With as many as 90 per cent of Australian offices now being open plan, a healthy acoustic environment must be considered as part of a holistic approach to workplace health.
The worldwide workplace wellness industry is predicted to be worth around $100 billion by 2027, with employers increasingly seeking to address employees’ physical and mental health needs.
Acoustic treatments for office spaces are in growing demand as evidence shows that poor acoustics can have detrimental effects on employees’ wellbeing. This is exacerbated in open plan spaces, where speech and activity noise can lead to an unpleasant build-up of reverberation and echo.

Hard surfaces in these open spaces can lead to excessive unwanted noise. Acoustic solutions such as panels, fins, baffles and dividers can be implemented without the need for a full, permanent retrofit.

The necessity to integrate acoustic furniture alongside acoustic panels represents a holistic approach to embracing diverse working styles and the evolving design of open-floor offices. There are more quiet rooms and pods in office spaces to provide more privacy as people are still getting used to being in the office.

“Phone booths and acoustic screens for workstations have emerged as key elements in this transformation,” explains Specfurn’s Troy Wallace.
“They not only improve privacy and sound management but also integrate seamlessly into modern office aesthetics, providing effective solutions without compromising design. These innovations signify a commitment to accommodating a variety of work preferences, from collaborative spaces that foster team interaction to quiet zones that support individual focus and concentration.

“By incorporating these acoustic solutions, companies are not just adapting to a post-pandemic world; they are redefining it to support a more flexible, inclusive and health-conscious approach to workplace design. This evolution underscores the importance of acoustic considerations in creating environments that are not only ergonomically sound but also conducive to the diverse needs of today’s workforce.”

Acoustics by Specfurn has focused on redesigning workspaces to accommodate both collaborative efforts and the necessity for quiet, concentration zones.
“Our acoustic solutions are specifically tailored to support these diverse workspace requirements, ensuring that employees can find balance between collaboration and focused work. Moreover, acoustic comfort has emerged as a critical consideration for enhancing workplace wellness.

“Stress reduction and productivity improvements through better acoustics are now key priorities for many organisations. This shift has led to an increased demand for our products that offer noise-reducing properties and incorporate natural soundscapes, contributing to a healthier work environment.”
Additionally, changing attitudes to hybrid work arrangements following the disruption caused by Covid-19 will likely lead to more varied office ecosystems, ones that offer a number of different acoustic environments and spaces to cater to the needs of different workers.

“Since the Covid-19 pandemic, working from home arrangements have impacted the dynamics of office environments with an emphasis on acoustics,” says CSR’s Aaron Berrell.

“With a greater sensitivity and awareness to noise, the requirement for creating quieter and more focused workspaces in office environments has increased to accommodate for the heightened awareness of noise.

“Creating spaces that promote flexibility, comfort and wellbeing are critical to office environments. An increase in online meetings has seen the demand for building materials that provide acoustic benefits increase within commercial office spaces to reduce the amount of noise transmission within these environments.”

As employees transition back to the office from the flexibility of WFH setups, nearly all businesses face a unique challenge: replicating the quieter, more personalised acoustics of home workspaces within traditional office environments.

More and more people are returning to the office and they now expect a higher level of comfort, including acoustic performance.
This shift necessitates a focus on acoustic solutions that combat the intrusive, distracting noises often found in open-plan offices. Mulford Plastics offers not just acoustic products but a suite of plastic and construction products including acrylic and woven polyester sheets (Zintra).

“By incorporating noise-reducing materials, strategic space design and designated quiet zones, businesses can create work environments that foster focus, productivity and overall employee wellbeing – a key factor in attracting and retaining talent in the post-pandemic landscape,” says Mulford’s David Johnson.

Acoustic design is increasingly integrating with sustainable practices, marking a significant trend in the field. This approach prioritises energy efficiency, waste minimisation and material reuse, reflecting a broader commitment to environmental stewardship within the industry.

“Eco-friendly acoustic solutions are in high demand,” he adds.
“Materials like mycelium (mushroom-based), combinations of upcycled materials and bio-based composites are paving the way. One of Mulford’s most popular products available now is saveBOARD – a durable, acoustic and customisable building material that is made of recycled packaging and cartons.”

