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or many professionals in Facilities Management and Corporate Real Estate, the issue of what to do with surplus office furniture and equipment is nothing new. It’s one of the many challenges that come with managing millions of square feet of office space. As businesses continuously re-furbish, re-vamp and re-define their work environments to increase the comfort and productivity of their staff, they generate more and more surplus. And, indeed, what goes in must one day come out.  But where does it all go?

The Problem of Serial Surplus

Unfortunately, the most common end-destination is the landfill. The reality is that Project Managers have few options available to them when managing a significant surplus. Some pursue re-sale in hopes that their furniture has enough value to garner interest from brokers. In today’s market, this typically means they will work with a liquidator who will remove the furniture at little cost, based on the gamble that they will be able to sell it for a profit. Often only a small percentage of the higher-value furniture is actually re-sold, while the remainder – regardless of its condition or use-value – makes its way to local landfills. Once there, this portion of the inventory will be subject to regional landfill charges which may be hidden in the costs of liquidation.

Recycling doesn’t usually work as a primary solution either, as only metals will produce a financial return, while the rest is recycled at a cost or land-filled.

This leaves facilities managers stuck with the ‘quick and dirty’ solution, which is to remove the furniture, haul it to the dump, and forget about it. But hauling furniture directly to the landfill comes at a greater financial cost; between the cost of labor for knockdown, removal and transportation, as well as hard costs in the form of landfill tipping fees (averaging $50/ton and surpassing $140/ton in some regions), the price of clearing out of a full floor of furniture can easily creep into the tens of thousands of dollars. And beyond financial costs, the furniture usually isn’t even garbage at all —most surplus items haven’t reached their true ‘end of life,’ and can still be used for years to come. The real lasting cost is environmental.

Those tasked with managing these projects are left with low financial returns, logistical expenses and the ongoing challenge of aligning facility-level projects with Corporate Sustainability goals. Even many Fortune 100 companies, which lead the way in environmental and social initiatives, often fail to carefully manage their surplus furniture and equipment. Though they typically have policies for responsibly sourcing new materials, ensuring sustainable supply-chains, waste and recycling programs and are involved in industry certifications and reporting initiatives such as LEED, GRI, CDP, and the DJSI, their facilities departments are left relying on conventional services that achieve neither financial nor environmental sustainability.

Solving Serial Surplus

The solution requires a more dynamic approach that can capture the hidden value of surplus assets. Depending on the composition of a given item, the current resale market, and the priorities of the business, that item may have several possible end-destinations. The key is to plan ahead and determine what combination of resale, recycling and donation aligns with project objectives or corporate mandates; a portion may be resold and another recycled to offset project costs, while the majority is channeled towards non-profits and charities that can use it to improve their office space. The result for the company is a corporate responsibility success story and community engagement in place of landfill. The dollar value of resale is still retained, while the latent value of “less-desirable” items is recovered as well through the continued use of the items by organizations in need. It’s a triple-bottom-line approach to this growing and often ignored issue of managing office surplus.

Since the early 1990s, North American economic and population growth has led to an increase of over 25% in the volume of waste that ends up in landfills each year – roughly 200 million tons annually. An estimated 10 million tons of it comes from mismanaged office interior surplus, much of which is still usable and in demand. Junk removal services en route to landfill invariably drive right by the schools, hospitals and non-profits that could use the furniture —and for seemingly no other reason than a lack of planning.

Companies that need cost effective solutions for their surplus furniture and equipment, but also want to keep from filling the dump while recouping value in the process, are finding services that have filled this growing niche along with other alternatives to liquidation and landfill. Our own firm, Green Standards Ltd., is one of these in Canada, and there are many throughout North America that are offering the kind of services sustainability-focused managers are looking for. These companies are not limited to office furniture, but include disposal or redeployment of office supplies, IT, artwork, appliances, and building materials. Many offer programs that provide Community Reinvestment Act  credits and other tax credits or incentives.

The increasing demand on corporations to account for their waste, demonstrate sustainability, and give back to their communities can all be achieved, in part, through a financial and sustainable approach to serial office surplus furniture.  But first, Facilities and Project Managers must shift their thinking from “zero-cost” to “cost-benefit.”

About Trevor Langdon

Trevor Langdon is Manager of Business Development for Green Standards Ltd., where he designs and implements solutions for clients across North America that help manage their costs while capturing the maximal value potential of their decommission projects.



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