Circular Economy and Office Design
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Circular Economy and Office Design

This article looks at how the circular economy is redefining the way we approach office design and the fit out of office spaces. The circular economy is an innovative closed-loop economic system that encourages the reuse and repurposing of products and resources, helping reduce the waste in construction and fit out of offices.

Right now there are garbage patches in the Pacific Ocean totalling around 1.6 million sq square kilometres, an area twice the size of Texas, three times the size of France, or roughly 7 times the size of the UK. If that doesn’t scare you it should. Microplastics are found ingested in fish stocks in all oceans of the world, and therefore in all of our food supplies, affecting all of us.

The by-product of office fit-out projects often includes waste from discarded materials. According to the Better Building Partnership, for every 100 square meters of floor space, a fit-out can produce over 5 tonnes of waste, originating from strip-out, demolition, and construction debris, as well as from packaging and damaged or unused materials. Besides the negative environmental consequences stemming from resource exhaustion and waste management, there are considerable financial expenses tied to construction waste. These costs can be curtailed through effective fit-out design and administration, which aligns with the principles of the circular economy.

By transitioning away from the traditional linear model of production and consumption, companies can create more sustainable workspaces that minimise waste, optimise resource utilisation, and reduce their environmental footprint. This article covers 5 key sections:

  1. What is a Circular Economy?
  2. What Does a Circular Economy Mean for Office Design?
  3. The Benefits of a Circular Economy in Office Design: Towards a Greener Workplace
  4. Strategies to Implement a Circular Economy Principles in Office Design
  5. Overcoming Barriers to a Circular Economy in Office Design

What is a Circular Economy?

A circular economy is a closed-loop economic system that encourages the reuse and repurposing of products and resources. It is an innovative alternative to the traditional linear model of production and consumption – (1) make, (2) use, and (3) dispose of. First mentioned in Allan Kneese’s “The Economics of Natural Resources” the primary goal of the circular economy is to maximise resource utilisation and extend the life of materials by recovering and recycling them at the end of their lifecycle. As Stahel puts it, in a seminal 2016 Nature article, this “would turn goods that are at the end of their service life into resources for others, closing loops in industrial ecosystems and minimizing waste”.

The urgency of adopting a circular economy has become more apparent as Earth Overshoot Day arrives earlier each year. Earth Overshoot Day is a day each year when global resource consumption outpaces the planet’s ability to regenerate those resources. In 2021, Earth Overshoot Day fell on July 29th, while last year it was July 28th (see the full tracker from 1971-2022), highlighting the need for a transition towards a circular economy.

In short, a circular economy promotes the return of all forms of waste back into the economy (rather than disposing of them and extracting new materials), where they are used more efficiently, thereby reducing environmental impact and natural resource depletion. By embracing a circular economy, we can not only protect the environment but also use our resources more wisely to build a more sustainable future.

What Does a Circular Economy Mean for Office Design?

In office design, creating a closed-loop system where resources are used in a sustainable manner, and waste is minimised, means designing workspaces that use materials and energy efficiently, reducing waste, and promoting recycling and reuse. By embracing circular economy principles, businesses can not only reduce their environmental impact but also create a more efficient and cost-effective workplace.

At K2 Space we apply circular office design principles in the following ways:

  1. Repurposing Furniture – We encourage our clients to re-use furniture wherever possible (reuse of glass, reupholstering of furniture, restaining of doors and veneers)
  2. Sustainable Manufacturing Processes – We only work with manufacturers that can demonstrate sustainable supply chain and manufacturing processes
  3. Recycling – We try to only use materials that can be recycled. We also work with office furniture storage suppliers that have recycling centres on-site to ensure that any furniture that isn’t up-cycled is recycled.
  4. Sustainable Building Accreditations – We encourage and support the application of sustainable building accreditations (like BREEAM, LEED, WELL), sustainable company accreditations (B Corp), sustainable design and build processes (Considerate Constructors Scheme), and general environmental and sustainable accreditations (ISO 14001) and practices (ESG).

Embracing a circular economy in office design is crucial, as commercial buildings contribute significantly to energy consumption and waste generation. According to the UK Green Building Council, the built environment is responsible for around 40% of the UK’s total carbon footprint. By adopting sustainable office design principles, businesses can minimise their environmental impact, promote a greener future, and enjoy cost savings through waste reduction, resource optimisation, and the creation of healthier, more productive workspaces.

Transitioning to a circular economy presents long-term advantages, including increased resilience, economic growth opportunities, and environmental and societal benefits. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation (2015) defines this transition as a systemic shift that fosters long-term resilience, stimulates business and economic opportunities, and yields environmental and societal advantages. In essence, adopting circularity allows companies to reduce resource consumption and waste, leading to substantial cost savings and heightened efficiency. By incorporating circular economy principles into office design, businesses can create sustainable workspaces that benefit both the environment and their bottom line.

