Furniture without cash value quickly goes from company asset to company liability. Green Standards is trying to change the way corporations perceive office assets, and the Toronto-based firm is developing a unique business model in the process—one that’s socially and environmentally conscious, yet tailored to business objectives.
As innocuous as office chairs, desks, and cubicles seem, they pose a significant challenge for companies across North America. The reality is that the commercial sector is constantly buzzing with office renovations and moves, and generating no-longer-needed furniture in the process. Each workplace transition ushers in new gear, pushing outdated or obsolete assets out the door. Both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Statistics Canada estimate that millions of tonnes of durable goods are sent to the landfill by the commercial sector every year.
The challenge? How do you make entire floors of chairs, desks, workstations, electronics, appliances, and supplies disappear? Few people, whether in operations or sustainability, pay enough attention to no-longer-needed assets on the tail end of a workplace project. And when they do, they rarely have the experience or knowledge needed to effectively manage them. Typically, companies pay to have furnishings removed, either by a liquidator that landfills everything except the most valuable items, or by a junk-removal service that may also landfill goods.
Sending that many items to the landfill — many still in usable condition — contributes to three growing social and environmental issues:
- It adds to the negative impact of landfills, including greenhouse gas emissions and soil contamination. Environment Canada estimates that Canadian landfills alone generate 27 million tonnes of CO2e each year.
- It removes valuable resources from circulation that may otherwise have been reintroduced into the manufacturing phase, including metal, wood, fabric, and plastic. These are resources that have to be gathered at a tremendous cost by industry.
- It denies organizations in need the opportunity to benefit from second-hand items that haven’t reached end-of-life.
Disposing of office furniture is neither a sustainable practice for companies, nor for society at large. For many businesses, the moment they find out that their furniture has little or no monetary value, the items quickly go from company assets to company liabilities — a burden, rather than an opportunity. It’s this very attitude that forces companies, and their project managers, into a lose-lose situation created by conventional solutions. The crucial mistake is looking for only one type of return from an inventory, and treating it like waste when it’s not there.
Although a financial return is desirable, and should remain an objective, it shouldn’t frame the entire project.
“There’s value in every inventory, but businesses have to learn to see it,” says Richard Beaumont, CEO and co-founder of Green Standards. “For example, most people like the idea of donations until they realize how difficult it can be to coordinate the delivery of hundreds of items. But when it’s planned and executed properly, large-scale donation can actually be more affordable than landfill.”
Businesses get the opportunity to reduce environmental impact, optimize for cost, and benefit from a community investment campaign. According to Beaumont, it’s a win-win-win. This is the beauty of Green Standards’ model. The success of a project is about designing a triple-bottom-line solution.
By acting as project manager and using a combination of resale, recycling, and donation to divert waste, they’re able to provide a competitive solution with demonstrable value. “It wasn’t until 2010 that the model really came into focus,” says Beaumont. “We learned how to create a cost-effective service by combining donation, a channel we knew very well, with others that could generate revenue, like resale and metal recycling.”
The green alternative service had become the most viable solution. The final pieces evolved over time, including key legal documents that protect the corporate donors and offer potential tax benefits, as well as an industry-leading reporting system that provides environmental data to corporate sustainability teams.
In its five-year history, the Toronto-based firm has worked with multinational corporations, government agencies, public utility companies, and institutions to manage their office surplus. In the process, they’ve diverted more than 18,000 tons of office furniture and equipment from landfill, and stewarded $15 million worth of in-kind donations to community organizations across North America. Testimony to their service’s scalability and reliability, the Green Standards team is managing two of the largest corporate decommissions in North America which together have generated over $2 million in in-kind donations.
Perhaps this success isn’t that surprising – after all, most companies want a responsible way to dispose of extra assets. The difference is that Green Standards has figured out how to make that mindful option make business sense.
Great-West Life, for instance, has worked with Green Standards on 68 projects across Canada, totaling more than 553 tons of furniture and equipment. Each project, inventory and location comes with a unique set of risks and opportunities, all managed by Green Standards. “Green Standards has made it simple to manage no-longer-needed assets across all of our offices,” says Joann McKillop, manager of Great- West’s corporate properties. “Instead of having many different processes, we have a company-wide program that’s effective for our team and beneficial to the communities we work in.”
As early adopters of the program, Great-West Life, London Life and Canada Life have been able to donate nearly $500,000 worth of furniture and equipment to a variety of organizations over the course of six years, strengthening their community investment and environmental initiatives simultaneously.
Green Standards’ ability to align their solution with clients’ business objectives has proven invaluable to many large companies. While working with TELUS, Green Standards customized a plan to target the telco’s community partners with the furniture donations. “Green Standards gave us the opportunity to meet both our environmental and social goals,” said Mary Verissimo, director of Real Estate Services at TELUS. “By coordinating the donations we made to existing community partners, and reporting on the overall landfill diversion, we were able to provide deliverables to multiple areas of our business from a single project.”
TELUS was able to strengthen its presence in the community, help numerous local non-profits, and enhance the overall sustainability of its office operations.
The millions of dollars in office equipment donated through Green Standards’ work has also made them a recognizable brand in the non-profit sector. The donations have improved the workspaces of hundreds of organizations, many of which have followed the program since the beginning.
The direct benefit to these organizations is the ability to improve their offices and productivity without directing budget away from core activities.
“With this donation we can focus more of our funds on realizing our mission to provide access to parasports for disabled individuals,” said Marc Antoine Ducharme, executive director of Parasports Quebec. “Administrative costs for Parasports are very high, and donations such as these go very far in helping us achieve our goals.”
Today, Green Standards boasts a network of 10,000 non-profits in Canada and the U.S. Many of these organizations share the sentiment with Ducharme, and are seeking ways to improve their workspaces without straining the budget for their core activities.
Corporate responsibility used to imply a huge investment and an uncertain return. With decision-makers, stakeholders and employees more aware of the importance of sustainability than ever, businesses like Green Standards are getting the opportunity to prove that corporate responsibility has its share of benefits, especially for those planning for the long term. Where landfill or liquidation brings little-to-no value back into the company, managing no-longer-needed assets responsibly offers a dynamic return on investment. The goal, whether it’s a single storage room or a company-wide consolidation, should be to generate value for everyone where there would otherwise be only a cost.
Republished with Permission from Solid Waste and Recycling Magazine