Second Act For Office Furniture

Develop a reuse plan for workplace furnishings to reduce environmental impact.

Compiled from RecyclingWorks (MA)
From the October 2020 Issue

Connecting surplus furniture and equipment with a reuse outlet benefits the environment both by preventing the environmental impacts of disposal, and by providing the recipient with an alternative to purchasing new products.

RecyclingWorks in Massachusetts developed a best management practices document for office and institutional furniture and equipment reuse. In the spring of 2018, RecyclingWorks held meetings with commercial, institutional, and municipal stakeholders and office furniture and equipment service providers. The information from these meetings and interviews was used to create a comprehensive guidance document, found on the RecyclingWorks website. (This document is intended as a resource for corporations, colleges and universities, schools, and hospitals, property managers responsible for commercial buildings, and state facilities with surplus furniture and equipment. If affiliated with a state facility, begin by reviewing the specifics outlined in the State Facilities section.)

Furniture Reuse
(Photo: Getty Images/Frazaz)

The following is an abridged version from the section of the document focused on developing a furniture reuse plan.

Developing A Furniture Reuse Plan

Identify relevant stakeholders and communicate your intention to make reuse a priority. Some common partners include: design team including the architect, interior designer, etc.; and construction/demolition contractors. Also, internal stakeholders, like the following, should be: building/facility managers; procurement department; marketing and/or communications department; and sustainability coordinator or “green team”

Establish a project timeline and budget. To ensure that your furniture and equipment is effectively diverted from disposal and reused, planning ahead is key. Planning ahead increases the likelihood that you will find an outlet interested in accepting surplus items, and save money when compared to disposal.

Establish your project budget early, recognizing that there are costs associated with the movement, storage, and transportation of materials regardless of whether they are being reused, recycled, or disposed of in the trash. Compared to the cost of disposal, outlets that facilitate reuse often help businesses and institutions save money. However, the potential savings vary depending both on the outlet and the makeup of your inventory.

Labor costs to move furniture and equipment out of the building may be greater when the destination is reuse rather than disposal because of the extra time and care required to handle items. Be aware that it may cost more if you are in a location where skilled union labor is required.

You may also choose a reuse outlet with decommissioning services, which take a multi-faceted approach to reuse, charging clients a fee to facilitate the removal, refurbishing, donation, resale, and/or recycling of all surplus items. Decommissioning fees generally include transportation and storage. The total cost savings for choosing decommissioning over disposal is highly dependent on the value of the furniture and equipment.

Develop a detailed inventory. An inventory of what surplus furniture and equipment you have, what condition it is in, and where it is located provides the foundation for facilitating a smooth process. Typically, businesses create a spreadsheet of items, organized by location in the building, which includes several key pieces of information about each type of furniture. Ideally, include a photograph of each item. Some decommissioning service providers develop this inventory as part of their services. This can save you time but also increases the cost.

In addition to documenting surplus items and their location(s), take note of what will impact the logistics of removing furniture from the building. For instance, take note of whether there is a loading dock. If not, indicate building entrances and locations where one or more trucks can park while loading. If the building has multiple stories, note whether there is an elevator.

RecyclingWorks in Massachusetts is a recycling assistance program funded by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and delivered under contract by the Center for EcoTechnology that helps businesses and institutions reduce waste and maximize recycling, reuse, and food recovery opportunities.

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