The Benefits of a Circular Economy in Office Design: Towards a Greener Workplace

Embracing circular economy principles in office design can bring significant benefits to businesses, employees, and the environment. Here are some of the benefits of creating a greener workplace:

Reducing Waste and Carbon Emissions 

By designing offices that prioritise sustainability and resource efficiency, and working with programmes like BREEAM and LEED, businesses can significantly reduce their waste and carbon emissions. This includes minimising the use of non-renewable energy sources, reducing water usage, and promoting recycling and reuse. Additionally, using sustainable materials in office design can significantly reduce the environmental impact of the office space.

Saving Money 

Implementing circular economy principles in office design can lead to cost savings for businesses. By reducing waste and resource usage, businesses can lower their operational costs and increase efficiency. Additionally, investing in renewable energy sources can lead to long-term cost savings by reducing energy bills and decreasing the reliance on non-renewable energy sources (see our article on Smart Office Design).

Enhancing Employee Wellbeing 

Creating a sustainable and healthy workplace can have a significant impact on employee well-being and productivity. By prioritizing natural lighting, ventilation, and green spaces, businesses can create a healthier and more pleasant work environment. Additionally, sustainable practices such as promoting active transportation, healthy food options, and ergonomic furniture can improve employee health and reduce absenteeism. Overall, adopting circular economy principles in office design can bring numerous benefits to businesses, employees, and the environment. By reducing waste, saving money, and enhancing employee well-being, businesses can create sustainable and efficient workspaces that promote a more sustainable future.

Strategies to Implement Circular Economy Principles in Office Design

From the design and construction phase to the use, operation, and eventual deconstruction, circularity is crucial to the entire lifespan of an office. By designing out waste, businesses can reduce their environmental impact while maximising the value of their resources. During the design and construction phase, it is essential to consider the adaptability of the office space to change without wasting materials. This can be achieved through smart design, using new technologies and off-site prefabrication, and ordering only the required amount of material. Designers should also specify materials that are reused, reclaimed, or refurbished or contain high levels of recycled content. By using these materials, businesses can reduce their carbon footprint and waste generation while supporting the circular economy. Spaces should be designed with easy deconstruction (dilapidation) and reuse in mind to maximise their reusability elsewhere at the end of their life. This approach is crucial because it reduces waste and ensures that the maximum value of resources is retained throughout the lifecycle of products and materials. Designing for a circular economy in office spaces requires a holistic approach that takes into account the entire lifecycle of materials, products, and systems. Here are some strategies that businesses can use to implement circular economy principles in their office design:

Resource Efficiency

Businesses can promote resource efficiency by designing offices that use energy and materials in a more efficient manner. This can be achieved, for example, by incorporating energy-efficient lighting and HVAC systems, using renewable energy sources, and minimising water usage. Energy efficiency requirements in new buildings are governed by part L of the UK building regulations.

Renewable Energy Sources

To reduce carbon emissions and increase energy efficiency, businesses can invest in renewable energy sources such as solar panels and wind turbines. These sources of energy can provide clean and sustainable power to the office building, reducing its reliance on non-renewable energy sources. One example of this in London is King’s Cross. Through green tariffs and direct agreements with energy providers, all of King’s Cross’s energy is now sourced from renewable sources. Electricity is sourced from REGO-certified green electricity tariffs, and gas is supplied by a Scottish anaerobic digestion facility along with green gas certificates. By switching to 100% renewable gas and electricity, King’s Cross is preventing the annual release of 19,729 tonnes of CO2 equivalent. Offices in King’s Cross are tapping into the use of renewables, for example, the construction of a purpose-built 11-storey building comprises more than 1 million square feet, of which Google will occupy 650,000 sq ft.

Beyond energy efficiency, heat retention and the use of renewable energy sources, there is also the repurposing of energy in spaces. A recent BBC news article talks about a small data centre, approximately the size of a washing machine, being utilised to heat a public swimming pool in Devon. The computers within the data centre are immersed in oil, which captures the heat generated—enough to heat the pool to about 30°C 60% of the time, saving Exmouth Leisure Centre thousands of pounds. Deep Green, the start-up behind the project, provides the data centre free of charge and refunds the electricity costs associated with running the “digital boiler.” The company’s computing power is used for artificial intelligence and machine learning. Seven other pools in England have also signed up for this innovative heating solution.

