a range of new carpeting for the meeting rooms as we wanted to show off a range of products. We chose Desso’s cradle2cradle carpets, Interface’s net effect and Miliken’s Econyl products – all made from recycled yarns and fishing nets. For the area with the greatest footfall, we needed a hard-wearing flooring: this was a significant challenge and after much research, we settled upon a loose lay luxury vinyl floor from Tarkett. The floor is designed to be easily removable so that it can be recycled or reused at the end of its first life. Action Workspace sourced a beautiful reclaimed oak floor for the breakout area that was recovered from the redevelopment of the Royal College of Surgeons’ Lincoln’s Inn site. Spare wooden blocks from the floor have been used as cladding for the built-in core storage, making a great design statement and good use of materials at the same time. Our cupboard doors, meeting room desktops, and kitchen splash back have been created using a hard wearing and great looking architectural material from Smile Plastics, made from reconstituted waste plastic. It is not easy to demount and reuse plasterboard at the end of its life, so we started to look for alternatives for our new partition walls. We trialled plant-based alternatives from two companies, Adaptavate and Ecor. They currently cost more than traditional board and there was a learning curve in how best to cut and install them but they both provided viable alternatives. Ecor can be taken back when it is finished with and recycled into more of the same product. Our new walls are painted with Paint360 recycled paints. The majority of our office furniture has been provided by Rype Office and Premier Workspace. They refurbish used office furniture, often designer brands, to provide quality furniture at a fraction of the price of new. As a centrepiece in our shared working space, we have a beautiful wooden collaboration table, big enough for 10+ people to work together. It is an open source design by Opendesk, made for us by a local manufacturer in Walthamstow, saving on shipping and transport and using local resources and labour. We also procured refurbished laptops, screens and mobile phones and we have done away with desk phones altogether, being an unnecessary duplication for today’s modern working styles. All the meeting rooms are fitted with AV equipment (mostly refurbished too) to accommodate video and telephone conferencing.

The circular office in operation

Circularity isn’t just the way the office is fitted out; it is about how we use it too. At the new office, we are hot desking at a 75% desk ratio to maximise use of the space and flip top desks in some areas allow us to use space flexibly for events. We have sourced food waste recycling where there was none, organic milk delivered in reusable glass bottles, replaced kitchen paper with tea towels, have eco-friendly cleaning contracts and buy office supplies in bulk to limit packaging. We have made sure our electricity supplier uses 100% renewable energy sources and we are encouraging the landlord to switch too. We are evolving and adapting. Our office might not be circular in shape, but it is by design and ethos.

“The fit-out project has been a valuable experience in putting our circular principles into practice. We wanted to make it affordable and replicable. We are keen to share our experience and our continued learning with others,” said Wayne Hubbard, CEO, LWARB

[i] There are various sources of fit out benchmark data but we have used CBRE’s EMEA Fit-Out Cost Guide 2017/18 Edition

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