Office partitioning contains various materials, including:

  • aluminium componentry
  • structural steel
  • pinex softboard
  • whiteboard MDF
  • gypsum board wall
  • clear and opaque glass
  • panel finishes such as wool, wool blends, vinyl, upholstery and other synthetic fabrics.


Issues for partitioning are similar to those for office furniture and gypsum products outlined in the relevant checklists and may include:

  • unsustainably harvested wood products
  • possible emissions from formaldehyde, adhesives, binding agents, paints or finishes used in the product. Processed wood and wood waste products such as particleboard, chipboard, and hardboard often utilise formaldehyde-based resins as a binder or adhesive. Formaldehyde is considered a 'probable' carcinogen based on animal testing data. Formaldehyde-free particle boards are now available
  • high quantities of heavy metals from mined gypsum, gypsum from the processing of flue gas in coal-fired power station, glass wool from recycled glass, and mineral wool from rock. These also create problems in the recovery of materials from these products
  • environmental impacts associated with gypsum mining
  • toxic smoke given off during a building fire.
  • Design your layout carefully. Most wastage comes from poor initial designs that are quickly changed.
  • Use a flexible partitioning system that can be adjusted and repositioned easily. Avoid systems that cannot be moved without destroying most of the components.
  • Timber systems offer some flexibility and have the lowest embedded energy, followed by steel and aluminium.
  • Avoid using treated timber where possible (eg, for purely internal partitioning systems).
  • Use formaldehyde-free particle boards.
  • Partitioning systems that include recycled materials are now available, as well as ones using materials with very low embedded energy, such as bamboo. Use these where practicable.

Useful resources and information

Case study: partitions

Most of the partitioning used for the offices in Environmental House is glass/steel stud. However significant amounts of reuse occurred, including Huppé doors in the large meeting rooms and individual desk partitioning in open-plan areas.

Technical checklist

Key ingredients to avoid: Formaldehyde; high-VOC adhesives paints and finishes.

To help compare different products, use the following questionnaire with suppliers and/or manufacturers, when products with an ecolabel (eg, Environmental Choice New Zealand) are unavailable:

Do the timber products have a recognised Timber and Timber Product Certification Scheme, eg, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)? (See Annex 2 of the Government Procurement Timber and Timber Products Procurement Policy Guidelines for a full list of recognised schemes.) 
If timber products are not certified, can you provide other evidence that the wood is sourced from sustainably managed forests or plantations that limit adverse habitat, biodiversity and toxicity impacts? 
If the timber is from a local source, can you provide evidence that the harvest is in compliance with New Zealand environmental legislation? 
Have low-VOC adhesives, paints and finishes been used on the product? 
Does the product contain recyclable materials such as steel and aluminium as well as products with a recycled content such as recycled PVC and post-consumer PET plastic? 
Is the product easy to disassemble into separate components to make eventual recycling easier? 
Does any gypsum board used include recycled gypsum content? 
Does the product include other recycled raw materials (eg, fabric offcuts)? 
What potential does the product have to release formaldehyde? 
Does the product have any impregnated, labelled, coated or other treatment that would prevent recycling in New Zealand? 

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