Are modular cubicles and walls superior to fixed architectural walls and built in casework from an environmental perspective? According to Herman Miller’s whitepaper assessing the lifecycle of both systems in a healthcare setting, the answer is yes. The independent researchers used components such as HM’s Action Office and modular walls from Wall Alliance Partners for this study. So, they caution that their findings don’t necessarily apply to other brands. However, even if the exact numbers vary, the logic would appear to hold true for other high-end systems furniture models.
The Herman Miller report covers 3 main areas:
- Waste produced
- Energy consumed
- Emissions that could impact climate change
The study used several different scenarios to estimate the environmental impact of each system over a period of 12 years including the likely rate of replacement. The initial numbers upon installation show modular cubicles and walls consuming less energy and generating significantly less waste than fixed options. The architectural walls and millwork had a slight edge in emissions.
Comparison Diverges at the Decade Mark
The numbers start looking very different 10 years out. By that time (as a conservative estimate), 50% of casework and 60% of walls would require replacement/remodeling. At this point, fixed options soar in environmental impact in all three areas measured. The explanation is simple. With a built in wall, you have to tear it out and build a new one out of fresh materials. The debris from the demolished walls and millwork goes straight to the landfill.
In comparison, modular walls and casework can be reconfigured without being destroyed. Individual components can be replaced if they wear out. The rest of the system can be reused over and over no matter how often the office environment is remodeled. Plus, the renovation process is much less disruptive with furnishings that are designed with reconfiguration, expansion, and relocation in mind.