Upcycle Office Furniture, And Spare The Landfill

Workplace strategy firm Dyer Brown works with its corporate and other clients to help them sustainably dispose of and procure office furniture and related assets.

Among other lessons of the pandemic, construction waste is increasingly a concern. Whenever an office closes or a company moves, furniture, and casework by the ton can wind up in landfill — and according to workplace strategy experts Dyer Brown, this environmental impact has become more frequent this year as office leaseholders such as corporations shrink their real estate footprints and set up more employees to work remotely, including from home.

office furniture
Photo: courtesy Dyer Brown

Dyer Brown also sees an opportunity, however. Led by director of design Karen Bala, AIA, LEED AP, and assistant project manager Laurel Christensen, AIA, the firm is undertaking an effort to enlist office building owners and their tenants to address the environmental impact of the current commercial real estate shakeup, focusing on three techniques for making it easy and rewarding for corporate end-users to embrace responsible construction waste management.

“Ultimately we’d like our client decision-makers to think holistically,” says Bala, “to consider the impact of each part of the workplace project. Some of our clients are reconfiguring hundreds of thousands of square feet, developing new standards for furnishings, and refreshing their corporate look. Most of them want to be environmentally responsible, so we are trying to make their jobs easier and more fulfilling.”

Bala and Christensen focus on increasing awareness among corporate workplace leaders and property owners of what happens to the furniture and other materials they are about to replace, as well as what will happen when the furniture they are currently purchasing is inevitably replaced. Dyer Brown is helping its clients focus on three primary strategies, and providing the necessary tools:

Cut Embodied Carbon. Dyer Brown wants decision-makers to fully understand the environmental impacts of choices related to flooring, drywall, metal studs, and other materials purchased in large amounts. To that end, calculating embodied carbon — the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere represented by each product — turns out to be easy and enlightening. Using resources like the World Green Building Council’s Report on Embodied Carbon, the firm is creating reference materials for clients, and talking points for their designers.

office furniture
Photo: by Darrin Hunter, courtesy Dyer Brown

Mainstream Reuse And Upcycling. Thanks to environmentally mindful manufacturers and nonprofits, it’s easier now to salvage, reuse, and repurpose office furniture and materials. “We do the investigating, and then present options to our clients,” says Christensen, “so that they can make easy, positive choices for every project.” Turnkey services like Teknion’s Divert, which takes existing furniture and either donates it or disassembles and recycles the parts, will work for some while others may work with nonprofits like Doors Unhinged or RecyclingWorks, who partner with companies and service providers to find new uses and low-impact channels for existing furniture and materials to keep them out of landfill.

Compare Using Life Cycle Analysis. “Most people only think of the value of a desk or office chair in terms of its use phase,” says Bala, “but every piece has significant impacts based on its manufacture and delivery, and on its end-of-life.” Bala and Christensen are working with their colleagues at Dyer Brown clearly communicate the salient points of product Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) produced by manufacturers or independent organizations, so that clients can make choices that reflect their values.

Meanwhile, Dyer Brown is also brainstorming on innovative office furniture solutions, like an Uber-style furniture-sharing program. “Why own the chair when all you want to do is sit?” muses Bala.

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