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What does SFC’s current research show?


2015 Consumer Research

Summary of Key Findings by Susan Inglis, SFC Executive Director

The 2015 Green Home Furnishings Consumer Study is the 7th wave of national survey conducted to assess consumer awareness, interest and behavior in a variety of issues related to sustainable furnishings. The samples were intentionally limited to the prime demographics for purchasing home furnishings to ensure that the results would be most applicable to decisions made by companies that service this market. The 2015 study was conducted by Impact Consulting.

Overall, findings indicate a growing concern about sustainability issues and an interest in buying products that are good for the environment, so long as they meet given style and budget requirements.  Quality, price and style are always the main drivers in choosing furnishings, but survey trends show “good for the environment” is more and more part of the value consumers seek.

At least half consumers rate themselves as very or extremely aware and concerned about a range of environmental issues from toxic pollution to using up natural resources to deforestation, with no single issue being of much greater concern.  This tells us that the “engaged” population has been holding steady at about 50%.  Most furniture consumers are taking action in a variety of ways, from recycling at home to switching to CFL light bulbs, and over half have purchased green products in a variety of categories.  However, they still are not buying as much in “eco-friendly” home furnishings products as they are in categories they can access more easily, such as recycled paper products and non-toxic cleaners.  It is clear that this is mostly because they have not been made aware of the options.

Purchase interest in green furnishings is growing, with over half of all furnishings consumers indicating interest in buying eco-friendly home furnishings, if they like the style and the price is right for them. Those definitely interested has grown from around 30% when we began the surveys to about 40%.  These are very healthy numbers.

The current survey indicates that price sensitivity may have peaked. Those who would pay nothing or only up to 5% more fell from a peak of 78% in 2010 to around 70% in the current survey.  This is a significant drop.  Further, the solid 30% who will pay more is in line with general consumer inclination to pay more for a favorite feature or brand.

Awareness of specific eco-options in furnishings remains largely unchanged with recycled content, organic fabrics and reclaimed wood the most recognized, though as we always caution these are also the easiest to fake knowledge of because of the descriptiveness of the terms.  It remains for the furniture sales person to point out the significance of eco-features including other recycled or reclaimed content, bio-based foam, domestic manufacture, etc.  It is clearly worth having the conversation, though, since most consumers will respond to these features when the product is their style and price point.

Sustainable Furnishings Council is pleased to offer a range of training programs to ensure that furnishings professionals, as well as consumers, better understand the simple choices we can all make to help ensure a healthy future.  The survey results show clearly that consumers are eager for us to bust the myth that “sustainable” looks a certain way or always costs more.

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Snow Day Workplace

Today is a rare snow day for our office, but don’t think that we aren’t working! Today I sit house-bound with my husband as we both work from home, networking into our respective servers back at the ranch to keep our projects moving. So as I thought about an appropriate topic to write about, nothing else seemed more relevant than to discuss one of the penultimate questions in commercial design these days: How do we, as designers changes with the times and improve workplace design? How do we use technology in the workplace and how does that affect space, collaboration, and space needs? Because as technology changes and we have greater capacity to work, well, anywhere and at anytime, the shape of our workspaces and what is important to them has changed.

This is a constant and ongoing dialogue in the design community. The major manufacturers of the office furniture industry are constantly revisiting these and related questions: What environments promote productivity? What environments promote collaboration? Creativity? How can we use wireless technology, going paperless, or new software to enhance the workplace? What is really needed in a workspace?

Obviously the answers change based on the type of work being done, the people involved and the company’s values. There is no one-fit answer and that is part of the discovery that a design team goes through with a client. For work like mine – design, architecture and most building engineering – paper will always be a component, so printing and a certain amount of filing will always be needed. I will always need room to spread out and look at physical samples and storage for those samples. I will, therefore, always need something that resembles a traditional workspace. So today, while I can work from home, I am handicapped somewhat. My husband is in the exact opposite position. His work is computer software engineering and never needs to be printed. He doesn’t need filing space at his workplace, because everything is saved on his harddrive or in the cloud. His laptop is pretty much all he needs and he carries it home with him every night from the office. So his work can take place anywhere he feels comfortable enough to work. He is as productive from home as from the office. What space to you design then, for someone that mobile? Or someone who move from site to site on a weekly basis? Or someone who is constantly working in group settings?

Herman Miller, Haworth, Knoll, Kimball, Steelcase, Teknion and many, many other big furniture manufacturing shops are constantly asking and revisiting these questions. They research it and then provide new and innovative solutions to assist in making the types of spaces workers (and managers) want a reality. That includes touchdown spaces for folks who travel from one site to another, collaborative spaces that are causal and help people work together and get things done or dreamed up. No matter what you think you need, there’s probably a solution out there.

Who is your Interior Designer?

When I introduce myself to new people, at social gatherings or in public places, I used to say “I’m an Interior Designer.” This would get me one of two responses, both of which, to my mind, misunderstand who I am and what I do everyday.

The first is “Oh, okay.” in a tone of voice that implies I’m not really working. Like the person I’m talking to is just a capable of doing my job or (worse) thinks he/she can do it better. This would usually require a long winded defense of my profession that the situation doesn’t provide time to get into. If given time, I can go on about how I am not only an expert in color and style, but building codes and regulation, the basics of plumbing, electrics, HVAC, construction and probably more than you EVER want to hear on ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and it’s effect on buildings. I can also pop off on a little diatribe on LEED and the USGBC, as I am a LEED Green Associate, but that is taking it way too far for the average wedding cocktail hour.

