From Theory to Practice: Insights from Fyra’s First LCA Project

In late 2023, Fyra embarked on the first commissioned life cycle assessment (LCA) project, focusing on a 165 m² spatial alteration of an office space. The project was requested by Newsec, the managing company for the Bensow building, owned by Keskinäinen Työeläkevakuutusyhtiö Elo. Nestled right next to Esplanadi park, the Bensow Building is an iconic 1940s office property that has served a variety of tenants throughout its history.

Both the building owner and the managing partner were keen to use this project as a pilot case to obtain carbon footprint figures and other environmental data typically associated with tenant-change renovations.

“As a part of the property management team I recognize we have an opportunity to play our part in moving forward the sustainable development within the industry as a whole. This aligns with Elo’s goals as a property owner, making it an easy decision to initiate a pilot project. We found strong alignment with Fyra’s team on the project’s implementation, and their exceptional aesthetic design expertise further solidified our choice of partner.” Ylva Nyberg, Senior Leasing Manager, Newsec

Project Objectives: Analyzing Carbon Footprint in Office Space Alterations

Having been part of the Green Building Council Finland working group for creating the framework for interior LCA, we were excited to put the knowdledge into practice. The task was to calculate the carbon footprint resulting from the interior renovation during the life cycle of the office space. To maximize the intake and learning opportunities, we assessed two different scenarios: a lighter alteration (Version A) and a more extensive one (Version B).

The study aimed to identify the materials and stages in the life cycle with the greatest environmental impacts, providing valuable data to support decision-making for the upcoming spatial renovations. The study was conducted in accordance with the Finnish Green Building Council (FiGBC) framework, which is built upon the Ministry of the Environment 2021 method.

Figure 1: Comparison between version A and B carbon footprint, HVAC and lighting energy consumption excluded.

Key Findings: Comparing Light and Heavy Renovation Scenarios

As anticipated, the calculations for the lighter renovation scenario resulted in a smaller carbon footprint compared to the heavier version. The greenhouse gas emissions difference between the two versions was 31 % (Figure 1). The primary contributing factors were, firstly, the renewal of the negotiation room glass partitioners; secondly, the construction of a new call room with a glass wall and door; and thirdly, the renewal of the ceramic tiles in the bathroom, all of which were specific to version B.

The pre-demolition phase is reported separately according to the FiGBC guideline. The first challenge was determining how to assess it, as there is no standard value for interior demolition in the national Finnish database, co2data.fi. We landed on estimating the dismantled building part masses and used the C3 value of the materials defined in co2data.fi. This part of the assessment requires further clarification by the FiGBC or another operator to improve the comparability of interior LCA reports in the future. In the Bensow study, however, the pre-demolition score and the difference between the two alternative designs were found to be insignificant in the entity.

In both plans, the renewal of the light fixtures was identified as a significant emission source. However, replacing the light sources with energy-efficient alternatives can lead to substantial reductions in carbon emissions during the operational phase, making this a widely recommended practice. Additionally, the renewal of the vast surface materials, such as floors and ceilings, contributed significantly to the increased carbon footprint CO2e in the study.

Figure 2: Building part carbon footprint division chart of the version A and B.

Conclusions and Recommendations: Strategies for Low-Carbon Interiors

Based on the study, a general but not surprising conclusion is that the smaller the structural changes, the smaller the environmental impacts. Thus, interior alterations and changes must be based on need and significantly improving the user experience. This is in line with the R0-R2 of circularity: refuse, rethink, reduce. Choosing low-carbon products for floor, wall, and ceiling structures and surfaces is crucial when aiming for low-carbon interiors. Prioritizing materials and products with long service lives and high recyclability rates is essential to achieve a smaller environmental impact and longer intervals between renovations.

The cumulative effect of interior renovations increases consequently when the swaps are done more frequently. For example, if version A renovations were carried out every three years over the next 60 years, totaling 20 replacements, the carbon footprint would be 60 tonnes CO2e. In comparison, if the renovations were done every ten years, the carbon footprint would be less than 20 tonnes CO2e (Figure 3). For version B, the figures would be 30.8 tonnes CO2e for renovations every ten years and 103 tonnes CO2e for renovations every three years.

Figure 3: Carbon footprint of interior alteration with version A over 60 years.

As the Bensow case study was conducted for the real estate owner, there were no loose furniture to include in the study. However, the FiGBC guideline recommend that loose furniture should be assessed and reported separately. To increase the availability of verified data on loose furniture, we argue that it is necessary to start including them in LCAs. Determining how to do this, given the current scarcity of available furniture Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) and the lack of valid generic values, remains a challenge. Nevertheless, we aim to continue the dialogue within the FiGBC-led working group to promote this matter.

Other aspects that, in our experience, require further development and definition include HVAC alterations in relation to interior changes and the concept of carbon handprint in relation to biogenic carbon. We hope that LCA tools will improve in identifying the specific needs of renovation projects and interior alterations. We are committed to contributing to these advancements wherever possible.