In the next few years, the demand for sustainable products will only increase. Building codes and regulations will play a vital role in ensuring Australia reaches its emission targets, which will impact the products on offer and used across all industries. As such, it presents a challenge for continuous innovation in this space.

Sustainability is a significant factor driving demand for our offerings, says Wallace. There’s a growing preference for eco-friendly and health-conscious materials in office environments.
“Our commitment to using sustainable, non-toxic materials aligns with this trend as our products contribute to indoor air quality and overall wellness. This alignment with the wellness trend not only meets the current demand but also positions Specfurn as a forward-thinking provider of acoustic solutions tailored to the modern, health-conscious workplace.”

The requirement for low environmental impact products and human health is growing rapidly, adds Knauf’s Kelly Watson.
In response, Knauf has developed an innovative Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) system to meet this challenge. Knauf CLT systems is a lightweight
solution that incorporates a familiar and established plasterboard system to suit a variety of applications and performance requirements including fire resistance, acoustic performance and sustainability.

CSR continues to explore new and innovative ways to manufacture and source sustainable, high-performance products that contribute to creating safe and enjoyable spaces for the occupants, says Berrell.

“CSR will focus on sustainability as a key strategic pillar of the business which is demonstrated through the sourcing of sustainable raw materials, optimising operational process to reduce energy and water consumption and working with several international suppliers to source and distribute high performance acoustic products to our customers.”

Sustainability has become an intrinsic component of every thoughtful design process and is woven into every facet of Autex’s operations. From sourcing and product design, manufacturing and minimising waste during production and install, sustainability is at the core of what the company does. This comprehensive integration of sustainability into the business gives rise to a diverse range of initiatives aimed at constantly improving its environmental footprint and pushing the boundaries of industry-leading sustainable technology.

“As the acoustics industry and manufacturing technology continues to evolve, new opportunities for innovation will arise,” says Autex’s Martina Kramer.
“We have implemented a number of carbon reduction initiatives within our operations. These include increasing the energy efficiency of our plant and equipment by commissioning more efficient manufacturing lines, upgrading all lighting across our core manufacturing sites to LED and upgrading the variable speed drives (VSDs) on all auxiliary equipment.

“At our core manufacturing facility, we have made the strategic choice to support an energy provider that generates electricity through 100 per cent renewable sources: wind, water and solar.”

Additionally, acoustic materials are no longer just about sound absorption. They are being integrated with lighting, air-purifying elements and even smart technology for adaptable room acoustics. The balance between aesthetic-forward design and functionality is blending closer every day.
The dual focus on improving spaces and protecting the environment underscores the evolving role of acoustics in today’s world. Balancing this demand for sustainability with performance will be a key focus for all; technology and ‘smart acoustics’ will play a vital role in this space.

Digital printing technology further enhances this by allowing for precise, customisable acoustic solutions. These innovations not only reduce environmental impact but also cater to a wide range of acoustic needs, ensuring spaces are not only aesthetically pleasing but also acoustically optimised for everyone’s benefit.

The appeal of digital prints lies in their ability to personalise and transform spaces with unique visuals. This customisation enables clients to reflect their brand identity or personal style while achieving necessary acoustic performance. The integration of digital art into acoustic solutions represents an intersection of technology, art and functionality that many clients find

attractive.
These products combine natural aesthetics with effective sound management, appealing to a growing interest in biophilic design and sustainable materials. Their versatility in application and design options makes them suitable for a wide range of spaces, from corporate offices to educational institutions.

“3D modelling and simulation are changing the game. Traditional acoustic analysis relied heavily on blueprints and calculations, now 3D modelling tools enable visual representation of how sound waves propagate within a space,” says Mulford.

“These highly accurate visualisations of sound behaviour allow our clients to experiment and experience sound before they select their products and design the space. There are also new cases of manufacturers using AI and reactive technology to reshape acoustics boards and materials in real-time, reacting to data it receives to adapt spaces such as concert halls and recording studios, exciting stuff,” he enthuses.

For Specfurn, the integration of 3D technology is part of its future strategy. Specifically, the company plans to utilise 3D technology to create detailed mockup plans, enabling its clients to visualise how specific panels or designs will look in their space more accurately.

