Repurposing Decommissioned Office Furniture & Equipment

'Green Standards' Finds Homes for Unwanted Assets

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Jarrod Clabaugh is director of communications for the Office Furniture Dealers Alliance (OFDA).

Posted: Wednesday, January 13, 2016 3:37 pm

Some nine million tons of used or out-of-fashion office furniture and equipment are dumped into America’s landfills each year, according to the EPA.

Yet, much of that “waste” can be diverted and repurposed, according to Green Standards, a Toronto-based company that specializes in the responsible and cost-effective redistribution of surplus and obsolete office furniture, fixtures, supplies and IT equipment.

Since its inception in 2009, Green Standards has worked on more than 1,000 projects, resulting in nearly $20 million worth of in-kind donations to non-profit organizations, offsetting 60,000 tons of greenhouse gases and diverting 20,000 tons of material from landfills — nearly 99 percent of the surplus equipment it repurposed.

On a turnkey basis, Green Standards, “efficiently channels surplus office assets according to its clients’ priorities for charitable donations, recycling and resale… simplifying the process by taking responsibility for vendor selection, third-party valuations, title transfers and IRS-compliant documentation,” said CEO and co-founder Richard Beaumont.

“We challenge organizations to reimagine the value of their excess furniture and equipment. Every usable item is an opportunity to help nonprofits improve their workspaces, and in turn their work, and simultaneously protect the planet from the negative impact of landfill waste.

“Every step towards a circular economy counts,” Beaumont continued. “To achieve zero waste, to extract full value out of our products at their end-of-life, we need to see waste as the economic opportunity it is.”

The private, for-profit Green Standards serves hundreds of clients including corporations, government agencies and large non-profits with an active sales force, remote project management and key partnerships including one with Herman Miller, one of the world’s largest furniture manufacturers.

The company’s North America-wide networks of non-profits, office furniture resellers, specialized recyclers and commercial movers makes it possible for Green Standards to redistribute office furniture and equipment.

Sixty percent of its business is done in the U.S., 40 percent in Canada and among its largest clients are Marathon Oil, Frost Bank, Adobe, TELUS, Canada Bell, Suncor, Great West Life and Edwards Wildman. Although work is concentrated in major cities, Green Standards routinely works in small cities and with businesses of all sizes.

Green Standards works with registered non-profits of all types including charities, school boards, associations, cultural groups, food banks, museums, foundations and others. Any registered non-profit is eligible to join the Green Standards network and place requests.

Donation recipients are then chosen based on a number of factors — client preference, distance from the project site, size of the request and overall need for items. Green Standards notifies non-profit members when items become available.

Beaumont said Green Standards began by helping companies donate used office furniture to charities, a sliver of the current business model. “Beginning in 2010, we began to grow the concept, for example, adding services like project management. We demonstrated to companies how they could trust us to manage this process and go beyond simple donations.”

Green Standards, according to Beaumont, offers a significant advantage over traditional ways to dispose of office furniture.

“We are doing something radically different when it comes to dealing with this issue. People tend to always stick with the tried-and-true and that’s no different when it comes to disposing of office furniture. For example, most would call a well-known liquidator and most of the furniture would wind up in the dump.

“Now, we are offering a cost-benefit to companies, especially Fortune 100 and multinational businesses through our North America-wide program that can not only serve a client in a single city, but also one with locations in many cities across the U.S. and Canada.”

Jarrod Clabaugh, director of communications for the Office Furniture Dealers Alliance (OFDA) based in Baltimore, said Green Standards has developed what he believes is a cutting-edge solution to recycling office furniture.

The OFDA is one of the largest North American associations in the office furniture industry and evolved from the National Association of Stationers and Manufacturers started in 1904. That association has grown into the Independent Office Products & Furniture Dealers Association, of which the OFDA is a core division. Alongside its sister association, the National Office Products Alliance, OFDA represents more than 1,200 members, including dealers, manufacturers, wholesalers,  and industry service providers.

Sustainability and green initiatives are a key focus of OFDA, said Clabaugh. “While we primarily support the manufacturing side by promoting best-in-class standards like LEED and ways to make production more efficient, we are just as concerned with what happens to our products at the end of their life cycle.

“Environmental issues really impact our members, so we are committed to responsible behavior. Consumers are looking at our industry and want to know that we are doing what we need to do for sustainability,” Clabaugh said.

Beaumont said he knew Green Standards would succeed at the end of 2012. “We took a quantum leap forward in terms of stability by signing agreements with two major, multinational petroleum companies based in Houston. That told us that customers with millions of square feet of office space would trust us and have faith in our ability to manage their office furniture decommissioning.

“We were able to scale up significantly and know that we could exist on that scale. Today we are a triple bottom line company with three important metrics: percentage diverted, tonnage diverted and the fair market value of donations,” Beaumont explained.

A good example of Green Standards’ unique business model is its "rePurpose Program" partnership with Herman Miller, Inc., a global provider of furnishings and related technologies and services. Headquartered in West Michigan, the company has been included in the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index for the past 12 years.

According to its website, “As Herman Miller continues its 'Journey toward Sustainability,' designing our products with consideration for their environmental impact remains a central corporate strategy.”

The rePurpose program with Green Standards “helps you give new life to things your organization no longer needs. Your furniture — or whatever asset you need to dispose of — goes to deserving nonprofits in your backyard and around the world, which lets them focus scarce funds on their mission. You immediately transfer title, which frees you of any liability. You might also be eligible for a tax credit for the fair market value of the items donated. Most important, the earth benefits from what it doesn't get — waste that would otherwise clog its landfills.”

Green Standards Marketing and Communications Manager Nick Buccheri said Frost Bank, one of the 50 largest U.S. banks, headquartered in San Antonio, commissioned the rePurpose Program to sell, recycle and donate more than 2,500 items when Frost vacated the downtown Rand Building last April to move to a new 450,000-square-foot complex in western San Antonio.

Buccheri said as part of its ongoing community initiatives, Frost donated items valued at nearly $118,000 to the San Antonio Food Bank, Habitat for Humanity of San Antonio, Haven for Hope and the Westside Development Corporation.

“Frost was able to divert 239 tons of durable goods from the landfill and offset 770 metric tons of CO2e (greenhouse gases) — equal to the carbon-carrying capacity of 19,744 tree seedlings grown over 10 years,” said Buccheri. “Through Green Standards’ managed program of resale, recycling and donation, 67,000 square feet of furniture and non-computer equipment was redistributed over two weeks with 99 percent of Frost’s surplus inventory diverted away from landfill.”

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