By Julie McNabb, Writer/Editor ASSET 2.0
When it comes to office waste, what’s the first priority that comes to mind? Most IR folks would say e-waste and the challenges faced with its responsible disposition. But consider that office chair and desk where you may be sitting at this very moment? If you haven’t been faced with the ubiquitous “office-furniture-as-idle-assets-and-what-to-do-with-it” – you most likely will be tasked with it sooner than later.
Sell, reuse & donate – but liquidate?
Traditional disposal options for office furniture have been reusing, selling, donating or contracting a liquidator. But each one has its pros and cons in terms of time and ROI. And if liquidating is your only option, do you really know what happens to your furniture once surrendered? Maybe…maybe not. Although liquidation can seem like the easiest option, it most often leads to usable furniture piling up in the landfill. And that is a bigger problem than you might think. Overall, the furniture industry, both commercial and residential, is one of the biggest culprits on negatively impacting the environment. Just consider these industry stats:
- Office furniture manufacturers are responsible for approximately 30% of greenhouse gas emissions and non-renewable energy consumption and 15% of primary energy consumption. And why? To cut costs, they have been importing cheaper, synthetic materials adding to the burgeoning carbon footprint from every item.
- Research published by theFurniture Industry Research Association (FIRA) discovered that the manufacture of just one standard office chair results in an average of 72 lbs. of CO2e in carbon footprint – and there’s more.
- According to 2018 EPA estimates, up to 8.5 million tons, or 17 billion pounds, of office assets end up in US landfills annually.
- The EPA also reported that while the population of the United States increased by almost 55% from 1960 to 2018, the amount of furniture (residential and commercial) and furnishings ending up in the municipal solid waste (MSW ) stream increased almost 550%.
The pandemic and the rise of the ghost office
Those stats above? All were pre-pandemic and more current data is unavailable. So, when the Covid lockdowns came and went, it left behind a trail of ghost town office spaces. With most of the workforce now remote, companies were forced to close down unpopulated office space to save on real estate costs. And that helped to create an even bigger glut of unwanted office furniture – new and used. But the Silicon Valley with its tech workers were the hardest hit, especially in San Francisco. They were also the slowest – if at all – to return to their city offices. Not surprisingly, early 2023 office occupancy in San Francisco was 4 percent below the average of the top 10 U.S. cities, according to the building security firm Kastle. To date, the big brick-and-mortar tech companies like PayPal, Block and Yelp, are vacating their pricey urban headquarters or downsizing their office space altogether. You may have already guessed that this had a huge impact on the new and used office furniture markets as well as the liquidators – and you would be correct! But how big…and how did the industry respond? Read on.
Idle office furniture springs to life
Brandi Susewitz had been in the Bay Area office furniture industry since the late 90’s. She saw first-hand how companies made their office furniture disposition the last thing they thought about when offices closed or moved. She saw durable, high-quality, commercial-grade items loaded up in a landfill-bound truck. The sheer waste and disregard for the environment made a deep impression on her. Fast forward to the fallout of the pandemic, when she saw her sales career in new, high-end office furniture come to a dead halt. That’s when the amount of idle office furniture quadrupled. She stated, “Perfectly good, brand-new furniture is just being carted off to landfills,” she said. And that’s when the idea of a new business model took shape. Ms. Susewitz created Reseat, an industry disruptor, that is committed to prolonging the life cycle of furniture. The company uses an inventory management system that tracks the life cycle of an item. In this way, the furniture item’s specs are clearly documented thus streamlining the relisting process in the unpredictable secondhand market. Reseat also offers an online marketplace where companies can list their furniture ahead of a move or closure.
Perfectly good, brand-new furniture is just being carted off to landfills.
—Brandi Susewitz of Reseat
Working with manufacturers
ReseatID is an offshoot of the original company. It’s a tool for office furniture dealers and manufacturers that can provide customers a plan for the entire furniture lifecycle at the point of purchase. “If a dealer wants to become a ReseatID holder, what that means is that they have agreed to join our mission,” said Susewitz. “You’re not just going to be selling a bunch of furniture with no plan. You’re going to sell them the furniture with a plan in place, with the ReseatID which is the second lifecycle passport.”
More new kids on the block
Besides Reseat, more used furniture start-ups have sprung up with circularity as a guiding principle.
