A 'match.com' for furniture: How Green Standards reduces bulk waste
In the early days of running Green Standards, executive general manager Trevor Langdon said, the company was working with small organizations in a way that wasn't really scalable. They'd be working on half an office floor, or a storage purge — small projects.
But now, the company works on "multiple millions of square feet being decommissioned as part of multi-year portfolios involving buildings in five different states," according to Langdon. Green Standards works with organizations looking to decommission office space, and handles the donating, reusing, reselling or specialty recycling of old material to prevent waste from entering a landfill.
Originally, Langdon said the company was like an Amazon.com or a Match.com for furniture and charity, where Green Standards would connect two interested parties. But to really scale up, he said, the company had to become a more-trusted third party in transactions between decommissioning companies and charities or recyclers.
"That brought with it a huge uptick in the scale of projects we've been managing," Langdon said.
According to the company, since launching in 2009, Green Standards has diverted 38,000 tons of material from landfill, offset 125,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions and made $22 million-worth of in-kind donations. After working to remove material from a location, Green Standards also provides a full report to the company it worked with, detailing where material was sent and its impacts.
A recent report showed that construction & demolition debris recovery decreased between 2006-2013. Given the physical space bulk material occupies, and the substantial weight that comes with it, diverting it from landfills can go a long way in prolonging lifespans. Donating material, reselling it or reusing it also reinforces the idea of creating a more circular economy.
Editor's note: The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and brevity.
WASTE DIVE: Can you tell me a bit about where and how Green Standards began, and where you see the company in the near future?
TREVOR LANGDON: We're Toronto-based, so in the early days, a lot of the projects were in and near Toronto, in Canada. A lot of organizations that have offices in Toronto also have offices in any number of cities in the U.S. At this point, about 70% of our business is south of the border.
I think there's still a tremendous amount of room to grow, doing exactly what we're doing. The plan is not to go open shop in the U.K. or anything like that, but I think there's a lot of room to grow here in North America, doing what we're doing, taking a bit more of an account-based approach. Thinking beyond just furniture, what other kinds of equipment are some of these companies needing to decommission? Whether it's getting into IT or plants or things of that nature. Being able to help them kind of wherever they have a need to decommission and achieve the same kind of community and environmental impact.
Can you walk me through how an operation works?
LANGDON: It starts with having a solid understanding of the inventory. We enter these of the belief and of the mindset that there's a best end destination for pretty much everything in a space, and for 95-plus percent of those items, that end destination is not landfill. So, we want to go through and take a bit of an iterative approach to assessing each piece in there and determining what the best disposition stream for that is. We look at resale, certainly, because it's a great way to manage costs, to generate revenue. But not everything has value on the secondary market, so from there, we'll look at things that can be recycled for revenue. And then we look at in-kind donation as that third stream. So, kinda resell-recycle-donation; that's our iterative approach.
That donation aspect seems like a unique way to approach the circular economy model. Can you expand on that?
LANGDON: I think the unique piece of this and the exciting piece of this — we're able to integrate our work with our clients and learn from them what kind of priorities they have, because some will be really focused on poverty elimination, others will be really interested in STEM, that sort of thing, and then from there, once we have an understanding of their interests, we then have a network of 10,000-plus nonprofits we can communicate with virtually. We can reach out to all of the nonprofits that are local to that project site and work with them to share with them the inventory that's available, let them make requests through a web-based portal, and then line up those requests with the operational schedule and deliver those furniture items to them.
If the industry is going to move in a more circular direction, how should that be approached? What levers should be pushed?
LANGDON: I think it's a bit of a carrot and stick approach. I don't want to opine on the role of government in this necessarily; I think we're starting to see companies do it for the right reasons because they genuinely want to. And also because they are receiving pressure from shareholders to make sure that they are responsible with their business practices. There's a longevity piece to the equation that I think economics can kind of take care of. But I do think that, certainly in the short-term, it's a bit of a carrot and stick. It's a bit of attitude and a bit of other levers.
So over time, do you think we're headed in a direction where more sectors are refurbishing and reusing or donating, instead of just tossing material away?
LANGDON: I'm hopeful that we're headed in a direction of more reuse. I think a big part of it really even comes before that in the product design phase, and I know that in furniture manufacturing that's something that's garnering a lot of attention right now. A lot of companies are giving thought to how they can design their new products that they're rolling off the line to be more versatile, to last longer, to require less maintenance, be more durable. And I think those are all factors that will help with kind of that prolonged life cycle, that reuse aspect of it. So, I'm hopeful that that's the direction that it's heading.
"I don't want to opine on the role of government in this necessarily; I think we're starting to see companies do it for the right reasons because they genuinely want to. And also because they are receiving pressure from shareholders to make sure that they are responsible with their business practices."
Executive general manager, Green Standards
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