End-of-Life Options for Commercial Furniture

April 27, 2012
Responsibly donate or recycle your furnishings.

When confronted with no longer needed furniture, the common, careless response is often “Off to the landfill!” There are several environmentally friendly methods to rid yourself of old furnishings as well as many organizations that make the process equally carefree and considerably more conscientious.

Millions of pounds of furniture are dumped every year in the U.S. With careful consideration, much of that waste can be diverted. Responsible recycling methods include repurposing, reusing, and disposal in environmentally conscious ways.

Recycling as Donating
Arguably the best way to recycle an item is to find it a new life by donating it for repurposed use. It can be difficult for schools, non-profit organizations, and civic agencies to allocate their funds for new furnishings. Because many consignment and charitable stores like Goodwill can’t take on the vast surpluses from commercial entities, several organizations have been formed to address this dilemma.

“With the objective of maximizing your corporate social responsibility through surplus donation, we match donor surplus with recipient need,” says Glenn Sparks, communications coordinator at Asset Network for Education Worldwide (ANEW), a nonprofit organization with the mission of “doing what’s right with what’s left.”

ANEW was founded in 2005 by Rose Tourje, who spent 25 years in commercial interior design. Upon observing a large public agency in downtown Los Angeles getting rid of furniture by the truckload, she decided to make a “midlife career correction.”

“I thought if this is happening here, it must be happening everywhere,” Tourje says. “And I thought that I could do something about this. It can be as simple as one person starting.”

Since ANEW’s inception seven years ago, the organization has diverted 7 million pounds of furniture from landfills nationwide. Their typical process is repurposing and donating discarded furnishings from major corporations to underserved groups within the community.

“Our expertise is in the social aspects of how to connect this surplus to society and how by doing so, it improves life and strengthens communities,” Tourje explains. “Our primary mission is to change the way in which surplus is thought of and to redirect and keep it within a 50-mile radius in its community.”

Nationwide, ANEW has accepted donations from companies such as Toyota, Johnson Controls, and Bentley Prince Street and allocated them to recipients like Autism Speaks, Boys & Girls Club, and Jewish World Watch.

The donation process begins with developing a proposal with ANEW to utilize their services and closes with the group issuing a tax receipt for successfully matched items and providing submittal documentation towards LEED certification. The group aims to cause an evolutionary wave to change the practice of decommissioning.

“Our industry has moved toward being greener, but a lot of people are still confused as to how to do it, so groups like ANEW provide the how,” says Kim Matsoukas, sustainability manager at Bentley Prince Street.

“Recycling in the way that ANEW is doing it is really a model for the 21st century,” adds Fred Kramer, executive director of Jewish World Watch.

Organizations such as ANEW make it easy for your company to give back to the community.

“Frankly, you can’t be in business in the community effectively if you’re not part of that community. You have to give back and be involved, sense what that community needs, and find a way to help with those problems,” says Paul McGunnigle, chief executive officer of Howard Building Corporation, a general contracting firm in California.

Aside from benefitting society and the environment, donating your furniture can reduce capital expenditures and result in tax receipts and LEED points.

“The real value is in expansion and elevation of corporate social responsibility, although ANEW can match or beat the price of regular demo and hauling,” says Sparks. “Going green is not only the responsible way to do business – it is, or soon will be, the profitable way.”

A similar group called Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Eco Solutions provides many of the same services but focuses on reporting so clients can maximize benefits.

“If a piece has life in it, we’ll give it a second life and then a third if that’s possible. The difference between our solution and any other method is once we donate furniture, that’s not the end of it,” explains Dan Leal, founder and president of CSR Eco Solutions. “The title transfers that are in place relieve the corporate client of any potential liability down the road, and everything is auditable, which is why the folks at LEED value it so much.”

Donors may be eligible for a tax benefit for the fair market value of the items donated, as well as a portion of the removal costs. The group also works with your communications department to generate PR that “ensures your leadership position and the sustainable path chosen is not just communicated to stakeholders but ensures they have an opportunity to buy in.”

Recycling as Responsible Disposing
As a last resort, try recycling as a means of getting rid of old furniture.

“If items cannot be reused, repurposed, or resold, we will do all possible to recycle them,” Sparks says.

More often than not, landfills either do not or cannot recycle large amounts of commercial furniture. But many organizations, such as E-Cycle Environmental, can help you dispose of old furnishings in environmentally conscious ways.

“E-Cycle Environmental embraces corporate America’s vision of becoming green at all levels, including appropriate disposal of office furniture,” says Ben Tabor, vice president of sales. “The environment is the driving force behind our company.”

Tabor recommends that companies attempt to donate pre-owned pieces when possible but if unable, choose a responsible recycling company to provide solutions.

“E-Cycle is a safe and guaranteed way for companies to effectively recycle their waste furniture,” he says, adding that the organization ensures a 95% landfill diversion rate.

First, E-Cycle Environmental will pick up used furniture and provide all labor and logistics necessary. Once off-site, the material is separated into wood, metal, plastics, and fabric items. Functional material is donated when possible, but most of the time it is recycled through methods illustrated in the sidebar.

“Once the material has been disassembled and recycled, you receive a full waste diversion report,” Tabor says.

Manufacturers Make Disassembly Easy
Many furniture manufacturers are taking steps to ensure pieces are easily disassembled for recycling.

“All our products come with disassembly instructions so organizations know how to properly take apart the pieces for easy recycling,” says Steve Brewster, program manager for Kimball Office, a manufacturer of commercial furniture.

“Most organizations want to be good corporate citizens,” he adds. “Organizations that partner with a manufacturer that makes products from highly recycled content and offers tips for recyclability are making responsible decisions that demonstrate a commitment to the environment and good business practices.”

Consider all your options. One person’s refuse can be another person’s value.

Chris Curtland ([email protected]) is assistant editor of BUILDINGS.

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