Sustainable Materials

Using sustainable materials in office design can reduce waste, energy consumption, and carbon footprint. This includes using recycled materials, low-carbon materials, and materials that are locally sourced. Additionally, designing for disassembly can make it easier to recycle materials and minimise waste at the end of their useful life. As an example one of the suppliers we work with is HumanScale. As part of their product line, Humanscale uses discarded fishing nets, which are widely regarded as the most harmful type of ocean plastic, as they can “ghost fish” for years, damaging delicate ecosystems and the marine animals that inhabit them. In an effort to combat this problem and build upon their commitment to creating a net positive impact on the Earth, Humanscale has expanded its Ocean seating line with the Liberty Ocean chair. Like its predecessor, the Smart Ocean, each Liberty Ocean chair helps clean up the oceans by using nearly 0.9 kg (2 lbs.) of reclaimed fishing net material.

Recyclable Furniture

Office furniture can be a significant source of waste, and businesses can reduce this by investing in furniture made from recyclable materials. This can include chairs and desks made from recycled plastic, metal, or wood. Overall, businesses can implement circular economy principles in office design by focusing on resource efficiency, renewable energy sources, sustainable materials, and recyclable furniture. By adopting these strategies, businesses can reduce their environmental impact and create more sustainable and cost-effective workspaces.

Our recent DTRE fit-out project was in accordance with the principles of a circular economy as we repurposed and reused furniture in different parts of the office, including the client suite area and breakout areas. The decision to reuse the furniture from the previous office helped to minimise waste and prevent unnecessary harm to the environment. This was done alongside a highly elaborate BREEAM accreditation, the project demonstrates a commitment to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria. The Considerate Constructors Scheme provides strict guidelines on ESG criteria, which helps ensure that the project is conducted in a way that is socially responsible, environmentally conscious, and ethically sound.

Overcoming Barriers to a Circular Economy in Office Design

While circular economy principles can bring numerous benefits to office design, there are also several challenges that businesses may face when trying to implement these principles. Here are some of the challenges and opportunities for overcoming barriers to a circular economy in office design:


One of the biggest challenges to implementing a circular economy in office design is a lack of awareness or understanding of the principles. To overcome this, businesses can educate their employees and stakeholders on the benefits of a circular economy and the strategies for implementing these principles.


Implementing circular economy principles in office design can require upfront investments, such as upgrading to energy-efficient technologies or purchasing sustainable materials. However, these investments can lead to long-term cost savings and increased efficiency. To overcome this, businesses can develop a long-term plan for implementing circular economy principles and prioritise investments that provide the most significant cost savings.


Resistance to change can be a significant barrier to implementing a circular economy in office design. To overcome this, businesses can involve employees in the design process and create a culture of sustainability that values efficiency, waste reduction, and resource conservation.


There is currently a lack of regulation around circular economy principles in office design, which can make it challenging for businesses to focus on sustainability. To overcome this, businesses can work with industry associations, policymakers, and other stakeholders to promote circular economy principles and encourage regulatory support.

Summary and Next Steps

The Circular Economy is a transformative approach that seeks to minimise waste, reduce resource consumption, and promote sustainability. These principles can be applied to both the use and design and fit out of office spaces. As businesses look to create more environmentally responsible workplaces, the next steps involve integrating circular design principles, such as modularity, durability, and adaptability into office layouts, furniture selection, and materials usage.

K2 Space, as an expert in office design and fit-outs, is well-equipped to guide companies through this transition. By offering sustainable design solutions, innovative resource management strategies, and in-depth knowledge of eco-friendly materials, we can help companies like yours achieve sustainability goals and contribute to a more responsible and circular future.

Further Reading

    1. Kneese, A. V. (1964). The Economics of Natural Resources. The American Economic Review, 54(3)
    2. Stahel, W. R. (2016). The Circular Economy. Nature
    3. United Nations Conference on Trade and Development – UNCTAD (2023). Circular Economy
    4. UK Green Building Council. (2023). Climate Change.
    5. Ellen MacArthur Foundation. (2015). Towards the Circular Economy Vol. 1: An economic and business rationale for an accelerated transition.
    6. Global Footprint Network. (2023). Earth Overshoot Day
    7. National Geographic. (n.d.). Great Pacific Garbage Patch
    8. Humanscale. (n.d.). Liberty Ocean Office Chair.
    9. Humanscale. (n.d.). Liberty Ocean Brochure
    10. Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government. (2021). Approved Document L: Conservation of fuel and power – Volume 1 Dwellings (2021 edition incorporating 2023 amendments)
    11. King’s Cross. (2021, November 11). King’s Cross becomes carbon neutral
    12. King’s Cross. (n.d.). Google.
    13. The Ocean Cleanup. (n.d.). The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
    14. BBC News. (2022, February 28). Devon pool heated by data centre ‘digital boiler’. Retrieved from
    15. Ofgem. (n.d.). Renewable Energy Guarantees of Origin (REGO).

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