“This approach will not only improve decision-making but also ensure that our solutions are perfectly tailored to meet our clients’ needs. The biggest challenge we foresee is keeping pace with the fast-evolving technological landscape and ensuring our team remains at the forefront of these advancements to continue providing cutting-edge acoustic solutions,” says Wallace.

Knauf BIM WIZARD® is a plug in for Autodesk® Revit® and Graphisoft® ArchiCAD® for PC and MAC. BIM WIZARD is a time saving tool to select the correct wall or ceiling systems without leaving the BIM environment. Knauf prioritises digitisation and creating digital tools that showcase Knauf products and solutions to enable building professionals to work faster and smarter.

In the future, we will expect more from the spaces we live and work in, the focus on quality and comfort of spaces will increase and acoustic products play a big part in this.
Higher acoustic standards with various green rating systems will continue to grow and even a revision of the minimum NCC standards may be on the cards.
But the products architects will want to specify need to be ethical and sustainable. Products with transparency around where raw materials have been sourced, how they are sourced (environmental impact) and who they are sourced by (modern slavery).

In a bustling city like Melbourne, where technology plays a crucial role in our daily lives, there is one phone repair business that stands out from the rest.

Refurbished phone and Apple Independent Repairer ecoR Tech provides sustainable and environmentally-friendly alternatives to the purchase of phones, tablets and other tech products to help reduce tech waste.

But it’s the company’s opening of its flagship store which has reimagined the customer experience by using an unconventional design – a shop made from recycled cardboard.

CEO and Co-founder of ecoR Tech Brent Bryce is the man behind the vision and his innovative idea was sparked from a cause close to his heart.

“I’ve spent more than 25 years in telecommunications and have observed the remarkable proliferation of technology, particularly in the form of phones, tablets and laptops, and unfortunately this has also contributed to the culture of disposability,” Brent says.

“There is a need for change. The global generation of e-waste is more than 54 million metric tons each year signalling future environmental concerns about the impact this will have on our society.

“That’s why it’s crucial to educate and advocate for alternative practices, such as opting to reduce, reuse and recycle instead of consistently purchasing new products.”

With his strong focus on sustainability and the environment, Brent set out to create a space that embodied these principles.

“Collaborating with our interior designer, we outlined our vision for a sustainable and eco-friendly fitout.”

To truly convey ecoR Tech’s commitment to sustainability, Brent says something impactful was needed.

“…That’s when I proposed the idea of making the store out of cardboard.”

Brent admits the unusual proposal of using cardboard as the primary interior material was met with scepticism and regarded as a joke among the company’s leadership team and board, but he was determined for the idea to work.

Playing a pivotal role in transforming the vision was local Melbourne-based event and prop company The Cardboard Mill who joined forces with ecoR Tech’s interior designer, Corso Interior Architecture, shopfitter Q1Built, and joiner Atco Interiors.

“Together, we set out to design, manufacture, and install a store predominantly constructed from cardboard – a first-of-its-kind venture for all involved.

“Throughout the process, we encountered numerous valuable lessons, particularly in navigating the complexities of obtaining support and approvals from the design team at Vicinity Centres.

“However, the ultimate sense of achievement and satisfaction when it was completed was truly remarkable, and all those who contributed should take great pride in their involvement.”

Following a 10-week fitout, the walls, furniture, and even the shelves that display a range of refurbished smartphones are all constructed from sturdy, recycled cardboard.

“Thousands of sheets of cardboard were meticulously cut and bonded together to form the amazing contours, allowing for captivating interplays of light and shadow throughout the store,” Brent points out.

On June 27, 2023, the store was officially opened by Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp in front of the team who contributed to the collaborative project.

When asked if he’d alter any aspects of the design since doors opened at the store, Brent says there is always bound to be improvements.

“Like with any first-time builds and leading-edge designs, there are always learnings and things you could do differently or change to improve the look and more importantly the process to be more efficient and impactful.

“But overall, we are very happy with how the store presents and how our customers can feel and see a distinct difference to how we present in the market compared to our competitors.”

The store serves as a reminder that innovation and eco-friendly choices can be both bold and beautiful.

How it all came together

THE INTERIOR DESIGNER – Corso Interior Architecture – Director Joey Corso

When presented with the idea of designing a ‘cardboard store’, Corso Interior Architecture Director Joey says he was proud to take on the challenge.

