04/22/2024 • 5 min read

Exploring Sustainability and Circular Economy

Shaping tomorrow’s workplaces through circular design

by Haworth, Inc.

In design and sustainability, keeping ahead of trends is essential. Recently, Haworth hosted a webinar titled "Insights into a Circular Future," bringing industry experts together to explore sustainable design practices and the shift toward a circular economy.

Moderated by Avinash Rajagopal, Editor-in-Chief of Metropolis Magazine and author of Hacking Design, the event explored the connection between furniture design, sustainability, and climate action. Avinash emphasized a crucial reality: Furniture contributes to our waste crisis and is a powerful tool in combating climate change. He pointed out the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions, highlighting the potential of reimagining furniture design and consumption.

Understanding the Impact

In the United States, an alarming 12 million tons of furniture—with 8.5 million tons being office furniture—are discarded into landfills annually. This perpetual cycle of waste significantly impacts the climate, with interior renovations in office buildings alone contributing up to a quarter of their lifetime carbon emissions.

The Circular Economy Approach

Avinash suggested addressing this problem through the principles of the circular economy, which aim to reduce waste. These principles, driven by design, are based on 3 key ideas:

  1. Eliminate waste and pollution
  2. Circulate products and materials (at their highest value)
  3. Regenerate nature

Implementing this approach poses challenges, but the potential rewards are immense. Not only do sustainability impacts improve, but organizations may also find efficiencies and creative possibilities within their workplaces. This webinar, designed to assist with that, featured a diverse panel of thought leaders:

  • Katie Doyle Mesia, LEED AP BD+C, RA – Gensler Principal, Firmwide Design Resilience Leader, Sustainability Director
  • Justin Beitzel – Common Object Co-Founder and member of Haworth’s DesignLab 2024
  • Fernando Ramirez – Common Object Co-Founder and member of Haworth’s DesignLab 2024
  • Dominic Daunter – Haworth Global Design & Sustainability Director

These experts shared their knowledge and experience, offering practical insights and innovative solutions to the challenges facing our planet. Topics of discussion ranged from the importance of material choices to strategies for implementing circularity across various industries.

Aligning with Sustainability Commitments

Avinash began with Katie, asking how circular design aligns with Gensler's sustainability commitments. Katie stated the importance of considering the entire lifecycle of projects and products in Gensler's efforts toward sustainability. She highlighted the significance of thinking comprehensively about projects, products, and careers—from inception to end-of-life—and evaluating their environmental impact.

Katie noted the widespread concern about global warming among adults in the United States, with statistics indicating that 64% of adults worry about this issue. And 70% of adults said that corporations are responsible for addressing global warming. Given Gensler's involvement in the design and architecture profession, Katie stressed the potential for a positive impact on the planet.

She also explained that because the attendees are in the profession of design and architecture, “The amount of impact they can have on the planet is tremendous, and that brings with it a responsibility to advocate and to take the time to make the right decisions.”

Integrating Circular Design into Workplace Objects

Avinash asked Justin and Fernando from Common Object to discuss how circular design principles are being incorporated into the objects and technology we implement in the workplace today. Justin talked about the significance of small objects in workplaces and highlighted their studio's involvement in sustainability projects, particularly in office furniture. He noted that sustainability involves more than just material changes and that impactful decisions occur early in the product development process.

Fernando added that their explorations often occur outside typical product development cycles and involve collaboration with various companies to understand supply chains and regional production possibilities. They cite an example of their work with recycled materials and a woman-owned business to create glassware, showcasing their commitment to regional sourcing and waste stream utilization in achieving circular design goals.

Haworth's Sustainability Framework

Dominic Daunter shared Haworth’s approach to circular design. He focused on our sustainability framework and strategy, which is built upon 3 pillars: people, circular economy, and operational performance.

The circular economy pillar focuses on designing new products using circular design principles, emphasizing sustainable materials, product use extension, and responsible product end-of-life practices. Haworth is dedicated to providing customers with products that contribute to safe, healthy, sustainable environments through the use of quality materials.

Driving Global Change

During a portion of the panel discussion, the participants expanded on the role of local actions in driving global change toward sustainability. An intriguing point emerged as the panelists highlighted the purchasing power of architects and designers—a staggering 26 times greater than that of the average US consumer. This statistic shows the significant decision-making capability designers and architects possess, emphasizing their potential to influence and promote sustainable practices on a large scale.

Establishing Priorities

One of the questions asked of the panelists was how they establish project priorities. Justin emphasized the importance of focusing on sustainability from the outset, stating, “We really focus on the exploration of sustainability way before the project is kicked off. Because usually, by the time you’re getting into the project set up, it’s almost too late to really dive into what you need.”

Fernando highlighted the significance of examining principles and determining actionable steps. He explained, “Look at principles and say, which ones can I do now, or which ones can I start to play with now? And you can grow into (the principles of a circular economy) even though they overlap beautifully, and you can start making the transition.”

Urgent action is needed to address our environmental challenges, with the design industry playing a crucial role. By embracing circular design principles, we can cut waste and carbon emissions. Avinash concluded the session by emphasizing the “need for a shift in mindset and expectations within our industry.” And that this “conversation can be the start of that shift in mindset.”

Furniture is not just contributing to a waste issue; it’s also a significant lever for us to pull when we’re thinking about climate change and reducing carbon emissions.

Avinash Rajagopal

Editor-in-Chief, Metropolis Magazine

Discover More about Circular Economy

Watch the full Haworth presentation to hear more insights from Metropolis Magazine’s Avinash Rajagopal and our panelists. This webinar qualifies for CEU credit for AIA, IDCEC, and GBCI.


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