The second, is “OMG! You have to help me! I have no idea what color to paint my Kitchen/Bedroom/Laundry/Kid’s Tree House/Dog’s Special Hiding Place!” and that is almost as bad. It speaks of respect and gives me credit for the massive time and energy I’ve taken to learn my craft, but only in a HGTV sort of way. Outside of my own home I don’t work on residential projects. While they are buildings and still require similar creative process and skills, commercial and residential design are radically different. A Fire Inspector is not going to care what your home draperies are made of. In a hospital or other health institution, however, they care a LOT. There are standards of testing and codes guiding what kinds of textiles can be used in hotels, hospitals and other commercial buildings that a home are not subject to. So while I appreciate and agree with my new friend’s perspective, it again misunderstands a large portion of the research I do everyday and I’m again tempted to lead off on the same diatribe inspired by answer #1.

My new answer to the question: “So what do you do?” is: “I’m a Commercial Interior Designer.” This mouthful does not trip off the tongue as easily as its predecessor, but it is much more effective in provoking a thoughtful response. “You mean like offices?” “Yes,” I say, “Like offices and healthcare environments. My firm does a lot of work with assisted living communities for seniors, who want a homey feel, but require hospital performance.” I like the assisted living example because most people know that senior environments do require wheelchair accessibility without getting into talking about ADA, cleanliness without talking about antimicrobial properties of finishes, and good lighting without talking about electric planning. It gives a greater sense of the responsibility and accountability required  without removing the residential-looking framework with which people usually view the profession.

My point is that the next rehearsal dinner you attend, if are seated next to a stranger who says they are an Interior Designer, then maybe your next question should be: “What kind of work do you do?” It gives them more room to avoid the stereotype that, I believe, guides both answers #1 and #2: That I do residential work and my highest ambition is to design Eva Longoria’s next condo in the Caribbean and have it featured in Architectural Digest. No offense to Conde Nast’s classic, but I don’t even read Architectural Digest. (For reference, I choose Contract, Greensource, or Interior Design if I have time to pick up a periodical) Your new friend will appreciate the interest and the courtesy offered by not assuming.


Acoustical Privacy – what’s that mean?

Lately we’ve been asking our clients, not just about their space needs and storage, but acoustical privacy needs. But what exactly are we asking?

No cubical or wall partition systems, or even drywall constructed wall, will insulate your voice entirely from your neighbor if you want to be heard. But what about when you don’t want to be heard? The use of wall partitions and tall cubicles have many advantages for the workplace: they provide a sense of private, individual space. They are easier to relocate and renovate as teams needs change when compared to drywall. Some versions can include electrical and other utility disciplines into their framework thereby speeding up the construction timeline and getting you moved in faster. Finally they can be very cost effective compared to traditional drywall construction when handled correctly. These are reasons for their use and why many of our clients are considering them as a solution in their workplaces. But what most wall systems will not provide is the same level of acoustical privacy that you might except when isolated in your own “room” as you might expect from drywall construction. These systems don’t usually provide isolation from other noises and voices as you might expect.

Complete and total acoustical isolation (think soundproof booths used for recording artists) is a more costly process than traditional drywall construction. There are tricks to minimize it; such as sound masking as described in this Facilitiesnet article.

Sound masking is a tool that can be used after your walls are built to control noise. Simply put, rather than trying to remove all noise, sound masking systems provide a little extra background noise, so that the level of noise need to become audible is higher. These systems can be concealed in a ceiling and added after the fact, making them a potential solution in existing spaces where construction solutions aren’t an option.

Researching Trends for your Office

If you’ve been involved in an office re-design in the last 5 years, you’ve probably heard the term “benching.” This term generally refers to a long table configuration that serves several users without cubical partitions and often has a track or tray of technology components run down the center spine of the table. About 2010 this was the new tool that all the furniture companies were scrambling to produce a version of.

This past year I’ve seen a dozens of furniture companies in the commercial world scrambling to put out a sit-to-stand table or desk. This hot trend gives a user the choice to push away their chair and work at a standing or bar height as they see fit to stretch their legs. It’s not actually a new idea (I’ve spent my far share of time at a drafting board at standing height) but the power and pneumatic controls are what make this trend really appealing, because it’s not easy to adjust the older versions of these sit-to-stand tables.

Every few years there is a new furniture idea that needs to be evaluated for whether or not its adoption is appropriate for your clients, or your work style. I find one of the best repositories for researching these trends and all the new ones (they will only come faster in our technology-driven world) is Haworth.

Haworth, as well as being one of the many large and fine commercial office companies in the US, also devotes a great deal of energy to research. If you’re interested in what’s coming next, what is affecting workplaces now, then the following link is a home base to exploring technologies, theories and thought-processes affecting the office world today.

Haworth Resources: Trends

They also have their White Papers readily accessible and on topics of strange, but serious significance. I’ve just added this one to my “to read” list:

Work 2020: The Effect of Higher Oil Prices on the Future of Work

As a final resource, I will include an excerpt for Gensler’s 2014 Design Forecast: a quick, graphic read discussing those factors in 2014 affecting office trends today (technology, health and wellness)  and very applicable considerations for all your office design considerations:

Six Design Meta-Trends

Enjoy Researching!