In the world of facility management (FM), sustainability has evolved from a buzzword to an essential component. Sustainable practices occupy an ever increasing space in the world of architecture, design, and FM. Energy efficiency, greenhouse gas reduction, renewable energy, recycling, water conservation, green buildings, environmentally preferred purchasing, upgrading inefficient HVAC systems, local sourcing, LEED certification—all of these positively affect the triple bottom line of profits, people, and planet. As the economic, environmental, and social benefits of sustainable practices become more well-known, more facility managers (fms) are using them.
That being said, one vital sustainable practice may be less known than some of those mentioned above. What happens to furniture, fixtures, and equipment (FF&E) when a commercial space is vacated? When facility owners leave a space, most often FF&E are left behind; it’s the FM team’s responsibility to liquidate surplus.
Until recently the standard practice was for old FF&E to be labeled as waste, picked up by a demolition crew, and hauled to a landfill. This mindset, however, ignores a simple reality: waste is costly. Looking at this through a different lens—a company’s investment in infrastructure has great value. Fms tasked with managing FF&E that will no longer be used should think proactively, and sustainably. They can leverage their companies’ investment, and save time and money in the process.
Construction waste accounts for about 40% of landfill contents in the U.S. Though disposing of surplus in a landfill is an easy option, it comes at a high environmental price. According to U.S. EPA estimates, methane produced by rotting matter in landfills is the second largest factor affecting global climate change.
An Option For End Of Life
What can be done to amend this situation? What actions can an fm take to ensure surplus will not end up in a landfill? In most instances, old FF&E still have a lot of life remaining; there are many organizations that can benefit by receiving used (but eminently usable) furnishings. Simply put, the effects of climate change are reduced through mitigation of methane production when surplus is creatively diverted from landfills.
One solution is for fms to view FF&E that has reached its end of useful life not as waste but as something of value—and then to divert it from a landfill and implement a sustainable alternative for repurposing the materials. Fms can collaborate with their furniture dealers, architects, or other project stakeholders to steward their surplus to new homes.
Fortune 500 Firm Unloads Furniture (And Warehouse Fees)
In 2006, a Fortune 500 technology company began working with furniture remanufacturer and solutions provider Davies Office in an effort to help solve its inability to manage its surplus office furniture across the United States properly. After years of mergers and acquisitions, the client company found itself in possession of facilities and warehouses filled with multiple brands of systems furniture, some of which even included generational differences within the same brand.
Attempting to reuse products found in these warehouses became next to impossible as colors rarely matched, and the incompatibility of the systems furniture resulted in defaulting to buying new product while still paying warehouse fees to store essentially unusable furniture. The most logical next step was to liquidate the surplus furniture to maximize the value and to stop paying monthly warehouse rental fees. Unfortunately, as the company quickly discovered, not only would it not receive any value for the furniture but it would also have to pay to have the furniture thrown out.
Upon review of the company’s surplus and warehouse inventories, Davies Office presented an alternative solution that allowed its client to decommission existing warehouses and facilities, while not only retaining the furniture’s asset value but also appreciating the value of the assets through a “banking system.” Using this system, the company was able to “deposit” the old furniture and withdraw newly remanufactured furniture. This program achieved all of the intended goals, including:
- to empty/close warehouses and underused facilities and eliminate storage costs;
- to provide value for furniture purchased years ago;
- to avoid disposal of furniture; and
- to standardize on a single brand.
Beyond meeting the company’s goals, other benefits included:
- continued deprecation of recently acquired assets through IRS 1031 Like-Kind Exchange;
- proactive environmental approach to furniture acquisition and disposition;
- acquired LEED points for new facilities; and
- asset value appreciation.
After six years of partnering with Davies Office in a comprehensive furniture sustainability program, the company was able to achieve the following environmental conversation milestones:
- 9,230,810 pounds of raw materials conserved;
- 6,618,238 pounds diverted from landfills; and
- carbon dioxide emissions reduction of 2,911,904 pounds.
By trading in its old furniture for newly remanufactured systems furniture, this global technology company reduced its furniture operating costs, transformed the way it manages furniture acquisition/disposition, and engaged in a proactive furniture life cycle program.
A company’s surplus can benefit a recipient organization such as a non-profit, charity, or public agency, for instance. Meanwhile, gifting the FF&E benefits the donor company with a tax-deductible donation. Meanwhile, depending on who the fm works with to carry out the process, they may receive a complete summary of relevant metrics including the amount diverted and carbon footprint reduction.
Related to that, a donor organization might earn points toward LEED accreditation for the overall facility project (if it is a renovation, for instance). Categories related to LEED might include material reuse, landfill diversion, and innovation.
Even if the FM team identifies an opportunity to donate its FF&E well past the first phase of surplus liquidation, the group helping to repurpose the items might still be able to provide information that will help the FM team gain LEED points by implementing the processes suggested for the project.
Repurposing surplus FF&E that still has some life in it is a win-win situation for all involved. The donor organization can empty its decommissioned space at a cost comparable to or lower than that of hauling to a landfill, while the group’s corporate social responsibility gets a boost.
And the recipient organizations benefit with enhanced working environments, improved efficiencies, and maximized resources. This allows the people who work at those organizations to focus on the vital services they provide to their communities. Meanwhile, the environment is spared the toxic effects of adding waste to landfills.
Sustainability can be defined as simply living well, with a focus on keeping the priorities of people, profits, and planet in balance. Instead of directing surplus FF&E to landfills, fms who oversee decommissioning projects can benefit their organizations and a recipient entity with the gift of reuse.
Sparks is director of media & communications for ANEW (Asset Network for Education Worldwide, Inc.), a non-profit organization dedicated to collecting, organizing, and repurposing surplus furniture, fixtures and equipment (FF&E) for donation to the underserved.