“It was such an amazing idea. We began brainstorming ways in which we could use the product in a creative way to make the material shine,” Joey remembers.

“I did have concerns about its strength, however the way in which we ended up using it – gluing each piece together so that the edge was exposed – proved to be both creative and strong enough to withstand traffic.”

The interior design involved testing the capabilities of the product and the team set about designing curved walls and sculpture-like surfaces.

“The cardboard was made off-site in modules, then brought in and erected in place.

“During the production process, The Cardboard Mill was required to modify some of the finer details in order for the design to be possible.”

But overall, the end product was very close to Joey’s design vision.

THE CARDBOARD EXPERTS – The Cardboard Mill – Managing Director Ian Douglas

The Cardboard Mill took their combined experience in temporary installations and cardboard to undertake the research and development component of the project to make ecoR Tech’s flagship store come to life as a permanent store made of cardboard.

“This is what we were born for, and what we love,” Ian says.

“It wasn’t our first walk in the park, we’re amazing at temporary – tradeshows and more ephemeral installations being our stock in trade.

“Our first significant project in this direction was the Bridge Road Brewery Site in Brunswick, which was meant to be up for three months, but is still there 18 months later.

“It was very much in consultation with ecoR Tech’s architect, the client, builder, and ourselves about what we could make more recyclable – in fact, the cardboard used has at least 70 percent recycled content in it and is curb side recyclable, or backyard compostable.”

But it wasn’t without a challenge or two.

“Cardboard had not been approved for use in permanent fixture in installations, so we had to work with engineers to manage loads and fixing techniques, plus develop and validate technical documentation to meet both workplace and building requirements.”

THE JOINER – Atco Interiors – Managing Director Adrian Farrugia

“You’ve got to be kidding me”.

That was Adrian Farrugia’s first reaction when he was approached to be part of ecoR Tech’s cardboard store.

“I’d never made joinery from cardboard before,” Adrian says.

“The technical challenges included making
everything work with the different thickness of cardboard, making sure everything lines up at the end of the project.”

But seeing the end project was quite simply “amazing”.

“Stepping back and saying ‘we actually did it’ was a proud moment. It was our first time working with cardboard and hopefully not the last.”

THE SHOPFITTER – Q1Built – Director Ray Borg

A micro cement floor, seamless BOH rendered door, the mounting and commissioning of a cylinder- shaped LCD screen around an existing pillar and extensive prep-work required to cater to the cardboard’s unique engineering and installation requirements – these were all technical challenges faced by the shopfitter, Ray Borg.

When told about the project, Ray remembers thinking: ‘wow this is different’.

He says the result could either be a hit or a risk if not executed properly.

“Ordering the tasks, dependencies and the timing was challenging,” he explains.

“The shop fitout had to keep moving to deliver on time while the cardboard tiles were manufactured and installed.

“An example was the time it took for the curved viewing glass to be fabricated. Even though the feature render had to butt up against the glass we had to proceed with the render without the glass being in place so that the joinery could be put in place to be covered in cardboard.”

Ray says he was proud to see the level of
collaboration between the suppliers and trades on the project, and to see all the hard work come to life at the official opening.

“When the feature lights went on – highlighting sections of the natural concrete floors, rendered wall, cardboard bulkheads and joinery – it gave the shop an earthy and natural feel.”

Redefining the retail experience through sustainable design is no small feat, but beloved Australian fashion brand, Country Road, is aiming to do exactly that.

The opening of the Chadstone, Melbourne store in 2019 saw not only Country Road’s first, but the first 5 Star Green Star – Interiors rated fashion retail store in the country. Certified by the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) and achieving a 5 Star Green Star – Interiors rating, indicating Australian Excellence, saw Country Road move to the forefront of what is possible when ambitious, sustainably minded teams come together.

The Green Building Council of Australia has been steadily working to lead the sustainable revolution of the built environment since its founding in 2002. With a focus on resilience, future readiness, and wellbeing, the holistic and voluntary rating system, Green Star, aims to help clients like Country Road achieve sustainability goals. The interiors rating tool is encouraging a new approach to design and construction of fitouts, one that highlights the selection of low-impact materials, improved indoor air quality, energy and water efficiency, and waste reductions, to name a few.

