Program preserves discarded furniture

February 17, 2009
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Steelcase Inc. and the Institution Recycling Network (IRN) have joined forces to help organizations find environmentally responsible solutions for their unneeded office furniture. Through Steelcase's Environmental Partnership Program, they are matching previously owned office furniture with non-profit organizations around the globe.

"In the U.S. and around the world, there's tremendous need for furnishings to outfit schools, clinics, hospitals, businesses and homes that have been devastated by hurricanes, earthquakes and other natural disasters," Mark Lennon, principal, IRN, said in a news release. "Because Steelcase is a major provider of higher education, healthcare and corporate environments, the partnership has been tremendously beneficial, allowing the organizations that work with us to make significant contributions to those that need it most."

Donation recipients include U.S. cities devastated by natural disasters and developing communities looking to build their infrastructures, which typically use the furniture to build schools, clinics and businesses.

The first week of January, the University of Notre Dame Law School moved into its new 85,000-square-foot facility. The university had only a week to dispose of all the furnishings in the previous facility to make way for renovation. After consulting with Steelcase dealer Business Furnishings, which introduced them to the Steelcase Environmental Partnership Program, the university decided to partner with IRN to donate the furniture. IRN arranged for the removal of the furniture and matched it with the non-profit organization Food for the Poor. Because of Notre Dame's action, eight containers of more than 1,600 pieces of furniture will be diverted from the landfill to charitable organizations in Jamaica and Haiti. Additionally, donating their furniture actually cost the university less than discarding it.

"We try to reuse all we can that comes out of old facilities through our on-campus surplus program," said Julie Boynton, senior project manager for interiors in Notre Dame's Office of the University Architect. "In the case of the law school, there was so much, the surplus program didn't have room for it all. In this partnership with Steelcase and IRN, we've found an answer to this problem that is a win-win-win: The furniture isn't going to a landfill, two worthy charities are receiving much needed furnishings, and the project actually saved Notre Dame money. It cost $14,000 to have IRN recycle the furniture, but would have cost around $20,000 to send it all to a landfill — not to mention the untold cost to the environment."

Steelcase dealers and clients are beginning to tap into the IRN partnership in similar projects, identifying specific furniture that matches non-profit needs in establishing or rebuilding hospitals, schools and residential communities.

"Furniture that is no longer needed by one organization can provide tremendous value to another. We have found that there is limitless demand for the furniture that is discarded every day," said Nancy Hickey, senior vice president and chief administrative officer, Steelcase Inc. "We want to not only help organizations responsibly and effectively manage their unused furniture, but extend the life of that furniture into other businesses and communities that need it."

Launched in 2004, the Steelcase Environmental Partnership is the first program in its industry to help businesses determine and implement the best end-of-life furniture strategy for their furniture — regardless of who originally manufactured it.

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