With an estimated three million desks and chairs from UK offices going to landfill every year – regardless of condition – Andy Russell of Scottish commercial furniture consultancy Bureau Group has made it his mission to tackle what he describes as “one of the world’s most pressing sustainability issues”.

“It’s environmental vandalism on an industrial scale, pure and simple,” says Mr Russell, who set up Bureau in Edinburgh in 2016.

“Each year, tens of millions of tonnes of furniture are needlessly sent to landfill and piled high in warehouses when it could be reused to vastly reduce the amount of new products and inevitably their embodied carbon from being pumped into the marketplace.”

So far this year Bureau, which has additional hubs in Glasgow and London, has completed 33 “carbon positive” projects for clients which Mr Russell says has saved 3,000 tonnes from going to landfill. Among these was the recent renovation of finance firm abrdn’s Edinburgh headquarters, with unwanted furniture donated to charities such as London’s Youth Space and the Scottish Futures Trust.

While planting trees and paying for carbon offsetting has a place, Mr Russell says it’s far preferable to “look after the forests we’ve already got”. Many trees in planting projects don’t make it to maturity, he said, and those that do require at least two decades to reach a size where they can absorb 25 kilograms of carbon annually.

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“The most sustainable office chair that we sell has 35 kilograms of embodied carbon in it,” he said, “so if that tree survives 25 years, it won’t even take out the carbon embodied in that single sustainable office chair.

“The problem is we don’t have time to plant trees. We need to make impact right now, we need to stop things going to landfill and just producing, producing, producing.

“That is a way of saving millions upon millions of tonnes of carbon around the globe. Circularity is the easiest and quickest way of monumental impact, not just in furniture but in building, in clothing, in everything.”

Born and raised in Juniper Green on the outskirts of Edinburgh, Mr Russell attended Merchiston Castle School where he had ambitions of being a professional rugby player. He spent some time playing in Australia and US but was back in Scotland in 2004 having suffered an injury that led him to realise he wouldn’t reach the ambitions he had for the game.

A fellow player and friend put Mr Russell in touch with his employer, office ergonomics specialist Posturite. It turned out to be a good fit with Mr Russell’s sporting background.

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“I am 6’6” but the person next to me is maybe 5’2”, yet we all sit at the same desks and in the same chairs,” he said. “We are not really taught how to set up our work stations correctly for optimal physical support.”

After building the Scottish arm of Posturite into a £2 million turnover business, he was headhunted to Tsunami Axis where he made the transition into project-related office furniture. He was there for nearly seven years and then set up Bureau, which after eight months became part of Glasgow ecommerce company Houseology.

“We were winning too much business and the way our business cycles works, especially as a new business where we didn’t have the same relationships with suppliers that we have now, you have a lot of money going out and not a lot of money coming in for a period of time,” he explained.

The plan with the new owner was to grow Bureau alongside the main Houseology business, but in late 2019 Houseology suffered stock losses following severe flooding at its warehouse in Yorkshire. This was quickly followed by the onset of the pandemic and the closure of most offices, forcing the ecommerce parts of the business into administration.

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Mr Russell bought back Bureau, bringing with him some notable investors from Houseology including former Tesco chief executive Sir Terry Leahy, Liverpool-based venture capitalist Bill Currie, and Scottish serial investor Bill Dobbie. Mr Russell and his wife Jennifer own 90 per cent of the business, and a number of the group’s 38 staff also have small stakes.

With annual revenues now topping £10m, Mr Russell said Bureau has enjoyed strong double-digit growth despite the challenges of the pandemic. This has been driven by companies taking an increasingly genuine approach to their environmental commitments.

“Before the pandemic there was a lot of hot air around the environment, around wellbeing in the workplace, around staff retention and the need to create amazing offices to retain and attract staff,” he said. “Now we need to create amazing offices to get staff to come into them – it’s been a complete flip.”

The irony, he adds, is that the experiences of lockdown and the acceleration in people’s recognition of climate change has allowed Bureau to achieve its original business mission.

“I have always been a person driven by making a positive impact in the community and the environment. When I wrote my original business plan around Bureau, it was around that.”


What countries have you most enjoyed travelling to, for business or leisure, and why?

Canada, and Vancouver in particular. I loved the city, its proximity to nature and the fact that it’s on the water.

When you were a child, what was your ideal job? Why did it appeal?

Sales. I’ve always loved speaking to people and building relationships. In my opinion, sales is a skill that should be taught at school, it’s the lifeblood of most businesses.

What was your biggest break in business?

Every job I’ve done has taught me something different. In my opinion it’s important to gain exposure to as many facets of business as possible throughout your early career. Whilst not exactly a “big break”, a key turning point for me has been properly understanding the value of culture and mission, in a business context.

What was your worst moment in business?

If you push hard in business, you are sometimes going to meet failure along your journey. I personally don’t like to look at those moments as the worst moments but instead as the best opportunities to learn and grow. The quicker you meet these moments, the faster you grow.

Who do you most admire and why?

Steve Jobs. His desire to leave something behind that changes everything resonates hugely with me.

What book are you reading and what music are you listening to?

Being dyslexic, I shy away from reading where possible but I do listen to a lot of podcasts, my favourite at the moment being Steven Bartlett’s diary of a CEO.

I love all music and listen to it while I work, it helps me to concentrate – my go-to would typically be house music.