For Davina Dowle, Country Road Group’s Sustainability Specialist, the GBCA’s solid portfolio, matched with their well-developed system and shared aspirations, led to them turning to Green Star for support on this journey. Moreover, being an Australian rating system made Green Star the obvious choice.

“From the sourcing of fabrics to working with Australian manufacturers, the Country Road brand emphasises the importance of supporting endeavours native to Australia. The brand also always aspires to support local providers in as many aspects as possible. Therefore, while there are many other applicable validation and certification systems available globally, we opted for an Australian rating system.”

The process of targeting best practice in-store design begins with sourcing a team and materials that align with the requirements of achieving a Green Star rating, all while keeping a well-known brand’s aesthetic in the spotlight. For Davina, this meant a systematic approach to give the team every opportunity to succeed from the outset.

“We firstly provided a brief to our architectural team, who helped us align the requirements of Green Star with the aesthetic requirements of our Country Road stores. We then updated our material and finishes selections based on their research findings and worked extensively and directly with our existing local suppliers to secure internationally recognised third-party ratings for the bulk of our fixtures.”

From parquetry flooring rescued from old buildings, wall paneling made from recycled paper, carpet crafted from discarded fishing nets, and benchtops made with damaged Country Road ceramics and marble waste — the team left no stone unturned with what is possible in a sustainable and healthy retail renovation.

Brett Robinson, Senior Project Manager at One68 – the design consultants who worked with Country Road across several of its Green Star stores – said working closely with suppliers was key to meeting Country Road’s desired outcome.

“As a client, Country Road has very clear sustainability outcomes they need to achieve in order to receive the 5 Star Green Star – Interiors accreditation. As an example, for the Bayside project, One68 had to engage suppliers and sub-contractors who could meet these requirements, including:

Electrical – Meet GBCA’s Best Practise Guidelines for PVC

Paint – Paint’s with Low Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) were used

Timber – All timber used in the project were responsibly sourced (Chain of Custody certificates) CFC/chain of custody timbers and responsibly sourced materials

Circular – Re-using as much from old store fitouts as possible e.g., plywood, flooring levels, ceilings, walls etc.”

An important factor of the 5 Star Green Star – Interiors rating tool is the human element, something that remains a defining element of the success of any brick-and-mortar.

“The staff are integral to the process of certification as they help us gather store-specific evidence required for our Green Star submissions. They love feeling part of the process while also being in a vibrant space that is both healthier for them and more environmentally friendly,” explained Davina.

“The customers and visitors often compliment the staff on the store’s interior and are curious of the materials and finishes used. They are interested in the stories behind the material choice and frequently ask about the Green Star rating and want to understand the significance of a 5-star rating.”

Now with twelve, 5 Star Green Star – Interiors rated stores across the country and seven more targeting Australian Excellence with a 5 Star rating, it’s no wonder that this year Country Road won the NORA Sustainability award for best in-store sustainability innovation. For Davina and the team, winning the award confirmed to them the value of collaboration and efficiency when working towards a common goal.

“It was exciting to be shortlisted and a very happy moment when we won. It was an award that celebrated the whole team, and all the people who worked with us on our 5-star Green Star store fitouts.”

As for where Country Road is headed, simply put, more certified Green Star rated stores. But this time the team is targeting a 6 Star Green Star rating, which, as Davina agrees, is pushing the team to rethink several aspects of the current design concept.

“We see our achievements as a ‘work in progress’, particularly with the ambitious new Green Star Interiors tool (Green Star Fitouts) expected to be released soon,” said Davina.

“Country Road is currently working on its new standard Green Star approach, which will be key for the next batch of store certifications. This work is guiding our exploration of new initiatives that could be integrated into the design of our future stores. Finally, we are now also looking into the possibility of completing a Life Cycle Assessment of our interior fitout, with the aim to raise the bar of fashion retail fitout even higher.”

 


GBCA congratulates Country Road for its Green Star achievements to date and applauds the retailer for its leadership in creating healthier, more sustainable interiors. In early September, GBCA released a consultation paper on the next version of its tool for interiors – Green Star Fitouts, work made possible thanks to the support of GBCA’s Future Focus partners. Industry is encouraged to read the paper and provide feedback on how the tool could best serve its users into the future, both those who have never used the tool before, and those who are seasoned users. Find out more at www.gbca.org.au.