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Why Standards are Important for Office Interior Design

June 12, 2018

Standards for office furniture identify guidelines for sustainable office interior design. Learn how to find furniture that contributes to occupant wellbeing.

With the number of regulations out there for all of your facility’s products and systems, it’s easy to overlook how standards can be a useful tool. This is especially the case for office and institutional furniture, which contributes significantly to the safety and wellness of your facility’s occupants.

That’s why the Business & Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association (BIFMA), a trade association that creates standards for commercial furniture, is reaching out to facility managers and other end users about its standards. With continuing education credits (CEUs) and other initiatives, the organization hopes to help facilities managers become more informed about furniture standards.

“It’s a broader strategic initiative of doing outreach,” says Jennifer Wammack, Director of Outreach at BIFMA. “It’s a newer effort for us in terms of reaching out to stakeholders who might not be BIFMA members. That includes design practitioners, end users and facilities managers. It’s really important to speak to those groups to discuss the importance of standards.”

Reach Consensus for Interior Design with Creative Engagement

One such CEU was BIFMA’s seminar at NeoCon this year. The seminar “Standards, Engagement and Trends in Commercial Interiors, and Why Products Matter” considers furniture from an end user’s or facilities manager’s perspective on how standards and employee engagement are related.

“It’s important to curate information with CEUs so it is more digestible for people not looking to be field experts,” says Wammack. “We are simplifying the message, taking high-level perspectives and delivering them to the market so people understand why standards matter.”

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The Importance of Furniture Standards

The clearest example of the importance of standards for furniture is related to wellbeing. By testing materials and pieces, BIFMA has identified safe furniture options that improve employee wellness and productivity, which ultimately helps the bottom line.

One trend that has developed recently is an emphasis on furniture that has low emissions. ANSI-approved standards recognized by LEED and ASHRAE have emerged, providing guidance for low-emitting formaldehyde and VOCs.

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Additionally, flame retardant chemicals have been a particular focus for the industry. BIFMA members have sought to limit their use in office furniture despite the good intent of fire codes initiated decades ago.

“Historically, manufacturers have had to use flame retardant chemicals to meet open flame fire codes,” says Dave Panning, Director of Technical Services at BIFMA. “Our industry has advocated modifying codes so furniture can be made without these chemicals. Given changes in the commercial environment, people no longer smoke in the workplace and there is an extremely low open flame risk.”

Regulators are now looking more closely at the risks of fire, balanced with concerns of fire retardant chemicals.

Promoting Sustainability with Furniture

Standards aren’t limited to just safety concerns. BIFMA also promotes sustainability in the workplace.

“The traditional work of BIFMA has been focused on the safety and performance of products,” says Brad Miller, Director of Advocacy & Sustainability at BIFMA. “But there has been a movement toward impact-specific areas like emissions, which then led to a desire about 10 years ago to put together a full sustainability standard for furniture.”

The goal was for furniture to contribute to environmental and social wellbeing, culminating in the creation of the ANSI/BIFMA e3 Furniture Sustainability Standard. With its most recent revision coming out soon, e3-2018 will help expand perceptions about the sustainability of furniture.

The 2018 revision continues to address product emissions, going beyond the earlier e3 iterations by making the Low Emitting Furniture credit (Credit 7.6.1) a prerequisite for all applicable office furniture products. Low emissions will be one of seven prerequisites for the standard, which also includes a great number of other voluntary credits addressing other environmental and social impact areas.

The success of e3 is evidenced by the EPA recommending BIFMA LEVEL certified furniture for federal purchasers, which is only one of four programs recommended, explains Miller. Standards like this enable facilities managers to add furniture to the milieu of sustainability.

The Social Side of Office Furniture

The main focus of standards today is on the environmental side of the equation. In the future, standards will accommodate the social aspect of office furniture and how it can help employees become more engaged.

“Social engagement is a burgeoning new area of research that we are looking into and are trying to become better students of,” explains Wammack. “We’re trying to take this research and apply it specifically to furniture.”

One such trend is the widespread adoption of height-adjustable desks. The benefits they provide for employees have caused an incredible influx of products now. BIFMA’s standards development team is testing more on those products now, and there’s truly widespread industry support, notes Panning.

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“Some research and survey work on social engagement has been done in the field, often by individual manufacturers,” says Wammack. “We’re doing work this summer to put together additional training materials because if furniture can positively impact employees and lead to better productivity and engagement, that has a huge potential impact.”

If you are interested in learning more about BIFMA and its standards, visit www.bifma.org.

Justin Feit [email protected] is associate editor of BUILDINGS

Wammack presented the seminar “Standards, Engagement and Trends in Commercial Materials, and Why Products Matter” at NeoCon 2018 in Chicago.

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