Final Thoughts and Future Directions: Continuing the LCA Journey

We are excited to finally have done our first LCA report after several years of grappling with the challenges of assessing and verifying the environmental impacts of our designs. We understand that both our methods for conducting LCAs and the guidelines will continue to evolve, but the wheels are in motion, and we are thrilled to be part of the process.

We cherish the lessons learned from the pilot project and are committed to continously develop our interior design tools and methodologies to create more sustainable solutions, both internally and externally. As for the Bensow project, the life cycle assessment resulted in choosing most of the alteration actions from the version A list, with some additional modifications. The construction phase is ongoing, and we aim to conduct a validation assessment once the final material and renovation palette is settled.

The LCA journey has only just begun.


Recap of 2023: Our Journey Towards Circular Design

Interiors matter. The cumulative impact of interior design elements and materials wield substantial long-term environmental effect, as replacements accumulate over time.

Anticipated legislative reforms in land use and building acts are set to bring crucial regulation to the field. Recognizing climate emissions throughout a building’s lifecycle, particularly in material choices, is becoming imperative.

As we embark on 2024, we would like to revisit our progress toward circular design during the last year.

Exploring Circular Design Principles with Collaborations and Training Initiatives

We actively engaged in various training programs and teaching opportunities. Circular Design – a path towards circular economy, training programme by Ministry of the Environment of Finland and facilitated by Design Forum Finland and Ethica Finland was the first and only national programme deep-diving into circular design principles.

As a part of JATKO project by LAB University of Applied Sciences, we were involved with an advanced training program for interior designers, delving into circular design.
Facilitated by Martela Group, Circular Design Tour took us on online tour across Finland to share our ways of utilising the on 9 R:s principle of circular economy in interior design, while participating Reimagining Spaces workshop with Green Building Council Finland, The Finnish Association of Interior Architects SIO, Senaatti-kiinteistöt, Muotoilutoimisto 2Loops and Creative Souls Studio provided us with another opportunity to disseminate the insights from the 9Rs of principle through one-day of workshops.

Sharing Insights and Moving Towards Life Cycle Assessment

In addition to various other activities, we engaged in the Helsinki Kiertotalousklusteri, participated in a panel discussion on The Product Sustainability Framework hosted by Finnish Design Shop, attended the Business Finland Networking Event focused on Business and Cooperation in the Field of Low Carbon Built Environment at the Embassy of Finland in Stockholm, and became part of the 100 Gruppen Sweden for Nordic collaboration.

Our ongoing development efforts involve collaborations with Materialisting, contributing to a low-carbon spatial design framework with the Green Building Council Finland, and participating in the Green Deal Development initiative led by the Ministry of the Environment of Finland.

The journey continues – in 2024, our goal is to accomplish our first life cycle assessment in accordance with the forthcoming national framework for interior LCA. We aspire to explore profoundly, grasp insights, and implement the gained knowledge in our ongoing initiatives, placing a strong emphasis on collaboration. Given the magnitude of the challenges tied to climate change, working together stands as the sole path toward realizing a more circular future. Eager to continue learning and contributing!


Fyra’s and Sitra’s Joined Effort Awarded in the Sustainability Category of the Workplace Awards 2023

Thrilled to share that Fyra’s workplace development project with Sitra, the Finnish Innovation Fund, has been nominated as the winner in the Sustainability category of the Workplace Awards 2023. Facilitated by Rakli, the Workplace Awards 2023 are a call for excellence in making work environments a better place to work.

Future-proof Hybrid Spaces Aligning with Evolving Work Patterns

On the event floor, a versatile hybrid space was created for virtual events and team gatherings, facilitating diverse encounters with adaptable elements. This hybrid-capable event space enhances the ability to organize inclusive events through virtual platforms, while the multipurpose studio enables office participation in global events and reduces the need for travel.

The work environment floor was revamped to align with evolving work patterns, the changing role of the office and enabling growth. Shared workstations freed up space for teamwork, while soundproofing, AV enhancements, and phone booths improved daily user experience. The addition of a community-focused cafe space encourages spontaneous interactions. Overall, the redesigned layout promotes shared use and accommodates growth within existing spaces.

Enhancing Employee Well-being with Sustainable Design Choices

The various aspects of responsibility were considered throughout different phases of the project. In the pursuit of social responsibility, it is imperative to incorporate facilities that not only enhance employee well-being but also cater inclusively to every user. The planning process extensively engaged the employees – taking into account the company’s strategy, the communal spirit of the personnel, and the specific needs of teams and individuals, enhances the sustainability of the space by ensuring long term use.

The decisions regarding structure, materials, and furniture were guided by a commitment to ecological responsibility. Recycling played a significant role, as surplus materials, such as glass wall elements and fixed furniture frames reclaimed from the property, were repurposed. Additionally, new building materials were thoughtfully sourced. Leftover materials from renovation, like ceiling panels, found a purpose in enhancing acoustics on various floors. Every effort was made to repurpose intact furniture, and any surplus was consciously recycled. This comprehensive approach reflects a dedication to both social and ecological responsibility in the project’s execution.


Harnessing the strength of co-operation: Fyra partners with Materialisting

Advancements in interior material carbon footprint assessment have reached new heights with Materialisting.

