By Christopher K. M. Leach
From the October 2018 Issue
Whether for remodeling an entire building or simply refreshing the lobby, most companies buy new furniture about every 10 years. In an effort to attract and retain tenants or satisfy employees, facility managers often are under pressure to incorporate the latest workplace trends and curate inviting and productive environments.
While remodeling is exciting for all stakeholders, these projects can be challenging when a commitment to environmentally sound practices are part of the equation. A consideration to reuse, repurpose, or recycle existing furniture can help an organization adhere to sustainability guidelines that may exist for the project and the organization overall.
Everything Old Is New Again
The easiest and least expensive option facility managers can entertain is repurposing existing furniture to update a space. Small changes can make a big difference. Simply moving furniture to new locations in a facility can do the trick. Before embarking on a purchase of all new furniture, evaluate current inventory of product. Sometimes a fresh set of eyes is all it takes to find a new spot for furniture that will improve the facility dynamics.
If keeping furniture out of a landfill is a goal, refurbishing is also a good alternative to throwing away the old to buy new. While not always the most cost-effective option, recovering furniture with new fabrics, for example, can give an organization the update they need. If wear and tear is the issue, check with the manufacturer to see if parts can be purchased to refresh the product.
Furniture On a Mission
If repurposing or refurbishing isn’t a viable option, the old furniture isn’t necessarily destined for the local landfill. Finding a new home for used furniture can be as easy as asking tenants and other building occupants if they have a favorite nonprofit organization—one which might welcome a furniture donation for its offices. Donating old desks, chairs, and other furniture is not only an environmentally sound plan, it’s a way to give nonprofits new spaces they could otherwise not afford. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.
Facility managers should keep in mind, however, that their company may need to pick up the cost of transporting and installing the furniture in its new home. If a nonprofit doesn’t have a budget for new furniture, it’s likely that it won’t have the money for moving expenses either. These types of donations can pay off, however, through the good will they bring with current tenants, staff, and the community as a whole.
While most office furniture cannot be recycled in its current state, pieces can be deconstructed and recycled as parts (e.g., bolts and screws, frames or plastic wheels, arm rests). In fact, some manufacturers will help you identify parts that can be sold as “reclaimed” like wood and metal, which can be sold on the secondary market and avoid the landfill. [See sidebar on page 18 for opportunities related to furniture reuse.]
Another option for handling used furniture is to sell it. Small businesses, startups, and nonprofit are often looking for an odd chair or table for their office space. With the ease of promoting events on social media, attracting potential buyers to a warehouse sale is simple. Alternatively, used furniture wholesalers will buy used furniture and sell it themselves, taking the hassle out of selling it directly to customers. One thing to keep in mind that wholesalers deal in volume, and a small mix-and-match furniture opportunity is a hard inventory to sell.
Maintaining up-to-date facility interiors can be a real challenge that can affect the bottom line. Balancing the need for current furniture with environmental stewardship can be tricky, but it’s achievable. In the end, whether choosing to repurpose, refurbish, recycle, or donate its used furniture, facility managers can rest assured that the furniture’s fate doesn’t have to be a lifetime in a landfill.
Leach is President and owner of Contract Furnishings, a Denver-based commercial furniture dealer that helps local companies create intuitive and productive workplaces. Leach and his team also work with clients to donate old furniture to nonprofits that serve the community.
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