Office decommissioning has the potential to generate huge amounts of waste — or to recycle and divert potential waste from landfills while investing in the community.
Calgary-based energy company Enbridge chose the later, partnering with Green Standards on a renovation project to ensure that its office decommission — the clearing of 11 floors of office furniture and equipment between 2013 and 2015 — was done in a sustainable way.
Green Standards is an environmental firm that works with corporations and other large organizations to recycle, resell and donate no-longer-needed office furniture, equipment and supplies. It uses circular economy principles, keeping products in use as long as possible before recycling or disposing of them in a safe way, to help companies work towards zero waste.
“Millions of metric tons of office furniture and equipment are sent to landfill each year in North America,” says Jon Milnes, vice president of global accounts at Green Standards. “When corporations like Enbridge choose to do better, they’re performing a dual service to the environment and to those poorly resourced organizations that are central to so many of our communities.”
Green Standards also works with companies to measure the results, including the landfill diversion rate, greenhouse gas offset and community impact of each project.
Enbridge’s project diverted 304 metric tons — 97 percent — of office products from the landfill, representing an estimated offset of 987 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. More than 4,000 items were donated to local nonprofits, such as the Chestermere Food Bank, representing a community investment of $156,480.
By keeping these items out of the landfill, and in use or recycled, Enbridge reduced the footprint of its headquarters renovation.
“At Enbridge, we continually look for new ways to make the best possible impact on our neighbors, community and the environment. Partnering in a project that would see waste diverted from the landfill and local community organizations benefit from in-kind donations was a way we could put that commitment into action,” says Enbridge spokesperson Suzanne Wilton. “Our number one priority is the protection of people and the environment and diverting 304 metric tons of materials from the landfill by partnering with Green Standards helped us advance on that priority.”
Milnes told Environmental Leader that Green Standards helps companies report the environmental benefits of their renovation projects by using a proprietary database of product weights derived from manufacturer specifications.
“For each project, individual items are catalogued and input into the database, generating a total inventory weight,” he explains. “The landfill diversion rate (percentage) and weight is then calculated based on how many items, and of which type, are donated, resold, recycled or sent to the landfill. This information is then made available to our clients via a cloud-based reporting portal.”
He says businesses can improve the outcome of decommissioning projects by approaching it like a capital project in itself “with inherent risks and opportunities, and not just an afterthought to the broader workplace project. Assuming it is simple or unimportant is a recipe for complications and ultimately unnecessary waste.”
Companies should consider multiple distribution channels — not just asset resale, for example. If a resale-only option doesn’t eliminate a firm’s full inventory, then the easiest solution is to dump the remaining equipment in the landfill, as opposed to more environmentally sustainable options.
And like all sustainability initiatives, decommissioning and renovations work best when they involve multiple stakeholders and departments in all phases of the project, Milnes says. “When corporate sustainability, corporate real estate, human resources and communications teams come together on these projects, the value to the organization grows tremendously,” he says. “When it is only a single department, with a single goal, the potential benefits are quickly capped.”
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