By Glenn Sparks From the June 2013 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
In the world of facility management (FM), sustainability has evolved from a buzzword to an essential component. Sustainable practices occupy an ever increasing space in the world of architecture, design, and FM. Energy efficiency, greenhouse gas reduction, renewable energy, recycling, water conservation, green buildings, environmentally preferred purchasing, upgrading inefficient HVAC systems, local sourcing, LEED certification—all of these positively affect the triple bottom line of profits, people, and planet. As the economic, environmental, and social benefits of sustainable practices become more well-known, more facility managers (fms) are using them.
That being said, one vital sustainable practice may be less known than some of those mentioned above. What happens to furniture, fixtures, and equipment (FF&E) when a commercial space is vacated? When facility owners leave a space, most often FF&E are left behind; it’s the FM team’s responsibility to liquidate surplus.
Until recently the standard practice was for old FF&E to be labeled as waste, picked up by a demolition crew, and hauled to a landfill. This mindset, however, ignores a simple reality: waste is costly. Looking at this through a different lens—a company’s investment in infrastructure has great value. Fms tasked with managing FF&E that will no longer be used should think proactively, and sustainably. They can leverage their companies’ investment, and save time and money in the process.
Construction waste accounts for about 40% of landfill contents in the U.S. Though disposing of surplus in a landfill is an easy option, it comes at a high environmental price. According to U.S. EPA estimates, methane produced by rotting matter in landfills is the second largest factor affecting global climate change.
An Option For End Of Life
What can be done to amend this situation? What actions can an fm take to ensure surplus will not end up in a landfill? In most instances, old FF&E still have a lot of life remaining; there are many organizations that can benefit by receiving used (but eminently usable) furnishings. Simply put, the effects of climate change are reduced through mitigation of methane production when surplus is creatively diverted from landfills.
One solution is for fms to view FF&E that has reached its end of useful life not as waste but as something of value—and then to divert it from a landfill and implement a sustainable alternative for repurposing the materials. Fms can collaborate with their furniture dealers, architects, or other project stakeholders to steward their surplus to new homes.
A company’s surplus can benefit a recipient organization such as a non-profit, charity, or public agency, for instance. Meanwhile, gifting the FF&E benefits the donor company with a tax-deductible donation. Meanwhile, depending on who the fm works with to carry out the process, they may receive a complete summary of relevant metrics including the amount diverted and carbon footprint reduction.
Related to that, a donor organization might earn points toward LEED accreditation for the overall facility project (if it is a renovation, for instance). Categories related to LEED might include material reuse, landfill diversion, and innovation.
When DIRECTV donated workstations and other FF&E items, a crew from InstallNET, a network of service providers working with ANEW, collected the items and delivered them to nearby Samuel Gompers Middle School in California. (Photo: ANEW.)
Even if the FM team identifies an opportunity to donate its FF&E well past the first phase of surplus liquidation, the group helping to repurpose the items might still be able to provide information that will help the FM team gain LEED points by implementing the processes suggested for the project.
Repurposing surplus FF&E that still has some life in it is a win-win situation for all involved. The donor organization can empty its decommissioned space at a cost comparable to or lower than that of hauling to a landfill, while the group’s corporate social responsibility gets a boost.
And the recipient organizations benefit with enhanced working environments, improved efficiencies, and maximized resources. This allows the people who work at those organizations to focus on the vital services they provide to their communities. Meanwhile, the environment is spared the toxic effects of adding waste to landfills.
Sustainability can be defined as simply living well, with a focus on keeping the priorities of people, profits, and planet in balance. Instead of directing surplus FF&E to landfills, fms who oversee decommissioning projects can benefit their organizations and a recipient entity with the gift of reuse.
Sparks is director of media & communications for ANEW (Asset Network for Education Worldwide, Inc.), a non-profit organization dedicated to collecting, organizing, and repurposing surplus furniture, fixtures and equipment (FF&E) for donation to the underserved.