Office furniture and furnishings is one of the most common product groups with regard to circular procurement. This is because the characteristics of furniture are relatively well suited for a circular approach. It is a comparatively simple product in terms of technique and has an economic life of 7-15 years. That makes it possible, both from a technical and organisational perspective, to close the value chain.
Most suppliers in this sector are actively involved with circularity, and developments have been fairly rapid. This is partly due to several ambitious public tenders. When challenged in this respect, they are often able to present a proposal that is in tune with your ambitions.
For office furniture the following circular principles apply:
- Circular design: disassembly, ease of repair and standardisation
- Life cycle extension of furniture or components through maintenance, repair or refurbishing activities
- Circular reuse of components and materials
Determine which aspects are relevant to your organisation on the basis of your ambition (what do you want to focus on?) and your current situation (what furniture do you have now and what state is it in?). If appropriate, validate this with a market consultation.
In addition, there are opportunities to apply circular revenue models, such as purchase/sell-on, lease or purchase of furniture as a service. This also depends on your needs (structural or temporary) and your organisation (private or public).
The office furnishing sector is relatively mature with respect to circularity. You should therefore consult the market at an early stage about the best way to reach your circular ambitions in a tender.
Within the tender process, dialogue is also appreciated. This dialogue can help the tenderer get a better understanding of the client's actual needs. In addition, you should organise a viewing – for a large tender of several typical office spaces – to enable parties to determine which furniture can be reused or refurbished and which furniture needs to be replaced. You may also consider making a few pieces of furniture that can be refurbished available to potential tenderers, so that they can explore the possibilities for refurbishment.
The fact that the sector is more evolved does not mean that ‘circular office furniture’ is a clear concept. Which circular principles you should apply, depends on your initial situation. Four examples include:
- An organisation recently bought new furniture but needs to procure maintenance. Focus on extending the service life of the existing furniture and add incentives to prevent loss of value.
- An organisation temporarily needs furniture due to accommodation changes. Focus on the temporary aspect and take-back at the end of the period of use.
- An organisation needs good quality furniture and has a (limited) existing stock of suitable furniture. In your search for a partner you should focus on ensuring the furniture from the existing stock will remain available and in use for as long as possible, either to be used as furniture, or for its parts. Only when it is no longer possible to use the existing stock, does supplying new furniture become an option.
- An organisation needs new furniture and has no existing stock nor an outdated one that no longer meets the functional requirements (example: health and safety requirements) and is difficult to adapt. Focus on furniture that can be used as long as possible and explore high-value options to sell the existing furniture.
As office furniture often has an economic life of 7-15 years, it is possible to make arrangements regarding the value retention of both the existing stock and the newly supplied furniture. A tender for office furniture should therefore not only cover the provision of furniture, but long-term (preventive and corrective) maintenance as well. This will provide the supplier with an incentive to provide furniture that continues to function properly. In addition, maintenance costs will be reduced because the supplier knows exactly what he needs to maintain. This means that in addition to the purchase cost you also need to know the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for a particular period.
To achieve these circular ambitions in the use phase you need to focus on the ambitions – and the corresponding KPIs – in the contract management.
The economic life of furniture is 7-15 years, which is appropriate for take-back agreements. You have to bear in mind there is legislation with respect to the maximum residual value, which for office furniture is currently set to 10%. You should therefore explore the opportunities to extend the manufacturer responsibility, for instance by including maintenance in the contract and make agreements about a product's end-of-life. This provides the supplier with an incentive to maximise the value retention of the products they provided.
- In many cases, office furniture is a good product group to get started with: it is visible, it does not affect the primary process and the market is relatively mature.
- Start by creating an inventory of your existing furniture, recording both quantities and condition. If you don't have this information, you may benefit from including a furniture management system in your tender.
- Determine your ambition based on your company's initial situation. This allows market players to submit a good proposal.
- Include agreements on long-term maintenance and take-back in your contract to ensure value retention of the furniture.
The province of Zuid-Holland used circular procurement for their office furniture. One of the main principles in the new contract is to maximise the reuse of existing furniture.
This roadmap describes how circular principles can be applied to office furnishing and indicates the potential of this product group.
INSIDE/INSIDE is an independent instrument to make transparent the sustainability of facility products, including office furniture.
Follow the steps in this guide to get started with circular procurement of office furnishing.