Sustainable office furniture from recycled paper

A UK company is pioneering the design and manufacture of sustainable commercial furniture made from highly engineered recycled paper.

The FlutePRO® range – winner of the prestigious FIRA Innovation Award – is now in use by more than 2,000 people in offices and commercial premises in the UK and Europe.

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The award, made by the UK Furniture Industry Research Association, recognises unique products whose innovation, safety and performance mark them out as exceptional. It is the first time a paper furniture product has ever won the award.

The FlutePRO® range is the result of four years R&D and more than £1m of investment by Flute Office founders, Rod Fountain and Mary Dorrington Ward, who sold their conventional furniture dealership in 2008 to do something more relevant to the needs of businesses in the 21st Century. The products, designed and manufactured in the UK, compete head-on with commercial furniture but offer a level of sustainability, flexibility, and value for money that is game-changing.

“We foresee a new office landscape in which nothing is permanent and where everything is designed to be used only for as long as needed,” says Flute Office CEO Rod Fountain. “We realised that what we used to sell – expensive, heavy, in-flexible, unsustainable – furniture was not going to survive the rapid changes in business and working culture.” Mary Dorrington Ward adds, “We wanted to design attractive products that were sustainable and recyclable to meet the growing need for procurement befitting the needs of the emerging circular economy.”

When a customer’s requirements change, Flute Office takes back its furniture and uses 100% of the raw materials to make brand new products that meet the customer’s new specification. “The idea of owning your office furniture and being stuck with it as your business evolves will seem very quaint in years to come,” says Fountain.

The list of benefits include a huge saving in weight, very rapid assembly without the need for any tools, reduced facilities management costs, short lead times, complete flexibility of colour and finish, an option to use the desk top as a dry-wipe board, and zero end of life costs.

The product has had to pass the same British and European standards for strength, stability, safety and fire resistance as any other desk in order to be deemed fit for purpose for commercial use. In addition it can take an enormous top load of 1,700kg despite weighing only 15kg itself. Early adopter clients include Hearst Magazines, BSkyB, Centaur Communications, Deloitte, Costa Coffee, and Tribal DDB.

Phil Reynolds, Chief Operating Officer for FIRA, said: “I am really pleased to present the FIRA Innovation Award to Flute Office for this innovative new product. Our judges were extremely impressed by this product, especially the brackets using one piece of folded card, a unique feature which gives the desk its strength. This enables it to compete with office furniture made from more traditional materials, with the bonus of being a sustainable option.

Diane Thorpe, head of facilitiesat Hearst Magazines in London, said: “This product is ingenious and covers all of our sustainable principles. It’s practical, lightweight and robust and it copes with the day-to-day wear and tear in the office. It’s firmly in our future plans.”

Designer, author and business visionary Alan Moore, whose latest book No Straight Lines explores the future thinking required to make sense of our non-linear world, says Flute Office is an example of “the simple, cost-effective, yet disruptive technology that will enable better business in future”.

He says: “Darwin famously said it’s not the strongest or most intelligent that survive but the most adaptive to change. In the 21st Century the pace of change means that survivors also need to be quick on their feet – even when we are talking about something as humble as office furniture. The idea of liberating companies small and large to be able to change their working spaces rapidly and creatively at very low cost and in a 100% sustainable way is beautiful and it’s game-changing.”