Green Standards works with tech mega-giants such as Google, Microsoft and Adobe, to help extend the life cycle of their office furniture. As a result, it has a 99% landfill diversion rate on corporate real estate projects. Unwanted furniture is either resold, recycled or donated to local nonprofits. For Adobe, across its North American offices, Green Standards donated decommissioned furniture and equipment to 167 nonprofits. Today it works globally with programs in over 100 countries and over 20,000 nonprofits registered to potentially receive unused furniture. And we’re seeing a trend – the good kind, according to Trevor Langdon, co-founder and CEO of Green Standards who stated, “The momentum towards trying to take a more sustainable approach to workplace decommissioning is something that’s been building even before the pandemic, but absolutely the pandemic has caused people to really stop and think what the future of their workplace is going to be.” Langdon continued, “[Before] It was hard for them [companies] to believe that their furniture could actually find a second home. I think what’s changed now is it’s become the expectation. A lot of decision makers in real estate are saying there’s got to be a better way than just calling a mover or liquidator and having our furniture go out the back door into a black hole or landfill.” From his experience since the pandemic, many companies have switched over to a fully remote workforce, while the majority has opted for a hybrid workforce with a smaller office footprint. This provides an ideal time to take an intentional approach towards office furniture sustainability.
Rose Tourje was a successful Los Angeles-based commercial interior designer. One day, she witnessed “furniture actually being hurled out the windows [of an office building], crashing to the pavement with the debris loaded onto trucks.” She followed it to its destination and her dismay – the landfill. Just like Reseat’s Brandi Susewitz, Rose did something about it by founding a new company, ANEW® (Asset Network for Education Worldwide, Inc.) In 2005, ANEW® reinvented common liquidation practice with Surplus Stewardship®, a certified practice that extends the life cycle of good condition surplus items through reuse, resale, repurposing and recycling. Music to any IR pros ears! Like Green Standards, ANEW® works with corporations to achieve landfill diversion while donating surplus back into communities. For example, ANEW® partnered with Toyota to decommission its California location move to Texas. This not only benefitted 50 communities but helped Toyota maintain and exceed their sustainability goals. To date, ANEW® averages more than 3 million pounds of surplus to avoid landfill. Since its beginning, ANEW® has matched good and useable surplus items to more than 2,000 recipient organizations in 20 countries.
Chicago-based Rework offers a full portfolio including, new, used and rental office furniture, design services, reupholstery and corporate facility decommissioning. They strive to be a one-stop shop for both short and long-term office furnishing needs. In particular, Rework specializes in decommissioning. They distinguish themselves as not being a run-of-the-mill liquidator – but one with a mission to provide consistent and reliable sustainability. Since 1993, Rework has been repurposing, refurbishing and refreshing office furniture and helping workplaces all across the country with their sustainability goals. They recently completed a large-scale four building campus decommission in California diverting 1.5M lbs. of furniture landfill in 2 months. Another two- building decommission project in Georgia helped the client realize their stringent sustainability goals by preventing over 3.2M lbs. of furniture from entering landfills.
Investment recovery and office furniture
IR is gaining an even more important role in planning for a company’s long-term sustainability – and that means planning ahead for more environmentally sound, end-of-life disposition options. And for office furniture today, it should no longer be the last thing you think about when closing down an office. By documenting the life cycle of office furniture from its purchase, you now are streamlining its disposition – saving both time and money while avoiding the dreaded landfill. Sources: www.worklife.news/spaces.com, “Second-Hand Office Furniture,” Oct. 12, 2022 www.reseat.com, “Clear Office Becomes Reseat,” Jan. 3, 2022 www.modernretail.com, “No More Landfill How to Dispose of Office Furniture Sustainably,” Oct. 12, 2022 www.cnbc.com, “Oracle Uber Others Use Clear Office Location,” Mar. 15. 2021 www.wow-webmagazine.com, “The Environmental Impact of Office Furniture,” May 17, 2022 ww.nytimes.com, “Technology: Office Furniture Tech Companies,” Feb. 25, 2023 www.daviesoffice.com, “Office Furniture – The Hidden Waste Stream,” June. 17, 2022 www.iands.design/latest-news/article, “Reseat Launches Digital Tool to Revolutionize the Lifecycle of Commercial Furniture,” July 5, 2022 www.Info.junk-king.com, “What You Need to Know About Old Office Furniture Disposal,” Jan. 13, 2023