Understandably, sustainability is an important topic of conversation between Commercial Interior Designers and Suppliers. This series of interviews aims to share knowledge of new materials but goes on to challenge how circularity can succeed in the commercial sector and what that production model may look like. We also focus on action by asking our interviewees to share examples of how they’ve delivered sustainably innovative projects in order for the sector as a whole to learn and grow.
We sat down with Dominick Pegram to learn from his insight into the commercial interiors sector as a prominent furniture and lighting dealership.
Please could you introduce yourself and your role?
Dominick Pegram, owner of commercial furniture dealership and consultant Salt & Pegram. I lead a small team and retain a role in business development. I try to maintain our culture as an industry leading, creative and innovative company punching well above our weight. In addition to the governance of the business I regard my true function is to give agency to the people with whom I work and enable them to do the best work. I’ve never been terribly ambitious for scale and some might say that I’ve sacrificed commerciality for a balance of home and work for me and the rest of the team.
What innovation have you found in materials suitable for commercial interiors?
The combination of recycled resources such as textiles, wool and even dvds with biopolymers that can replace virgin plastics is fascinating. Take a look at the work of Planq, Solid Wool and Mater to get a sense of what’s possible. The circularity of these materials not only reduces plastic use but can capture the embodied carbon within a systemic process that can reuse the materials again and again. I love the idea of existing buildings being material banks that we can use in creative ways to rebuild and manufacturer. We’ve been working with manufacturers in the drive to replace the petrochemical based foam in upholstery and the UK requirement for additional fire retardancy. Post Grenfell the government is paralysed by the fear of changing fire regs and this being associated with a future tragedy. I sympathise of course but we should be led by the science. Foam alternatives are complicated and using them can have unintended consequences, but we know it’s a good idea don’t we? We may have to accept a different aesthetic, pay a little extra and interrogate the greenwashing of the foam industry.
Can circularity truly be integrated within a commercial interior project?
Potentially yes but systems for circularity need to be more mature and the value of them appreciated by all the stakeholders. A circular product needs to be specified over a cheaper, short life alternative. The manufacturer needs to design and take responsibility for longevity, repair and reuse and the industry needs to support this with take back schemes, maintenance and the potential for furniture as a service. All this is made more difficult without a standardised asset management system; if we don’t know what we’ve got how the hell are going to make best use of it? Above all we need to be bold, brave and belligerent – the stakes are so enormously high that not integrating circularity should be an embarrassment.
How have you addressed innovation within the production, and end of life, of your products?
We don’t make anything! However, as part of our ESG strategy we run an incubation programme that aims to support partners that share our values and encourage them to respond to the demands of our clients with innovative stories and ambitious missions. We ask them to focus on extending the life of their furniture and that they take responsibility for the entire life cycle of their products – for today’s clients to become tomorrow’s suppliers. Government intervention and support for a radical approach has created an environment in The Netherlands that encourages innovation. Take Circuform for example, they are a small company whose products are designed to re-enter their supply chain and offer a deposit scheme to encourage users to return the chairs at the end of life. It’s not just the smaller companies, Vepa have an entire programme for taking product back, including that of other manufacturers, so that they can reuse the materials and compliment their own products with remanufactured kit from others.
How could you work with Commercial Interiors Designers in order to deliver sustainable projects which achieve high levels of accreditation?
We have worked on many Breeam, Fitwell and Well compliant fit outs. The criteria differ for each of these accreditations, so we worked with the brilliant Element Four sustainability consultants to produce supplier and service partner questionnaires that help us and our clients select furniture that contributes to meeting our goals. They address the manufacturer/product supplier’s ESG compliance, product certifications and alignments with these accreditations. The collected data is then made available to our clients to inform them and steer their selection. I do worry that these accreditations can exclude the smaller, innovative companies who may have the brilliant ideas but not the resource to fund endless tests. We’ve done our best to make them inclusive and provide an opportunity to shine.
What is the next step in the sustainable conversation and who is it between?
There is a great deal of conversation going on but it is in danger of existing in echo chambers when the benefits will come from spanning disciplines. For too long there has been a culture of them and us; Specifier / Supplier or Designer / Project Manager. In order to deliver real change we need to understand the issues that each sector faces and resolve them in collaboration. If you take a walk through the city there is no shortage of commercial building being constructed and it’s quite clear that the unstainable massively out ways the sustainable. Change is happening but nowhere near at the scale that the crisis demands and there doesn’t seem to be any consensus on how to deal the broader, bigger issues at society level. Conversation feels positive but will be dangerous if it leaves us feeling satisfied with our contribution whilst sleep walking into catastrophe.