By Andrea Bertoli
Enterprise solutions to climate change can seem daunting: solar panels might not fit the company budget or current building location, and perhaps you can’t (yet) afford a fleet of Tesla vehicles. Maybe you don’t have renewable power available in your region to power all your EV chargers and keep the LED lights on.
Yet sometimes some of the easiest solutions are those that are right under our feet… or under our butts. Office furniture – chairs, cubicles, tables, and more – represent a massive waste stream that’s often ignored, but which can make a huge difference in the overall footprint of your company. Making sure your furniture investment works beyond your use is a key to reducing your company footprint.
Why is Office Furniture & Equipment a Concern for Sustainability?
For many organizations, their real estate footprint is the largest component of their environmental impact. And when a corporation empties or renovates an office space, much of the interior assets – furniture, supplies, appliances, computers – end up in the landfill. The amount of furniture waste (f-waste) is staggering: research shows it’s about 10 million tons of office equipment and furniture ends up in the landfill every year in North America alone. We’ve covered this waste issue before – click here to read more about the problem of office waste.
And if 10 million tons of f-waste goes to the landfill, that means offices are buying MORE furniture to replace that which was tossed out, leading to an endless cycle of purchasing new and tossing out what’s no longer needed. But there is a better way. Green Standards* works with large companies and their real estate teams to plan and manage sustainable office decommissioning through the removal of their furniture, while facilitating the in-kind donations of these items to local organizations in need. And these are big projects: they work with footprints starting at 20,000 square feet (about 100 employee office) all the way to millions of square feet at the largest corporate campuses in North America.
Sustainable office decommissioning is great for businesses AND the planet: Green Standards works to help businesses, like Adobe, United Airlines, and Georgia Pacific, sustainably repurpose their office furniture through a combination of resale, recycling and in-kind donations – and they are doing a lot of it.
To date, Green Standards has diverted 58,000 tons of office waste – keeping it out of the landfill and coordinating donations to other organizations that can reuse the furniture. Overall, the company is able to repurpose 98.6% of office furniture and products, resulting in an estimated $28 million worth of in-kind donations to more than 5,000 organizations in need, like food banks, Boys & Girls Clubs, schools, libraries, and more.
Why Businesses Should Avoid Junk Removal Companies
Junk removal companies, of which there seem to be an increasing number, simply take your office furniture and other f-waste to the landfill. There is no sorting, donation, or repurposing of the items. All the embedded energy of that office furniture, not to mention the monetary value, is wasted. Even if you have your team sell some of the furniture on hand, most companies can realistically only sell about 15-25%, leaving a huge percentage to get tossed out.
Green Standards does resell some of the high value items, putting that money back into the project itself – which helps them remain cost competitive with other junk removal companies who do none of the sorting, donation, or reuse. Why use a regular junk company or local mover (and pay per ton) to add to the problem when you could extend its life cycle without an additional investment?
The focus is on sustainable reuse of remaining inventory is what separates them from those that are adding to the landfill and charging clients for it. The asset distribution stream Resale, Recycling, and/or Donation fluctuates from project to project depending on what each office owns, the project timeline, and the company’s goals for the project.
We know that the least destructive materials are (generally) the ones that are already in existence. The energy used to produce the raw materials, build the item, and then ship it around the world means that every single item you own has embedded energy (or embodied energy). When you toss out an old office chair, for example, not only are you wasting all the energy used for the old chair, you are essentially doubling your waste as you’d need to purchase a new chair (with its own collection of embedded energy), leading to a huge loss of energy, materials, and ultimately, a massive amount of physical and environmental waste.
And just as important, using a junk removal system doesn’t address the demand from the non-profit sector for gently-used products, it also offers zero return on investment – meaning your initial investment (your embedded financial investment) is tossed away into the landfill, too.
How to Decommission your Office Sustainably
No matter how big your business is, or how old your furniture is, there is definitely a need in your community for the f-waste. This helps support local mission-aligned organizations, and it shows a proactive commitment to environmental stewardship, allowing you to achieve an improved triple bottom line standard in your company.
If you’ve never thought of your office furniture in this way, here are some ways to look at your office a bit differently:
- A complete cubicle represents anywhere from 300 to 700 pounds of waste, the majority of which is ferrous metal, wood, and plastic.
- A typical task chair has dozens of different materials and chemicals, making reuse far more effective and sustainable than recycling or landfill.
- Diverting reusable office furniture from landfill protects the environment by reducing the demand for timber, metals, plastics and fabrics, reducing carbon emissions produced during the manufacturing process and disposal, AND by diverting heavy durable goods from landfill.
So if your corporate office or company headquarters is moving, changing size, or changing structure (open floor plans are big now, but that might change in a few years!), Green Standards’ office decommission program can connect you with organizations in your region that can benefit and they manage the decommission from start to finish.
Who might benefit from your donations? Local schools, libraries, non-profit organizations, and so much more. In San Francisco alone, they have donated furniture and supplies to more than 100 youth & education focused non-profits on behalf of clients and their regional offices.
In Atlanta, Georgia, Green Standards recently coordinated a big donation from Georgia Pacific to Zoo Atlanta, giving the zoo approximately $10,000 worth of gently used furniture, a partial donation from about 700 tons of furniture that was decommissioned from the GP headquarters.
Another company that has found great success working with Green Standards is Adobe. It has been working with Green Standards for years, across 17 office projects in North America since 2012, with a landfill diversion rate of 99%.. In total, Adobe has been able to cumulatively redistribute 788 tons of materials – offsetting nearly 2000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. Cumulatively, Adobe has been able to redistribute more than a half million dollars worth of gently used furniture and equipment to 120 beneficiaries near Adobe’s offices and project sites.
Doing business this well has its perks: Green Standards was ranked one of the fastest growing companies in Canada in September of 2019. “Our growth and success is a reflection of the shifting attitudes of clients and their commitment to social responsibility across their corporate real estate portfolios,” says Trevor Langdon, President and Executive General Manager of Green Standards. “With more awareness of the furniture waste issue, we owe it to our clients and corporate partners for recognizing the need for environmental sustainability in their workplace and the communities in which they operate.”
Understanding this important – and often overlooked – aspect of business waste is huge, and I look forward to seeing more companies making proactive efforts when outfitting or redesigning office locations. Green Standards offers companies an opportunity to demonstrate real corporate social responsibility, by supporting the community and the planet – when companies make decisions like this it’s a win for people and planet.
In-kind donations can help your company’s bottom line, making this a real triple bottom line solution for office decommissions. One of the other benefits is that Green Standards gathers all the environmental impact data, making it easy to include these important metrics in CSR reports and for ongoing waste audits and sustainability metric tracking.
To learn more about how your company can donate your office furniture, connect with Green Standards here. You can learn more about its case studies here to see how your business could fit into its portfolio.
This article was sponsored by Green Standards; images from the company and used with permission.