With a recent EUR 300,000 growth investment, Materialisting is set to expand its presence in the sustainable construction market in Europe. The platform offers an innovative tool for evaluating environmental impact of real estate and indoor construction projects, allowing users to compare building materials and make environmentally conscious choices.

As the demand for such a platform is pressing, Fyra is stepping in as one of the investors together with Business Joensuu Oy, Redstone Nordics and two private investors. We are thrilled to be a part of this ambitious endeavour – addressing the challenges posed by climate change that the entire construction industry must confront collectively. 

Empowering Interior Designers with Environmental Data

Materialisting utilizes product-specific environmental profiles, drawing on comprehensive lifecycle data to reveal a material’s carbon emissions, ecological impacts, and suitability for a circular economy in an easily understandable way. This pioneering service integrates environmental data and technology to support responsible construction practices and contributes to the green transition. 

Beyond construction materials, Materialisting also addresses interior surfaces and furnishings, a crucial but often underestimated aspect of the (sustainable) built environment. As a forward-thinking pilot phase participant and currently also an investor, Fyra emphasizes the importance of considering interior spaces’ environmental impact. Becoming part of Materialisting does not only align with Fyra’s strategic objectives but also actively contributes to the industry’s advancement. 

The Crucial Role of Interior Design in Environmental Impact Reduction

“Emissions and environmental impacts linked to the interiors form a pivotal component of a building’s overall environmental impact over its lifecycle. Notably, as interior alterations occur approx. every 5 to 10 years, the environmental impact of these changes effectively multiplies. Designers have a crucial role in bringing these perspectives to the forefront of client awareness, ensuring that they are factored into decision-making processes.” Hanna Neuvo, CEO of Fyra, underscores the significance of meticulous planning and conscious choices. 

“Materialisting empowers designers by providing easy access to essential environmental data about products and enables them to make informed decisions. This helps to dispel the misconception that eco-friendly choices are consistently costly or aesthetically unappealing.” Neuvo emphasizes. “As an addition to the ability to reduce carbon footprint, sustainable choices can also lead to innovative and beautiful design solutions.

For more information please contact Hanna Neuvo, CEO, hanna.neuvo@fyra.fi, +358 (0)40 582 8961


The 9 R’s in Interior Architecture

While the new Finnish Building Act brings long awaited regulations and sustainability tools for the construction industry, interior design is still for the most parts left beyond their reach. In the long run, the governmental controlling means will likely cover the material-intense field of interior design, but there is a need to look for ecology means elsewhere while waiting.

In the spring of 2023,  Circular Design training program of the Finnish Ministry of the Environment trained experts from various fields according to circular design principles. With the program’s emphasis on product design, service providers are still left with on their own. Delightfully, practical sustainability tools are being developed also for interior designers. Materialisting, for example, has developed an enabling tool based on Environmental Product Declarations to especially meet the needs of the interior designers.

Implementing the R-Rule: A Framework for Circular Design

While the common indicators for sustainability are being developed, offers circular economy the best models for doing the daily work of an interior designer more sustainably. The R-rule, named after the re-prefixes, is a clear framework for circular economy and is based on the idea of roughly ranking the variety of circularity actions. The primary rule is to refuse of anything unnecessary. In ideal situation, projects with low ambition on carbon reduction and circular economy targets should be refused. Accustomed patterns of thought and action should also be questioned. For example, different models of the sharing economy can be utilized in space planning, and the leasing model is taking the field by storm.

Artificial intelligence will also provide thrilling possibilities for the rethink-strategy. The depletion of natural resources can be reduced through resource efficiency. As interior architects, we can approach this rule by asking if the wanted result can be achieved by doing less in terms of weight, quality, and quantity. The digitalization, accelerated by the covid pandemic, also opens opportunities for resource efficiency from multiple points of views, although it must be remembered that the digital technologies are not matter- nor energy-free solutions.

Prioritizing Circular Economy Principles in Interior Design

The final R strategies related to the utilization of the material often require industrial processes. From an interior architect’s perspective, these strategies are strongly emphasized in common discussion and when choosing materials. Repurposed and recycled materials are, for example, self-evident options for textiles. What is concerning, is that the emphasis lies  heavily on these last in order strategies, which flips the order of the R-rule around. This must quickly be switched to match the ideal order of the model. The value of many commonly used interior materials decrease during the recycling processes, and in the absence of practical models and processes, the “100% recyclable”-labelled materials are often actually being recovered into energy through burning. How the EU directive on Green Claims takes the recyclability claims into account remains to be seen.

Interior architects and designers play a key role in the circular economy transition. The most influential change starts between the ears and is transformed into smarter ways of production and use of materials through the designers’ work. The circular economy of the built environment can be further improved by enhancing the flow of information between the different stakeholders and within the field by the practitioners. Circular economy requires services, training, innovations, change of attitude and seamless co-operation across industry boundaries.

For sustainability issues, please contact our sustainability coordinator Sisko Anttalainen: sisko.anttalainen@fyra.fi, tel. +358 40 7482554.