Flemish company saves office furniture from landfills

Summary

Nnof shows businesses how to give their trusty desks and chairs a new lease on life in even the most modern workplaces

Pull up a chair

Not unlike the clothes we wear, workspaces are subject to all kinds of trends, too. If you work in a large office, you can’t help but notice it: The office landscape is changing.

The cubicles of the past have made way for open floor plans, but now these are also being replaced by flexible work spaces that do away with traditional desks in favour of sharing and telecommuting.

The debate over which concept is better continues, but the ecological impact of the ever-changing trends is clear; obsolete office furniture usually ends up in landfills. One Flemish company hopes to change that.

For the last six years, Nnof, based in Vilvoorde, has been offering businesses a green solution to furniture waste. “We started as a removal company that specialised in office furniture,” says Anne Lenaerts, sales and marketing director at Nnof. “We were throwing away huge quantities of furniture. Modern offices didn’t require as much furniture anymore and it was easier for our clients to get rid of it than to reuse it. This contributed to a growing waste problem.”

Made to last

As a result, Nnof – which stands for Nearly New Office Facilities – began rethinking its own environmental impact. The office furniture that falls out of fashion is usually in good enough shape to be reused; instead, it ends up as waste. Nnof decided the change that.

“We came up with a business model that aims to give furniture a longer life,” explains Lenaerts. “The furniture is repurposed, before it gets recycled. We strongly believe that, in the long run, this kind of circular economy will be the only viable option.”

Larger companies especially have a lot of things that can be reused

- Anne Lenaerts

Most office furniture is built to last for decades. “These days, however, its average life span is only seven years,” says Lenaerts. “We talk to our clients to figure out which of their existing furniture could be used in the new office space. Larger companies especially have a lot of things that can be reused.”

Nnof first creates an exhaustive inventory of their client’s office, down to the individual components from which each item is made, including table tops and chair frames. Then it comes up with a new plan that fits the needs of the client.

“We’ve partnered with big companies, like KBC, to refurbish their offices, helping them realise the huge ecological benefits of reusing furniture,” says Lenaerts.

But while this helps the environment, she continues, reusing office furniture also has a direct benefit for the companies’ bottom line. “With larger projects, it can be up to 50% cheaper than buying it all new. But even with smaller ones, reusing furniture that’s already in place can help cut the costs.”

Mental shift

According to Lenaerts, more and more companies are taking sustainability seriously, and reused office furniture is one area that requires little effort on their part. “It takes time to explain what it is that we’re doing, but there is a growing interest from both the private sector and government institutions.”

Nnof is part of a growing network of Flemish companies and think-tanks that operate within the so-called circular economy. But its ambitions stretch further. “We’re opening a branch in the Netherlands, and we hope to follow it up with other countries in the future,” says Lenaerts.

Apart from that, the company is constantly rethinking the way it does business. “We want to offer our clients a model that shifts the focus from buying and owning the office furniture, to simply using it. That’s the next logical step to a more circular and sustainable economy,” says Lenaerts. “It will take a mental shift, but we’re working on it.”